A Tribute To Mazurkiewicz
By Juan Arango
Uruguay lost one of its most symbolic players when former national team goalkeeper and Peñarol icon, Ladislao Mazukiewicz, passed away at the age of 67 after suffering from complications due to respiratory failure. This sad news was announced via Twitter from one of his most famous protégés and another former national team goalkeeper Fernando Alvez.
The legendary Mazukiewicz transcended club and country, as Peñarol president Juan Pedro Damiani mentioned several times. He wasn’t the only one that said that.
Until this past tournament he was the goalkeeping coach for his beloved Peñarol, a team where he became the model of consistency with the occasional spectacular play that would save the day for El Mirasol.
Mazukiewicz was technically sound and also blessed with a charisma that made him standout in the crowd. He had the goalkeeper’s frame alongside cat like quickness and a fearlessness to come off his line and strike what was in front of him. Friend, foe or ball, it didn't matter. Mazurkiewicz also was noted for his great leaping ability, enhanced by him playing basketball as a kid, a sport he was passionate about.
Off the pitch he was extremely introverted and was one of the most humble individuals one could ever meet.
The native of Piriapólis started his career at Racing Montevideo as a reluctant goalkeeper as he real playing desire was to be a creative midfielder however in his tryout with Racing he played as a goalkeeper. In fact the legend was that he was just filling in a practice match as they were missing a player. Add to that he had just had a tooth extracted after taking part in the club’s physical and the doctor ordered that he could not participate in practice sessions, the legend grows even more..
According to his recollection, Mazurkiewicz stopped six penalties at the end of the practice session and went home not thinking much about the day. The following day though a club scout told him that they wanted him on the squad as a goalkeeper. He initially refused the offer as he still had dreams of becoming a midfielder, but would eventually he would accept. In his latter years, he said he began to enjoy the position because of the rigors that goalkeepers went through in practice. Little did he know that was his stepping stone to football immortality.
The Rise: During his time at “La Academia” he was looked at as one of the young stars of Uruguayan football. The early 60’s began with him minding the net and he would quickly rise amongst the ranks of Charrúa goalkeepers. After becoming one the best prospects at Racing, a club known historically for their youth program, he would make his debut for the senior team. He would finally breakout in 1964 as part of the youth side that won the South American crown in Colombia.
That caught the eye of one of the greatest symbols of that country’s footballing icon Roque Máspoli. The former Uruguayan goalkeeper, world champion and Maracanazo ”co-sabateur” alongside the other ten players, was coach at Peñarol at the time.
At 20 years of age, Mazurkiewicz became the third string keeper at Peñarol but he would eventually overtake backup goalkeeper Eduardo García and then undisputed starter Luis Maidana. Maidana was one of the stalwarts of the squad having won five consecutive league titles and two Copa Libertadores titles during the late 50’s and early 60’s. Maidana also was famous for becoming the only player to deny Pelé from the penalty spot. That feat took place in a 1965 semifinal.
Maidana played in the first two semifinal matches. The first match was a 5-4 loss to Santos over at Vila Belmiro where he stopped Pelé’s penalty. What was most memorable was that the referee had finished the match with 15 minutes left to play after fans began throwing objects onto the pitch. One of the bottles happened to hit one of the assistant referees line. Peñarol was leading that match 3-2 before Chilean referee Carlos Robles said the match was abandoned but then in a rem,arkable turnaround, Robles then said to continue playing “if they wanted to get out of the stadium alive.”
The second match saw the Uruguayans beat Santos 3-2 and that forced a third match to decide the finalist on a neutral site.
Mazurkiewicz would become the starter in the tiebreaker that took place in Buenos Aires. The reason for this move was not so simple, Maidana had fallen out with one of Roque Máspoli’s assistants and he left the club. Mazurkiewicz would not be removed from that spot for quite some time. Meanwhile García was a goalkeeper whose form eroded significantly and was content with being the second-string.
The decision was a shocking one for obvious reasons, but the goalkeeping position was at a crossroads at the club and this was the time to bring in someone that could light a fire. Peñarol would win the decider 2-1, but would lose to Independiente in the final however the young goalkeeper confirmed that Máspoli’s decision to bring him in was sound. The following year he would break out at the international level.
As a player he was lauded in glory winning the Copa Libertadores in 1966 against River Plate. This was considered as one of the biggest comebacks in a two-legged final and his performance in this final would catapult him to becoming the starter for the national team.
They would then become the world champions by beating Real Madrid in the Intercontinental Cup by a 4-0 aggregate. Many in Spain believed that this encounter would be a replay of the 1961 edition where Real Madrid mopped up the Carbonero 5-0 .
He would then shutout England later that year in the World Cup where he would have the distinction of earning a clean sheet against the host nation in the opening match of the 1966 tournament.
