One of first high-profile black players
8 July ~ The 1980 lifting of the ban on foreign players in Italy saw an increase in the number of black footballers in Serie A, mainly from South America. Before the ban a handful of pioneers had arrived in the country, with mixed results. Josè Germano de Sales arrived at Milan from Flamengo in July 1962. He was signed on the recommendation of Josè Altafini, his compatriot who had just won the Serie A title with the Rossoneri. Another Brazilian Dino Sani was also at the club, though both he and Altafini were oriundi, sons of Italian immigrants.
Germano was Afro-Brazilian, from Conselheiro Pena, a poor region of Minas Gerais in the south-east of the country. A quick left-winger who could dribble with the best of them, Germano had just missed out on a place in Brazil's 1962 World Cup squad. He made his Milan debut on September 12 in a Coppa Italia game against Parma (a 1-0 win), before playing in a European Cup tie three days later against Union Luxembourg, scoring twice in an 8-0 victory. Then, on September 16, he made his Serie A debut, at home to Venezia. Again he scored twice, this time in a 3-3 draw.
Everything was pointing to a successful career with his new club. However, within a month he was sent out on loan to Genoa, where he scored twice in 12 games. He then returned to Milan, only to be sidelined after being involved in a car accident. He played just one more game for the club, in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, at the beginning of the 1964-65 season.
Germano wasn't the first overseas player to have a frustrating time in Serie A and he won't be the last. However, he was one of the first high-profile black players in Italy. Uruguayan striker Roberto La Paz spent a season in Italy's top division with Napoli in 1947-48, while the Brazilians Jair (who enjoyed such great success with Inter) and Faustinho Jarbas (who joined Napoli) both arrived shortly after Germano. There were rumours that the player had struggled to fit in at Milan and that coach Nereo Rocco would cheerily refer to him as “Bongo Bongo”. And then there was his relationship with Giovanna Agusta. Giovanna was the young daughter of the influential industrialist Count Domenico Agusta, head of MV Agusta, the motorcycle and helicopter manufacturers.
Germano first met the countess when she was 17 and attending a riding school next to the Milan training ground. Her father firmly opposed the idea of the two seeing each other, which is where the conspiracy theories start kicking in. Agusta had friends on the Milan board. It was soon after the couple met that Germano was loaned out to Genoa. Some mystery still surrounds that accident, when the player, driving with team-mate Claudio Mantovani, was hit by an oncoming car.
They remained as a couple, even when Germano went back to Brazil and spent a season with Palmeiras, and then on his return to Europe with Standard Liege in 1966. Giovanna ran away from the family home to Belgium where a courtroom upheld their legal right to marry, despite Agusta's objections.
The couple eventually married in 1967 and had a daughter, Lulù. They split up in 1970 and Germano returned to Brazil, for good this time. He bought a farm in Conselheiro Pena where, in October 1997, he died of a heart attack at the age of 55. Matthew Barker