12 – Luigi Riva
With 35 goals to his name, Gigi Riva stands as the most prolific goalscorer in the Azzurri shirt. The figure does him justice – when it comes to pure raptorial instinct, perhaps only Silvio Piola can claim to have had a greater talent for finding the back of the net. Even though his first years were in lower leagues than Serie A, the fact that he scored 63 goals in two seasons aged 16 to 18 represents a figure which has to be respected.
Riva debuted in Serie A with Cagliari at the age of 20 and spent the entirety of his career from then onwards with the Rossoblu. He is still remembered there as the best player to have donned the shirt in the club’s history, and the title is probably deserved – much like Diego Maradona’s Scudetto was ever more memorable because it was conquered with Napoli rather than Juventus or Milan, so Riva’s triumph with the Cagliari team in Serie A was a feat which fully deserves to be called historic.
Technically speaking, Riva possessed an uncommon versatility for a player with his characteristics, allowing him to be deployed as left winger in case of necessity. No doubt his most memorable attribute was his scorching left-foot shot, an authentic cannonball which would not be out of place in modern-day football and which earned him his most endearing nickname rombo di tuono – ‘roll of thunder’ Riva. It was thanks to this shot that Riva became European Champion with the Azzurri in 1968 and reached the World Cup final in 1970 (lost to Brazil). If we stretch that period back to 1967, Riva holds the staggering figure of 22 goals in 21 matches with the Azzurri – an extraordinarily consistent record. While not all of these goals came at the most desired times (‘only’ three goals in six matches in the 1970 World Cup), the figures are still stunningly elevated and yet to be surpassed.
Top 20 Azzurri players of all time