The Greatest Keeper In The Greatest Cup: 1970 was his greatest moment leading Uruguay to a fourth place finish. By this point, Mazurkiewicz was the undisputed goalkeeper at Peñarol and he was considered at just 25 years of age, one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He would earn honors as the best goalkeeper of the tournament and a spot ion the best XI of that tournament. The next Uruguayan player to receive that distinction, you ask? Diego Forlán in 2010.
He would also be instrumental in the victory over the Soviet Union with a 117th minute goal by Victor Esparrago in the quarterfinals. Yet the moment most people will remember was the duel he had with Pelé in the semifinals where he managed by skill and a major dose of divine intervention to leave him off the scorer's sheet that day. Brazil would still win that match 3-1 with goals by Clodoaldo, Jairzinho and Rivelino taking them into the final.
The Greatest Award: In 1971, he would be bestowed with one of the greatest honors that could be given to a player or a professional in their respective line of work. Legendary Soviet goalkeeper Lev Yashin retired and he pointed out that there was only one goalkeeper of being worthy of taking over the baton as the best shot stopper in the game. This occurred in the Yashin’s tribute match where Chiquito was invited to take part in. In that match, according to legend, Yashin took off his gloves in almost symbolic fashion and said to him that he was going to be his successor. There were many similarities to both. The most obvious one was that Mazurkiewicz also wore all black throughout his career.
That same year he arrived in Brazil where he was going to play for Atlético Mineiro.
The Downward Spiral: At this point, the glorious Peñarol side of the 1960’s was a distant memory and Nacional began to overshadow them. They were eliminated in the 1970 Copa Libertadores and the club was starting to change over, ushering the departure of one of the biggest idols at the club.
Although many considered him a goalkeeper worthy of playing in some of the top European clubs of the moment, many South Americans preferred to head to Brazil as that league was one of the most difficult and competitive leagues in the world. Keep in mind that the differences in pay weren’t as astronomical as they are now. Also Brazil had several world champions still playing domestically.
The headlines from one of the major publications, Placar, splashed all over the cover "Mazurka, E Nosso". (Mazurka Is Ours). He would be one of the most popular foreign players alongside compatriot Pablo Forlán to play in the early stages of that competition.
That first year, he helped O Galo win the Brasileirão in a three-way playoff against Botafogo and Forlán’s São Paulo. It would the last time they would win the league title. He would remain there three more seasons and then head to Spain where he would play for Granada briefly.
This desire would come to rise after taking part in his third World Cup in 1974. His star status would not be solidified at the club after work permit issues and problems with the coach (future Spanish national team coach Miguel Muñoz) would limit him during his playing time there. His debut saw him earn a clean sheet; but losses in his next two saw him quickly lose his starting job. That would force him to leave Spain and return to Uruguay.
Mazurka would return to Peñarol but tore his Achilles Tendon in the Clásico in 1975. Upon his recovery, he began to fight for the starting job alongside Jorge Fossati. Eventually the latter would end up displacing the Peñarol legend. That would force him to go abroad if he wanted to continue being a starter.
Fate would have him head to Chilean minnows Cobreloa. Although that team was in existence for just two years, they were on the verge of making some major strides domestically.
He headed to recently promoted Cobreloa in Chile in 1978, a team that was in existence for just one year prior to his arrival in the Calama desert. A year later Cobreloa would end up in second place for a second consecutive year. Their third year in the first division would see them win their first-ever league title defeating previous champs Palestino and Colo Colo. That was the first of the eight in their history. They would take part in two consecutive Copa Libertadores finals. The first was against the great Flamengo team of Zico and Junior.
“Chiquito” played his final season in 1981 after playing at Colombian side América, returned to Peñarol. Another irony in his career was that the year after he left Colombia, América would win the first of their 13 league titles. There he would play as backup to up and coming goalkeeper Fernando Alvez. Instead of complaining about that situation, he took Alvez under his wing and helped him become the starting goalkeeper for Uruguay for well nearly two decades.
Mazurkiewicz, in a limited role, would walk away a champion and he would then see Peñarol face Cobreloa in the 1982 Copa Libertadores with a goal in the dying moments of the match.
His legacy was left intact as the River Plate's holy trinity of goalkeeping alongside Argentines Ubaldo Fillol and Amadeo Carrizo. For many, he surpassed his predecessor MáspoliHe is undoubtedly the greatest Uruguayan goalkeeper ever. But his folklore left more than titles. There were generations of Uruguayan kids that wanted to fly like Mazurkiewicz. Boys wanted to “Be like Chiquito”. His feats of greatness became tall tales worthy of near superhero status.
On this day, men that become boys in presence of a football; lost a hero that inspired a country and a fan base to dream. The guy that made goalkeepers cool was lost.
One thing for sure, the Big Guy Upstairs surely has a rather formidable goalkeeper under the sticks right now. Tonight, if you see something shooting across the sky… it’s not a star. Those are the penalty kicks that Mazurkiewicz and Yashin are parrying away.