MILAN - Benito 'Veleno' Lorenzi passed away today, just before his beloved Inter took to the pitch for a victory over Livorno that he would have been pleased with. He was 81.
When 'Veleno' (literally 'poison') played, news would become literature. Like his second Serie A match for Inter, against Juventus in the summer of 1947.
Born on 20 December 1925 in the Tuscan town of Buggiano, near Pistoia, Lorenzi joined Inter from Empoli. Benito was one of three children of a tailor father and a grocery shop assistant mother, the first person to call him 'Veleno'.
A furiously talented penalty-area striker; thin, gritty, cunning, predatory, powerful and as quick as lightning, Benito Lorenzi was all this and more. Scoring was his job, and when he ended his Inter career he had scored 143 goals in 314 matches, during which time he won back-to-back Scudettos with Alfredo Foni's team, in 1952/53 and 1953/54. At international level Lorenzi scored 4 goals in 14 appearances for the Azzurri, and in typical style was also the protagonist of an argument with Brazilian referee Viana at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. For Nerazzurri fans, Lorenzi was their new hero after Giuseppe Meazza.
In that match against a fearsome Juventus side in 1947, a young Lorenzi found himself up against Bianconeri full-back Rava, who gave him regular 'beatings', always followed by a puncutal apology. At the start, Veleno didn't understand what was happening, but after the umpteenth foul it was Inter masseur Della Casa who came to his aid. "It was him who changed my career," Benito admitted. "He said 'React, Lorenzi'. And I reacted. I went in hard on Angeleri and Rava got furious. 'Hey boy! Who do you think you are. Here we eat our bread....' I replied: 'Sure, and you don't want me to start eating it!'" Lorenzi's was indeed very good bread for Inter.
And what about that slice of lemon? Lorenzi developed a sporting hatred for AC Milan (although off the pitch he was best friends with Nordahl). A protagonist of the 6-5 victory over the Rossoneri on 6 November 1949, Veleno played his 22nd Milan derby on 6 October 1957. He won Inter a dubious penalty before referee Lo Bello gave one to Milan. Tito Cucchiaroni stepped up to the spot and, incredibly, missed. After Inter's 1-0 victory there was a brawl between the players, for no apparent reason. A few years later Benito explained why. "I was sucking half a lemon, which we did back then to quench our thirst," he admitted, "and without letting the opponents see me - but I realised the Milan fans were shouting all sorts of things - I put that half lemon on the spot, below the ball so Cucchiaroni would miss."
Before hanging up his boots Veleno had spells at Alesandria and Brescia, but the city of Milan and Inter remained his home, his world, his strength. He coached the academy youngsters (Arturo Di Napoli was his last favourite pupil), went from home to home to collect money for the needy, and was a regular visitor to Inter's training ground on Saturdays. He would arrive at the wheel of an old Fiat 500, irritated by everything and everyone, both jokingly and intentionally, ready to write his book of truths. "And I'll warn you beforehand - when I write it I will tell everything and criticise everybody. Yes, even you."