Champions League: Juve's debt to Leeds United legend John Charles

JOHN CHARLES'S impact at Juventus was so great that his name is still uttered in revered tones there today.

John Charles in his Leeds United days

“Il Gigante Buono” comes the reply whenever Charles’s name is heard by supporters of the Bianconeri.

They know Charles as ‘The Gentle Giant’ in Turin – the legacy of five goal-filled seasons in which he won three league titles and two Italian Cups and was never booked or sent off.

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Charles scored 108 goals in 155 matches between 1957 and 1962 as he became that rarest of British exports – the successful footballer abroad. So significant was Swansea-born Charles’s Italian job that he was voted Juventus’ best foreign player of all time when the club celebrated its centenary in 1997.

Charles died seven years later at the age of 72, but it is fitting that Juve hope to overcome Real Madrid in his native Wales for what would be the Old Lady’s first Champions League crown since 1996.

“He loved the place,” Charles’s son Mel said ahead of the showpiece final at the National Stadium of Wales in Cardiff on Saturday night.

“He went back to Italy a few times after his playing days.

“He had a lot of friends out there and was always pleased that people remembered watching him play.”

Charles was a Swansea apprentice before Leeds United lured him away in 1948 at the age of 17.

He had made his debut for club and country by 1950, and was equally adept playing at centre-half or centre-forward.

Charles had scored 157 goals in 297 games when Juventus wrote a cheque for £65,000 for his services in August, 1957 – a British transfer record which almost doubled the previous mark.

The goals and trophies just kept coming for Charles in Turin.

So, too, the trappings of success when the maximum wage for players back home was set at £17 per week.

“I was born in 1956, so, unfortunately, I was too young to watch my dad play for Juventus,” said Mel, who spent his formative years in Italy with brothers Terry and Peter.

“But I have wonderful memories of living in a villa overlooking Turin and a maid looking after all of us.

“The place was fantastic and they couldn’t do enough for my dad and all the family.”

Charles was an engaging character who was admired for refusing to lash out at the often illicit attentions of Italian defenders.

He was a favourite of the Agnelli family, Juventus’ main benefactors, and his love of life in Italy also saw him record, with some success, the song Sixteen Tons.

“I think it got to number two in the Chinese charts,” laughs Mel.

“But dad loved the people and playing football in Italy.

“He was always proud that he was one of the few British players who was a success out there.”

Charles returned to Leeds in 1962 and also had spells at Roma, Cardiff and Hereford before retiring.

He later went into management at Hereford and Merthyr as well as the pub trade in Leeds before his death in February, 2004.