Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

David Schiavone On January - 12 - 2011

Legend of Calcio: Gianni Rivera

Gianni Rivera was born on18th August 1943 in Alessandria to a poor family playing football in the back streets of this small unassuming town. When he was thirteen, his father organised a trial at the local team, and it is said the young Rivera attracted an audience with his skill on the ball. Three days later he has accepted as a youth player at Alessandria.

Making his Serie A debut at the age of 15 years and 288 days he is the second youngest player ever to debut in Italy’s top league. Interestingly he debuted against Inter, Milan’s bitter rivals. He began life as a winger but it was quickly spotted that his qualities would be better suited to a more central role.

During his 25 appearances for Alessandria he scored six goals and was spotted by Milan scout Gipo Viani then subsequently snapped up for 90 million lire (€155, 000) a record fee at the time. Even more surprising was the fact he was only seventeen years old, a phenomenal amount for a player with only one full season under his belt.

Very thinly built, he looked almost like a skeleton but was graceful and had the most delicate touch, while being blessed with supreme intelligence on the pitch. He was a unique talent in every aspect making up for his lack of physical vigour with immense tactical and technical prowess.
After a year with Milan, he lifted his first Scudetto aged only eighteen. This success allowed the Rossoneri into the European Cup in 1963.

The final of the competition was played against Benfica at Wembley Stadium and Rivera got both assists as Milan triumphed 2-1. The ‘Golden Boy’ as he was known was truly on top of the world.

Milan continued to dominate at home and abroad, winning the Coppa Italia in 1967, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1968 along with another Scudetto, in which Rivera contributed eleven goals to Milan’s success, resulting in another chance at the European Cup in 1969 and another triumph.

As a result Rivera won the Ballon d’Or in 1969, one better than 1963 when he finished second to Lev Yashin.
A legend already with Milan, his time with La Nazionale was a little more complicated by one of the great football rivalries.

It just so happened that Inter also had a world star In Sandro Mazzola, who just so happened to play in the exactly the same position and had a similar level of ability to Rivera. Both were also captains for their respective clubs. It couldn’t have been written any better.

For Azzurri boss Ferruccio Valcareggi it was a problem he could not fix. Both were so called ‘luxury’ players and could not be played at the same time. But who to choose? Well Valcareggi devised a system called staffetta or relay, where Mazzola would play one half and Rivera the other. This was particularly evident during the 1970 World Cup. He also believed that neither of them could last a full match in the heat of Mexico.

Milan and Italian Legend

Rivera was magnificent; he helped Italy beat hosts Mexico in the quarter finals, then scored the winner in the semi final against Germany. This 4-3 match is widely perceived to be one the greatest matches ever played and Rivera played a pivotal role in it.

But after the surprising success of the system, it was abandoned for the final against Brazil with Mazzola being left on the field for almost the entire match. Rivera was brought on for the last six minutes and after the match, which Italy lost 4-1, he said, “maybe the manager didn’t realize there were only six minutes left.”

Despite this disappointment he had made his debut for Italy as an eighteen year old in the 1962 World Cup, while also winning the European Championship with the Azzurri in 1968. All in all he played 60 times for Italy scoring 14 goals.

The magnificent performances for Milan continued throughout the 70’s and he added another Coppa Italia in 1973, another Cup Winners’ Cup in 1974. The year before he finished joint top scorer in Serie A along with Giuseppe Savoldi and Paolino Pulici.

Earning his final Scudetto in 1979, also Milan’s tenth, it would be his last piece of silverware and he played his final game against Lazio on 13th May 1979. Completing a total of 658 senior appearances and scoring 164 goals, though most of all he was an assist maker but as no records exist for the number he made, we must use our imagination.

After retiring he was appointed vice-president of Milan but relinquished the position when Silvio Berlusconi took over at the club. The pairs differing political stances seemed to be at the head of their differences.

Rivera then moved into politics and was a serving Member of Parliament for a period. He is now President of the educational youth sector at the FIGC along with Roberto Baggio and Arrigo Sacchi.

Ruling the Milan midfield for 19 seasons, winning almost everything there was to win. His skill elegance, coupled with a sense of timing few had seen before or since. Not only is Gianni Rivera one of the greatest Italian players, he is one of the best to have ever set foot on a football pitch. A true Legend of Calcio.

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