Over the next four weeks, Football Italiano will be looking in-depth at the long, historical relationship between Juventus and the Azzurri with a series of articles detailing the very early years of la Nazionale, right up to the present day.
“It’s just like being at home”, quipped one player during a training session when quizzed about life as an Azzurri player. The player in question was Fabrizio Ravanelli – the club he played for at the time was Juventus. Ravanelli was the latest in a long line of Bianconeri players called up by the Italian national squad. Stretching back to 1920, when the Azzurri officially made its competitive debut, no less than 122 Juve players have represented la Nazionale to date, which represents the biggest contribution of any Serie A club. With so many of their players having represented the Azzurri in the past, and in the squad at the time the White Feather was first called up, his remark was not all that surprising.
We will now take a look at some of the Juve players to have pulled on the famous blue jersey, and how the continued symbiosis of club and country have culminated in peaks of unparalleled triumphs, and troughs of scandals and lack of silverware.
The Early Years
During its formative years, the Azzurri naturally took its time to gel into a cohesive unit which would go on to dominate world football in the 1930’s. The mastermind behind these triumphs had no direct link to Juventus. However, being born and bred in Turin, legendary Coach Vittorio Pozzo would have taken note of the style of football served up by his hometown club. The link between la Vecchia Signora and the Azzurri was thus cemented upon his resuming his role of Coach in 1929, which then led to unparalleled success with the Bianconeri contingent forming the basis of the sides that gained international success. The successful Juventus teams of the 1930’s contained the defensive trio of Gianpiero Combi, Virginio Rosetta and Umberto Caligaris, who were known in Italy as lo Trio Combi-Rosetta-Caligaris, as well as midfield dynamo Felice Borel and the legendary Oriundi – Italo-Argentines Luis Monti and Raimundo Orsi. With five successive championships under their belt, they all transferred their domestic form onto the world stage, which under the guidance of Pozzo, yielded the 1934 and 1938 World Cups.
Post-World War II Era
La Nazionale’s reverse in fortunes mirrored those of Juventus in the aftermath of Pozzo’s departure as Coach. The Bianconeri, by their standards, endured a barren run winning only six Scudetti in an 18-year period. Similarly, the Azzurri performed dismally in the 1950, ‘54, ‘62 and ‘66 World Cups and the newly formed European Championship, in which they even failed to qualify for the 1964 edition. Only a handful of Juve players represented the Azzurri, which was at the time dominated by players from the European Cup winning Milan and Inter sides, however, the small majority were players of considerable note – future Juve President Giampiero Boniperti, centre-forward Pietro Anastasi, Ernesto Cestano, Giancarlo Bercellino and defensive pillar Sandro Salvadore – the latter four all part of the Italian squad which won the 1968 European Championship, their first international trophy since the 1938 World Cup. The tide was about to turn somewhat, and as with every cycle, a great one was just around the corner for both teams. A member of the 1968-winning squad tasted international success for the first time, and would go on to gain further success at domestic and international level for both club and country. His career symbolised the link between Juventus and the Azzurri, and book-ended a golden age for Italian football. That player was Dino Zoff.
Next week we will shed further light on the Golden Cycle of the Azzurri, and highlight just where it went wrong for Italy post-1982.