Walter Montillo: a legend retires

Walter Montillo is calling it a day (Photo: Botafogo FC)

After struggling for form and fitness this year, Walter Montillo has retired from football aged just 33. Montillo is best remembered in Brazil for his form with Cruzeiro, when he was one of the best midfielders in the league.

Poor Botafogo. Signing Walter Montillo was a massive deal for the club, or at least it was meant to be. They don’t have the biggest budget so getting a player like Montillo was a real coup. So much so that the Argentine star was greeted by enthusiastic, cheering fans at the airport on his arrival. And with a Libertadores campaign this year, Montillo was meant to be the club’s talisman and big signing of the season. He was also given a salary of R$400,000 (around £90,000) per month, which is pretty damn high by Brazilian standards.

It started well enough with a goal in a pre-season friendly, but six months and 17 games later, that remained Montillo’s only goal for the club. The player suffered multiple injuries over that period and he became so frustrated by them, and the failure to justify his star status, that at one point he offered to return his wages while on the treatment table. That request was denied but it was a precursor of things to come.

After returning from his latest injury he made a few substitute appearances in the Serie A, but on his first start back, against Avai last week, he lasted just seven minutes before going off injured. Ultimately, that prompted his decision to hang up his boots and he announced his retirement a few days after that game. It was an emotional, tear-filled goodbye and the player simply admitted that his body couldn’t handle top level football anymore.

Walter Montillo made a name for himself in Brazil with Cruzeiro, starring for them between 2010 and 2012. After joining from Universidad de Chile in 2010, he helped Cruzeiro finish second in the Brazilian Serie A. He made such an impact that he was voted midfielder of the year. In fact, he was so good that I even nominated him as my star man for Cruzeiro in my 2011 Serie A preview. High praise indeed!

In their fist Copa Libertadores match in 2011, he scored two goals and set up another in a 5 – 0 win against Estudiantes. But Cruzeiro were surprisingly knocked out by Onze Caldas in the last 16 of the competition that year, and their confidence, and league form suffered as a result. Montillo did turn out to be their star man, even though the team were poor and only managed to avoid relegation on the last day of the season.

Despite Cruzeiro’s shoddy league form, Montillo was making a name for himself: the silky Argentine playmaker doing the business in Brazil. Who said Argentine’s weren’t welcome and couldn’t hack it in Brazil? He was so good in those first two years with Cruzeiro that he signed a contract with a buyout clause worth 80 million euros, or so the rumour goes.

Buyout clause or no buyout clause, he ended up moving to Santos the following year to replace Ganso, who had moved on to São Paulo (Montillo’s transfer fee was around one tenth of the amount rumoured to be in his buyout clause). Neymar was still playing for Santos at that time, but the two of them never really managed to work their magic together and a year later he was on his way to China to play for Shandong Luneng. I didn’t follow him over there but a quick Youtube search shows that he scored some good goals and didn’t seem to lose much of his skill from his Cruzeiro days!

Montillo won a total of six caps for Argentina, some of those in friendly matches against Brazil, in which only locally-based player were called up. He won the best midfielder in Brazil award in 2010 and 2011. But despite these personal accolades, he only won one trophy in Brazil, a solitary Mineiro state championship in 2011.

As a tribute to this fine midfielder, I leave you with a clip of his top ten goals for Cruzeiro:


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