10 – Dino Zoff
Even for a goalkeeper, having been called up by one’s national side for a period that covers 16 years (1967-1983) is an exceptional feat. The achievements of the Azzurri in that period owe a lot to him, perhaps more than to any other single player of the time. They include two World Cup finals (one lost, one won) and one European Championship, although at the time of the latter he still alternated a starter’s shirt with Enrico Albertosi. We say that Italy owe a deal of this to him because, despite the results, the Azzurri of those two decades were comparatively modest teams. Gianni Rivera and Gigi Riva reinforced the ranks of the 1970 squads, but the collective play, form and execution in that World Cup was rather sub-par (to the extent that the opaque performances of players like Riva were blamed on the local climate). As for 1982, it is commonly celebrated as the underdog’s victory – a team modest on paper destroying giants on the pitch such as Brazil and Germany. Ours is not a controversial claim, since Italy has a history of producing its best performances in the most critical situations while disappointing when at their best (as, say, in 1990).
Zoff was, first and foremost, a player of tremendous moral steel. Even at the times of greatest hardship, he remained a torchlight for the rest of his team. This includes the 1982 triumph, where Zoff was the rightful captain of the Azzurri, as he did a tremendous job of keeping the team together under situations of high pressure (these included an awful start to the campaign, a strenuous relation with the media and a scandal surrounding Paolo Rossi’s past). Where Albertosi, in the final of 1970, had conceded four against Brazil, Zoff only allowed for two, which was enough to secure the victory – and if conceding twice does not sound impressive, keep in mind that the 1982 Brazil team is often considered the best ever fielded by that nation. Zoff was also the starter for Juventus, winning the Scudetto an extraordinary six times in 11 seasons with them. Even without counting his work as Coach of the Italian team (one tournament, one final), this is a man with success written all over his gloves.
Top 20 Azzurri players of all time