14 – Gianluca Zambrotta
There is always a name one forgets, in a team – the unsung hero, the hard-worker behind the scenes who allows for everything else to work more smoothly. Gianluca Zambrotta will most likely fall into that category after he retires, lacking the pristine class or iconic status which defined colleagues of his like, say, Paolo Maldini. Yet the man deserves a place on this list for his sheer technical quality and reliability as well as his consistent excellence with the Azzurri, standing as one of the very best full-backs (and all-round defenders) ever to have played on Italian soil.
A hare when on the run, a crystalline defender capable of playing on the left and on the right, highly consistent in form, accurate in passing and crossing and – dulcis in fundo – blessed with a fantastic shot, it says a lot that at the age of 32 he should still be the starter for one of the most successful national teams in the world. Zambrotta offered the ultimate interpretation of the role of the full-back, and the skills that he brought to the table in his game for the clubs were renewed – if not amplified – with the national team. His performances in the 2006 World Cup victory were sensational and are enough to earn him our consideration over equally talented but less decisive players. Even as the limelight was stolen by Fabio Cannavaro in the backline and by a number of other players in the offence, it should be remembered that he was defending a wing which was aggressed, among others, by an experienced Pavel Nedved, an explosive Philip Lahm and a serpentine Florent Malouda – all more or less efficiently stopped in their tracks. Zambrotta’s performance in the quarter-finals could be defended as one of the greatest World Cup games ever played by an Italian full-back, as he single-handedly demolished the Ukraine team (one goal, one assist and one save on the line). That alone is monument enough. His accolades at club level stand as the cherry in the cocktail.
Top 20 Azzurri players of all time