7 – Silvio Piola
Football is, when the hurly-burly’s done, about sending a ball into a net. In this particular specialisation, no Italian ever outshined the raw instinct of Silvio Piola, the unsurpassed top goal-scorer in Serie A. Unfolding his career between the 1930s and the 1950s, Piola boasts an absolutely monstrous record of 274 goals to his name (290 if we count those cancelled after the atypical 1945-46 league which followed the war). To give room for measure, the two players immediately below him count 225 and 216 goals respectively, and only five players in all Serie A history ever managed to score more than 200. The fact that this man was closer to the third hundred is the mark of an authentic prodigy – nor does the argument hold that he had it easier by playing in those decades. If that were true, all players in the top 10 of Serie A goal-scorers would be pre-war poachers, but only two names belong to that age (his own and that of Giuseppe Meazza). Equally vacuous is the claim that he had a longer period of time to score goals – it is his longevity which is the result of his talent, and not the other way round.
In fact, fate appears to have done more ill than good to Piola when it comes to establishing records. The man would be not only the most prolific but also the most senior player to have scored in Serie A, with his last goal coming at the age of 40, were it not that Alessandro Costacurta was allowed to take a penalty in 2007, aged 41. He would be the only player to have scored six goals in one game in Serie A, if Omar Sivori had not been pitted against a youth team in an official game (and, again, awarded a penalty to boot). He would be the most senior player ever to have been called up for the Azzurri, were it not for the natural longevity of goalkeepers which allowed for such a title to be stolen by one of Italy’s greatest, Dino Zoff. He is only the third most prolific bomber in the Azzurri shirt, but he does hold first place in terms of goal ratio – an astonishing 0.88 goals per game, above even Gigi Riva’s 0.83.
If one has to remember Piola for what he brought to the pitch, then the best thing to be said is that he had a fight in him – a fight to skin your knuckles. Imagine the iron of Gennaro Gattuso brought to bear on an attacking talent of almost unrepeatable nature (the talent, per se, was obvious – in his debut year in Serie A, he collected 13 goals aged 17). It was this quality that allowed him to last so long on the pitches and to capitalise on so many of his opportunities – this was a man, for the record, capable of walking off the pitch with his head bleeding from injury, have it bandaged, come back into the game and score a header. As for his contributions to the Azzurri, Piola played only one World Cup but his performances were sublime. Five goals in four matches, including two goals in the quarter-finals against France and two goals in the final against Hungary. When flanked by Meazza, he formed a duo which still stands, easily, as the most formidable offensive combination and all-round offence in the history of Italian football. Fate alone proved an adversary capable of getting in his way, making him too young for the 1934 World Cup and cancelling the 1942 one due to the war. Where he could have been with a little more luck is a question open to debate. Where he stands now is the same place his 274 goals have kept him in for half a century – on the tips of Mount Parnassus.
Top 20 Azzurri players of all time