A penalty against Fiorentina scored by a 34 year old striker in a match that ultimately ends in a draw, hardly seems an event worthy of recognition. It certainly didn’t do much to upset the table. Still, it is worth pausing for a moment on what Serie A just witnessed this Sunday. To understand how exceptional the event is, it may be salutary to take a glance at just how often it has taken place before.
The first official football tournament in Italy took place in 1898. There’s been reforms, teams appearing and disappearing, and even interruptions (most notably during World War II), but it is essentially correct to say that Serie A is more than a century old. In that arch of time, the number of players who have breached the roof of the 200 goals has been a total of six, including the one this weekend. The first to play (and retire) was Giuseppe Meazza, winner of two World Cups in the nineteen-thirties and arguably the greatest Italian in the history of the game. He currently holds third place. He was followed by Silvio Piola who was young enough to become Meazza’s team-mate and who still enjoys the privilege of the number one spot with a monstruous tally of 274 goals.
Two foreigners, Gunnar Nordahl from the fifties and Jose Altafini from the sixties, earned the second and fourth place at a time when football was a very different game from what it has become. The evolution of the sport may well be the reason why we had to wait more than thirty years before another champion reached that peak. Roberto Baggio, a luminary of the game who requires no introduction, reached fifth place with 205 goals. He retired almost ten years ago.
Francesco Totti’s achievement as the sixth player (fourth Italian) to break the double-hundred cipher is worth remarking not just for the player himself but for its significance to Serie A. The first three positions were all conquered by players before the sixties and they comprise two classical poachers and only one fantasista (Meazza, assuming the term applies to such an archaic player). The positions from fourth to sixth are all fantasisti. The most tempting interpretation is that the appearance of the rankings reflects the evolution of the role of the fantasista in Italy, as a figure replacing the more internationally predictable prima punta / poacher. After Altafini, there was a drought of players capable of reaching the record. No prime punte comparable to Piola or Nordahl ever re-emerged, and even such poachers as Gigi Riva, Paolo Rossi, Gianluca Vialli and Christian Vieri always came short of the line.
Fantasisti seem to have taken a different trajectory, struggling initially but gradually rising to prominence as goal-scorers. Fifties’ hero Valentino Mazzola, with 93 goals, never came close to the target (though his life was interrupted aged 30), while the Golden Boy of the seventies, Gianni Rivera, slightly upped the numbers by scoring 124 times. Baggio finally broke the thirty-year break through the nineties and Totti did it again only ten years later. The fact that the only other player in sight who may reach 200 is another fantasista, Alessandro Del Piero, reinforces the notion that the list of Capocannonieri may have a statement to make on the way Calcio is played and not just on the numbers involved.
Unfortunately, it will probably take a long time yet before we can see more players entering that pantheon and following or breaking the trend. In the meantime, enjoy that penalty by Totti. Mundane as it may seem, it truly is an extraordinary event.