13 – Gaetano Scirea
Italy’s reputation for defensive excellence truly flourished in the 1970s and the men most responsible for this were those forming the back-line of La Vecchia Signora (Juventus, in one of its brightest epochs). Among these, one of the most respected names was that of Gaetano Scirea, a central defender whose strong technical attributes were coupled with a highly ductile tactical disposition. Worthy of more than a passing mention were his offensive skills, which were surprising for a central defender especially as far as passing and vision are concerned (often worthy of a pure midfielder). Introduced to Serie A by Atalanta, Scirea joined Juventus in 1974 and spent the remainder of his career with them (until 1988), winning everything that there was to win in football. This is not a hyperbole – the man’s cabinet includes every single trophy available for a club side to win.
Of all the beautiful things that can be said about Scirea, perhaps none is more complimentary than the fact that he was never given a red card. The notion seems inconceivable today – a central defender retiring at the age of 35 without ever having been sent off sounds like a Formula 1 pilot never having driven his car off the track. Then again, Scirea came from a different football than the one we know today. In a sense he may be said to bridge a gap – from the pre-1970s, when the sport had all the propriety, dignity and sportsmanship that rugby holds today, to the ages after that, when it became the object that we know. Scirea played long enough to taste it, reaching the 1985 Champions League tragedy against Liverpool (a tournament which Juventus won, incidentally, in what was possibly their most rueful triumph). He did not live to see much beyond that. The man passed away in 1989 and the values that he and the other footballers of his age upheld passed away with him. The fact that he donned the Azzurri shirt is a distinction of the Italian nation – that he won the 1982 World Cup with it makes it an honour.
Top 20 Azzurri players of all time