There are two important instances that occurred at each end of Dino Zoff’s playing career that can be attributed to the character, ability and pure resolve of Italy’s greatest ever goalkeeper.
The first, which came about at the tender age of 14 in the form of rejection from Inter and Juventus, is an integral piece in the jigsaw of Zoff’s long and distinguished football life. However, it is far overshadowed by a later and more joyous occasion. Captaining the winning Italian side in the 1982 World Cup, making Zoff the oldest ever player to have won the competition, lies in strict opposition to the discouraging circumstances he experienced as a teenager. For a player to be considered as one of the greatest to have ever played in Serie A they must be undoubtedly gifted in terms of ability, yet in Dino Zoff’s case his perseverance and resilience must be duly noted for it is these qualities that formed the foundations of his success as a goalkeeper. Having suffered at the hands of Inter and Juve due to a lack of height, he went away only to return five years later and 33 centimeters taller. This increase in stature paired with his standout ability eventually earned him a contract with Udinese.
He did not spend long with the Friuli-Venezia Giuliani based club though, for in 1968 he signed for Napoli. It was during this time that Zoff began to establish himself as a member of the Azzuri, gaining his first of 112 caps in the quarter-finals of the 1968 European Championships. Italy went on to become the victors of the tournament with Zoff picking up a winners medal at the age of 26. This triumph set the tone for Zoff’s future success as an international and domestic goalkeeper. After finally signing for Juventus in 1972, where he spent 11 years, he won the Serie A title six times, the Coppa Italia twice and the UEFA Cup once. There is no doubt that those who were lucky enough to see Zoff during these conquering years were witnessing one of the world’s most skilled ball-stoppers in their prime.
Juventus circa 1972-1983
Although Zoff grew rapidly towards the end of his teenage years he was not a hugely tall for someone playing in his position. He was six foot at best which is not small by any means but compared to the likes of Gordon Banks and Lev Yashin he was certainly shy of a couple of inches. But what he lacked physique he made up for in agility. He possessed the ability to cover vast amounts of ground by springing effortlessly off both feet. His wiry figure created an imposing image between the posts for any striker and there is no doubt that his reputation preceded him, enough for any forward to skew the ball wide in anguish. Perhaps one of the most impressive stories highlighting Zoff’s grit and determination was during a match against Manchester City at Maine Road in 1977. Having fractured a finger on his right hand he received treatment and, ignoring the advice of medical staff, he resumed play to make a number of outstanding saves. Zoff’s sense of positioning and capacity to cover his angles behind goal made it very difficult for the opposition to put the ball in the back of the net. Another remarkable part of his talent was in being able to catch the ball in contrast to simply palming it away, as if he had smeared glue on his gloves before the game.
Hailed ‘the man of records’, Zoff holds the title for the most amount of minutes of international football played without conceding a goal. It stands at a remarkable 1142 minutes, spanning the period between 1972 and 1974. His record cabinet also boasts the oldest Serie A player title and for a while he held the most matches played title, a mere 520. For Juventus he played 330 consecutive matches, competing every Sunday for 11 years from 1972 to 1983. His reliability as a goalkeeper is particularly notable and only goes to show his love and desire for the game. Behind every great team is a great goalkeeper and this has never been more relevant when analysing the Italian and Juventus side of the 1970s and early 1980s.
Dino Zoff’s contribution to the sport has not gone unnoticed as he was named the third best goalkeeper of the 20th century, only falling behind to such legends as Banks and Yashin. His hardy character, longevity, wonderful agility and leadership are the traits that rightly earn Zoff a seat among the legends of Serie A. And by no means did Zoff’s career end upon retirement for he has gone on to become Coach to numerous clubs including Juventus, Lazio and even Italy where he guided the Azzuri to second place in Euro 2000.
Name – Dino Zoff
Age – 67 (February 28, 1942)
Position – Goalkeeper
Clubs (Appearances/Goals) – Udinese (40/0), Mantova (131/0), Napoli (143/0), Juventus (330/0)
Club level honours – Serie A (1973, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1982), Coppa Italia (1979, 1983) UEFA Cup (1977)
Nationality – Italian
Caps/Goals – 112/0
National honours – FIFA World Cup (1982), UEFA European Football Championship (1968)
Past Lessons in Calcio
Alessandro Del Piero
Marco van Basten