Black Pioneers: Jose Germano de Sales – AC Milan

This is the final part of a serialisation recounting the tale of three black pioneers who challenged perceptions about race in Italian football some fifty years ago.

The talented Germano made his debut on Flamengo’s left wing aged just 16 years. By age 20, he had appeared for the Brazilian national team alongside the likes of Pele and Garrincha, and had won a move to Italy’s reigning champions, AC Milan.

However, you would be forgiven for not being familiar with Germano’s name. For his steep early-career trajectory was only matched by his subsequent fall from grace.

The youngster narrowly missed the cut for Brazil’s hyper-talented 1962 World Cup squad, but there was a definite sense that his time would come. And whilst he had not done quite enough to convince Brazil’s selectors, his pace and trickery had certainly caught the eye of Milan’s talismanic forward Jose Altafini. On the strength of Altafini’s recommendation, the Milan hierarchy stepped in to sign Germano.

Back in Italy, Milan had just won the scudetto with a team comprised of Altafini, Cesare Maldini, Giovanni Trapattoni and a young Gianni Rivera. At just 20 years of age, the precocious Germano was thrust firmly into the spotlight when he arrived in northern Italy. Expectations were already running high.

Despite the unfamiliar and daunting surroundings, the youngster got off to an electrifying start. He appeared in the Coppa Italia victory at Parma and three days later played and scored in an 8-0 humbling of Union Luxembourg in the European Cup. His reward for that was a place in the team for the opening match of the Serie A season. He was on the scoresheet twice as Milan were held 3-3 by Venezia.

However, after such promising beginnings, Germano struggled to sustain his form as autumn took hold. Just two months after making his debut, he found himself farmed out on loan to Genoa. Nereo Rocco had concluded that the Brazilian would not fit into the Milan environment or philosophy; perhaps an indication that he was never wanted in the first place by the coach. With the benefit of hindsight, this move was also an indication that things were not well off the pitch. He played out the season in Liguria, scoring twice in 12 matches.

Off the field, Germano had an interest in horse riding stemming from his rural upbringing in Brazil. He began to frequent a riding school near Milanello where he met a girl by the name of Giovanna Agusta. She knew nothing about football and he barely spoke Italian, but that did not prevent a giddying romance from taking hold of the pair. Whilst this might normally have been considered a healthy pursuit for a young man acclimatising to a foreign country, this was a forbidden relationship. Giovanna was in fact Countess Giovanna, the daughter of an Italian nobleman.

The Agusta family were one of the richest industrial dynasties in Lombardy, responsible for the manufacture of helicopters and motorcycles. The romance between an uneducated, black migrant and a Countess could never have been tolerated within mainstream society where mixed-race relationships were largely unheard of, let alone high society. The relationship was conducted in secret initially, though inevitably knowledge spread amongst the couple’s circle of family and friends.

Over two following years, Germano effectively disappeared from view at Milan. It’s true that he had struggled to acclimatise to both the weather and the football in Italy, and that was the presumed reason for his continued absence from the team. However, it later transpired that the external influence of the disgruntled Agusta family had also been a significant factor in his continued exile. Germano surfaced just once more in rossoneri colours, in a 1964 Fairs Cup match in Strasbourg.

Germano departed Milan a failure, retreating to Palmeiras in his native Brazil. Count Agusta thought he’d won, but unbeknownst to him, the relationship between Germano and Giovanna continued through exchange of letters. Back home, Germano once again began to flourish on the pitch, winning the Rio-Sao Paolo Tournament and Paulista Championship in 1965/66.

After barely twelve months in Brazil, Germano made a surprise return to Europe with Standard Liege. If the move felt unconventional in football terms, the real reasons behind it soon emerged. Against the wishes of her family, Countess Giovanna fled to Belgium to be with her lover. With this escalation, the story became public knowledge. The high society scandal provided rich pickings for the glossy magazines of the day on both sides of the Atlantic.

Under the intense media gaze, Germano further vexed Count Agusta by proposing to Giovanna. The Count took the extraordinary step of initiating legal proceedings in an attempt to halt his daughter’s wedding. And he looked to be succeeding. The Belgian courts only relented when the couple produced medical records to show that Giovanna was in fact pregnant with their first child.

On the field, Germano’s second spell in Europe was scarcely any more successful than his first – making 22 appearances over two years. In 1968, Germano retired from football aged just 26. At twenty years old, the prodigious talent appeared to have the world at his feet. Just six years later all of that potential and his enthusiasm for the game had been extinguished, precipitated by a move to a foreign land and the controversy that ensued.

Sadly, his relationship with Giovanna lasted only a short while longer. By 1970, the marriage was over and Germano returned to Brazil to run a farm purchased with money received from Count Agusta. He remarried and fathered two children in Brazil – and never kicked a ball again – before passing away in 1997.

In case you missed it:

Part 1 – Black Pioneers: Breaking Boundaries in Italian Football

Part 2 – Jair da Costa – Inter

Part 3 – Jarbes Canè Faustinho – Napoli

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