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  • Writer's pictureDag Jenkins

Marcelo Salas

José Marcelo Salas Melinao was born in Temuco, in Northern Chile, on December 24, 1974.

He started playing football with local team Santos Temuco FC in 1983. In 1991 he joined Universidad de Chile in the capital Santiago.

He made his debut for "La U" in 1993 and in two seasons played 126 games with 76 goals. It was with the "Los Azules" he was first nicknamed "El Matador" for his cold blood in front of goal. Salas also started his famous matador celebration after scoring. He won two league titles in 1994 and 1995.

In 1996 he moved to Argentina and joined Baires giants, River Plate. He stayed two seasons with "Los Milionarios", playing 68 games with 31 goals. The "Banda" won an Apertura in 1996 (Salas scored double in decisive game), a Clausura 1997, an Apertura 1997 (Salas scored title winning goal) and a South-American Super Cup (Salas scored 2 goals in the final versus São Paulo). In 1997 he was voted best South-American and Argentinian player of the year.

At this point there was talk of Alex Ferguson and Manchester United being interested in him to replace Éric Cantona.

In 1998 he played an excellent World Cup in France, scoring 4 goals (2 Italy, Austria and Brazil).

Fortunately, by this stage he had already been signed by Lazio (January '98 for the following season). He arrived in Rome and found a competitive team under Sven-Goran Eriksson who had just won the Coppa Italia and were now ready to go up a level.

In his first year Lazio went extremely close to winning the Scudetto. They lost it in the last two matches in controversial circumstances but Salas had an excellent season. He played 43 games and scored 24 goals (15 in Serie A including Inter, Roma, Juventus). He struck up an excellent attacking partnership with Christian Vieri from January onwards when the Italian returned from injury.

Lazio lost out on the Scudetto but triumphed in Europe winning the last ever Cup Winners Cup. They defeated Mallorca 2-1 at Villa Park in Birmingham. Salas scored 4 goals in the tournament (Lausanne, Partizan Belgrade x2, Panionios).

The following year Lazio won the Scudetto. Salas played 28 league games with 12 goals (including Milan x2), 3 in Coppa Italia, 10 in the Champions League with 4 goals (Dinamo Kiev, Maribor x2, Valencia) and the European Super Cup with the winning goal against Manchester United.

The following year with the arrival of Hernan Crespo and Claudio Lopez he played slightly less. He made 21 league appearances with 7 goals (including Juventus, Inter), 2 in Coppa Italia with 1 goal and 9 games in Champions League. Lazio had a difficult start and Eriksson was replaced by Dino Zoff after 13 games (the Swede had signed for England from the following summer causing uncertainty). The Biancocelesti improved and went close to another title but ultimately fell short and finished 3rd.

Sadly, the immensely popular "Matador" was then sold to the "Old Lady" Juventus. The Bianconeri were coached by Marcello Lippi and won the Scudetto but Salas suffered a serious injury in October which kept him out for the rest of the season. He played 7 league games with 1 goal (Chievo), 1 game in the Coppa Italia and 4 in the Champions League. Before his injury he famously blasted a last-minute penalty over the bar in the derby against Torino with the score on 3-3 (after Juve had been 3-0 up)

The following year he still did not feature regularly. Juventus had David Trezeguet and Alex Del Piero up front and even Marcelo Zalayeta played more than the Chilean. Salas made 11 league appearances with 1 goal (Udinese), 4 in Coppa Italia with 1 goal and 4 in the Champions League with 1 goal (Dinamo Kiev). Juventus won the league again and were runners-up in the Champions League (Milan on penalties).

In 2003 he returned to Argentina and River Plate. He stayed two seasons and played 48 games with 14 goals. In 2004 the"El más grande de Argentina" won the Clausura title.

In 2005 he went back to his homeland and his first big club, Universidad de León. He stayed another four seasons with 74 appearances and 36 goals for "El Bulla".

At 38 he retired after playing his last match on November 23 against Cobreloa and scored 2 goals in a 3-2 win.

At international level he won 70 caps with 37 goals. He is third all-time goal scorer for "La Roja". He played in a World Cup in 1998 and 2 Coppa Americas in 1995 and 1999 (reaching semi-final lost to Uruguay on penalties).

Marcelo Salas is a legend in Chile and River Plate in Argentina. He is considered Chile's best ever striker. At River Plate he is considered the greatest ever non-Argentine player alongside Uruguayan Enzo Francescoli. He has two other nicknames, "El Fenómeno" and "El Shileno"

Salas was not a giant centre-forward at 1.74 but was strong and tenacious. He was very skilful with a surgical left foot and superb aerial ability with great elevation. He was a prolific striker throughout his career but could also play for his attacking partners.

At Lazio he was and still is adored. He is considered one of their best foreign players ever. Some of his goals are legendary, such as Juventus away ('98) and Milan at home ('99) but he scored many, a total of 48.

The chant "Matador Matador che ce famo con Ronaldo noi c'avemo er Matador" (What do we need Ronaldo for when we've got the Matador) was by far the most sung chant in those glory years.

In Rome with Lazio, he won a Scudetto, a Coppa Italia, 2 Italian Super Cups, a European Cup Winners Cup and a European Super Cup, all in 3 years and they could have been more.

Despite his relatively short spell at Lazio, he is one of the most popular players in their 123-year history.

Lazio Career


Total games (goals)

Serie A

Coppa Italia

Champions League

Cup Winners Cup

UEFA Super Cup

Super Coppa


43 (24)

30 (15)

6 (5)


6 (4)




42 (16)

28 (12)


10 (4)


1 (1)



32 (8)

21 (7)

2 (1)






117 (48)

79 (34)

11 (6)

19 (4)

6 (4)

1 (1)




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