Simply put, when it comes to Juventus nobody does it better. His records may no longer stand, other players may have arrived and played more games, won more trophies and scored more goals, but Giampiero Boniperti was always so much more than merely a player.
Picking up the baton left following the death of Valentino Mazzola at Superga, he was the golden boy of Italian football as the country rebuilt itself in the aftermath of World War II. He was a true gentleman who embodied the spirit of being ‘da Juve’ before the term was ever coined. Netting 27 goals in his first full season after joining the club as a sixteen year old, ‘Boni’ was – initially at least – an out and out striker.
Then, after tasting both Scudetto and Capocannoniere glory as the star attraction, he did what the ego of very few top players would allow and happily shared the spotlight. Shifting not only in status but also positions he reinvented himself as a midfield play maker, becoming provider rather than predator as part of the clubs ‘Three Kings’ era.
He thrived alongside new team-mates Omar Sivori and John Charles, becoming club captain and a true leader as the side became the first in Italy to stitch a gold star – signifying ten league titles – onto their shirts. Then, aged just 32, he did something else so few athletes in any sport truly can and walked away at the perfect time. Going out at the very top ensured his career, and the legacy it bestowed, would be remembered in the right way forever.
Boniperti’s dignity and class carried over into the next role he played at Juventus, becoming club President and, unsurprisingly to many, succeeding there too. Overseeing yet more Bianconeri glory endeared him to a whole new generation of fans too young to remember his playing days. One of his last acts as President was to sign a player in eerily similar circumstances to his own arrival over forty years earlier. Taking a talented young striker from a small provincial club, he could have had little insight into how intrinsically linked he would be to Juve’s latest acquisition.
Of course the player was none other than Alessandro Del Piero, the very man who would one day break Boniperti’s club records. Speaking when the current captain broke his tally to become the all-time leading goal scorer in February 2006, the elder statesman showed typical class when asked to comment. He said;
“To be honest, this head to head has made me better known among young fans than I ever was before. They knew me perhaps as President, but never as a player or goal scorer. To find myself famous once more at the age of 77 is incredible”
This passing of the torch has seen Boniperti emerge as something of a father figure for Del Piero, and it is common to see the two men together. He is often called upon to present the Captain with honours as he passes yet another milestone.
Yet Boniperti has a son of his own – Gianpaolo – who struggled with the weight of expectation his famous surname carries. Eventually carving out a far less glamorous career that saw him follow another Juventus legend Roberto Bettega to the Toronto Blizzard, and there it seemed the family’s footballing legacy would end.
But now a new prince has emerged, growing up in the clubs own Primavera, Fillipo Boniperti has enjoyed a turbulent start to his Juventus career. Able to develop away from a media glare consumed by the clubs on and off the field turmoil over the last few years he showed much promise. This was recognised by new coach Gigi Delneri who assigned the talented midfielder a first team squad number as far back as July so impressed was he with the youngsters abilities.
Then, in the midst of a serious injury crisis in early November, Delneri was forced to make a raft of call-ups from the youth sector for a Europa League game against Red Bull Salzburg. Making a decision based purely on playing style the tactician opted to select Manuel Giandonato and Marcel Büchel over the more attack-minded Boniperti. The player reacted badly and subsequent events saw him stripped of the Primavera captaincy.
Finally accepting the decisions of the coaching staff, working hard and giving nothing but his best, ‘Nipote’ regained the trust of first his coach Giovanni Bucaro and then Delneri himself. He was rewarded by a recall to the squad against Manchester City in December and the most current match-day squad against Brescia where he was an unused substitute. Seeing his most famous of surnames on the team sheet is a source of great pride among Juventus fans and seeing him take part in a Serie A game is surely only a matter of time. Perhaps bringing him on as a substitute for Del Piero would complete a most incredible circle of history?