8 November 2020

Sandro Mazzola - footballer

Tragedy instilled determination to succeed

Sandro Mazzola wore the famous colours of Inter for his whole career
Sandro Mazzola wore the famous
colours of Inter for his whole career
The footballer Sandro Mazzola, widely regarded as one of Italy’s greatest players after a glittering career with Internazionale of Milan and the Italian national team, was born on this day in 1942 in Turin.

A forward or attacking midfield player with all the attributes of the world’s best players, Mazzola won four Serie A titles and two European Cups for Inter-Milan, largely under the coaching of Helenio Herrero. His goals tally in Serie A games alone was 116 in 417 appearances. He was capped 70 times by the national team, part of the side that won the 1968 European championships and reached the World Cup final in 1970.

Mazzola always saw his success as a tribute to his father, Valentino, a brilliant player who was captain of the Torino team that was almost entirely wiped out in the Superga air disaster of 1949, when a plane carrying the team back from a friendly in Portugal crashed in thick fog into the rear wall of the Basilica of Superga, which overlooks the city of Turin.

His parents had divorced in 1946 but Valentino won custody of his son and instilled in him a love of football, as well as teaching him the basic skills. Sandro was only six when his father was killed and would later reveal that it was his desire to preserve the memory of their brief time together and build on Valentino’s legacy that drove him on to succeed.

He developed his career with Inter rather than Torino after a close friend of his father, the Inter forward Benito Lorenzi, persuaded his mother that Sandro and his brother, Ferruccio, should sign up as mascots for the Milan club.

Mazzola with his father, Valentino, a short time before his father died
Mazzola with his father, Valentino, a
short time before his father died 
Although they had little to do but lead the team out on match day, mascots were rewarded with a bonus if the team won of up to 10,000 lire, which helped their mother support them after they joined the Inter Milan youth academy. Both were good enough to sign professional contracts in 1960.

Ferruccio would find success elsewhere, with Venezia and then Lazio, but Sandro remained with Inter for his entire career, making his debut in 1961. It was hardly a glorious debut, a team packed with youth team players suffering a 9-1 thrashing by Juventus, although Mazzola did score Inter’s solitary goal, from the penalty spot.

Herrera’s teams were notoriously defensive, preferring to allow the opposing team to dominate possession with a view to hitting them on the counter-attack. Already feeling the pressure of expectation that came with being Valentino Mazzola’s son, Sandro knew he had to do outstanding things to make his presence count as an attacking player under Herrera’s regime.

He lacked the grace, perhaps, of his father, who was a sleek inside forward who scored a remarkable 118 goals in 195 league matches for Torino, but more than made up for it in speed and work-rate, while also possessing creativity and an eye for goal.

He became an integral part of Herrera’s team, which between 1963 and 1966 won Serie A three times, the European Cup twice and the Intercontinental Cup twice.  Mazzola scored twice as Inter beat Real Madrid in the 1964 European Cup final and was the top scorer in Serie A with 17 goals the following season.

Mazzola (left) with his Azzurri team-mate and rival Gianni Rivera
Mazzola (left) with his Azzurri team-mate
and rival Gianni Rivera
Mazzola made his international debut at the age of 20 and played in his first World Cup in England three years later.  He was an outstanding performer as Italy became European champions in 1968 but found himself competing for a place with Gianni Rivera at the World Cup in 1970, when coach Ferruccio Valcareggi decided he could not play both together and devised a bizarre system by which Mazzola would play the first half of matches and Rivera the second.

The Azzurri reached the final in 1970 but lost 4-1 to Brazil and when Valcareggi finally decided he could accommodate both Mazzola and Rivera in his team at the 1974 World Cup in West Germany they were both past their prime.

After retiring from football as a player in 1977, Mazzola served Inter in various roles. He was sporting director between 1995 and 1999 and held a similar position with Torino between 2000 and 2003.  He has also worked in television for many years, holding the distinction of commentating for Telemontecarlo when Italy won the World Cup in Spain in 1982 and for Rai when they were victorious again at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

The Stadio Giuseppe Meazza has been an iconic sight in the Milan landscape for almost a century
The Stadio Giuseppe Meazza has been an iconic
sight in the Milan landscape for almost a century
Travel tip:

Sandro Mazzola played his football for Inter at the magnificent Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, the stadium Inter have shared with their city neighbours, AC Milan, in the San Siro district of northwest Milan since 1947. The stadium, which can accommodate almost 80,000 spectators, was completed in its original form in 1926. A number of extensive renovations, the last of which was completed ahead of the 1990 World Cup finals, gave the stadium its distinctive appearance, with its top tier supported by 11 cylindrical towers which incorporate spiral walkways. The stadium was named after Giuseppe Meazza, who spent 14 years as a player and three terms as manager at Inter, in 1980.  The stadium’s days may be numbered, however, with plans submitted in May 2020 for a new stadium to be built next door to the current site.

The Basilica di Superga was built by architect Filippo Juvarra on a mountain overlooking Turin
The Basilica di Superga was built by architect
Filippo Juvarra on a mountain overlooking Turin
Travel tip:

The Superga Disaster that claimed the life of Valentino Mazzola and 30 others is commemorated with a simple memorial at the site of the crash, at the back of the magnificent 18th century Basilica di Superga, which overlooks the city of Turin.  Mounted on a wall, the damaged parts of which were never restored, is a large picture of the Grande Torino team, with a memorial stone that lists all the names of the victims of the disaster, under the heading I Campioni d’Italia.  The basilica, which sits at an altitude of some 425m (1,395ft) above sea level and often sits serenely in sunlight while mist shrouds the city below, can be reached by a steep railway line, the journey taking about 20 minutes.

Also on this day:

1830: The death of Francis I of the Two Sicilies

1931: The birth of film director Paolo Taviani

1936: The birth of actress Virna Lisi

1982: The birth of golfer Francesco Molinari


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