3 Giacinto Facchetti
Solo un capitano, sing the Italian tifosi from their stands, always and everywhere. Yes, there can only be one captain. The man who takes up that mantle for Inter – la Grande Inter, as they called it back then – was also the greatest captain that the Azzurri side has ever had. Solo un capitano. Facchetti was a leader through and through, a figure of purity and coherence as one finds only in the rarest of cases. Before Paolo Maldini. Before Alessandro Del Piero. Being a captain is about the man you are as much as it is about the play you offer, and in this sense Facchetti stood head and shoulders above everyone else.
In any discussion of the player, it must be said that Facchetti’s tactical heritage is immense. As a full-back, he provided a revolutionary interpretation of the role as an offensive defender (a notion, back then, seeming worthy of absurdist playwrights like Ionesco). In his time, fullbacks were just central defenders playing a little wider. Facchetti did so much more – he ran down the wings and produced crosses, he cut into the box, he played side by side with his winger only to return to his position as soon as play was reversed. Before total football. Before Arrigo Sacchi. Strictly speaking, Facchetti was not the first offensive defender ever (albeit still standing as one of the finest), but he popularised, refined and defined the role like no-one else, to the extent that whenever we see a full-back running down a wing today – be it Ashley Cole, Daniel Alves or Fabio Grosso – there is a little bit of Facchetti running with him. For this alone, Facchetti stands as probably the most influential Italian player in the history of football – a man who revolutionised a role, and by that action changed the dynamics of the entire sport.
For those who reason in terms of trophies, Facchetti lifted the Champions League cup twice and won the Italian Scudetto four times, alongside two Intercontinental Cups and one Italian Cup (there is a reason they called his Inter the great Inter). As a captain for the Azzurri, he won the European Cup in 1968 and was part of the expedition which reached the final of the World Cup in 1970. With 94 games played with the Azzurri, he is the fourth most active Italian international. To those who knew him on the pitch, Facchetti was the embodiment of the value we call respect. In almost 20 years as a defender, he earned only one red card to his name (for protesting). Facchetti did not play to hurt – it was as important to him as playing to win. When he died in 2006 the honours paid to him by Italian football, which were immense, seemed nonetheless incapable of expressing how much everyone had just lost. As sports journalist Gianni Mura defined him, Facchetti was a captain of purity and kindness, a captain whose head was always held high. He stood for everything that was good in the Italian sport, for Calcio as it was in another age, when Italian was the Esperanto of football and the idea of anyone dying in a stadium was inconceivable, when the Old Lady really was a Lady and players were chosen for the values they upheld as much as the skills that they could demonstrate. Before Calciopoli. Before Luciano Moggi. Facchetti is the Italian captain in the chorus Solo un capitano, a footballer who used to read Tolstoy without asking for autobiographies and a man whose funeral became the symbolic burial for the best years of Calcio. One minute is not enough to contain the silence that he has left.
Top 20 Azzurri players of all time