1 April 2021

Giancarlo Antognoni - footballer

Midfield star recovered from horrific injury to win World Cup

Giancarlo Antognoni made more than 400 appearances for Fiorentina
Giancarlo Antognoni made more
than 400 appearances for Fiorentina
The footballer Giancarlo Antognoni, who won 73 international caps for his country and was a member of the Italy team that won the 1982 World Cup in Spain, was born on this day in 1954 in Marsciano, a medieval town in Umbria, some 25km (16 miles) south of the regional capital, Perugia.

Antognoni, who spent most of his club career with Fiorentina and still works for the club today, was regarded as one of the most talented midfield players of his generation, but had the misfortune to miss Italy’s triumph against West Germany in the 1982 final, having suffered a broken foot in the semi-final against Poland.

Nonetheless, he made a major contribution to the performances that carried the azzurri through to the final, including the victories over holders Argentina and tournament favourites Brazil in the second phase. As the team's main playmaker, he set up numerous goalscoring opportunities for his teammates. Throughout the 1982 tournament, only Brazil's Zico and West Germany's Pierre Littbarski made more passes that directly led to goals. 

Antognoni himself had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside against Brazil, although Italy still came out on top thanks to Paolo Rossi’s stunning hat-trick in a famous 3–2 victory.  Antognoni’s pass set up one of Rossi’s goals. 

Yet nine months earlier, some feared Antogoni would not play again, let alone in the following summer’s World Cup, after he suffered an horrific and life-threatening injury playing for Fiorentina against Genoa in Serie A.

In trying to score a goal, Antognoni collided with Genoa goalkeeper Silvano Martina, taking the full force of Martina’s knee against his head. He was knocked out, swallowing his tongue in the process and suffering a cardiac arrest. 

A stricken Antognoni is attended by Genoa team doctor Pierluigi Gatto and others after his accident
A stricken Antognoni is attended by Genoa team
doctor Pierluigi Gatto and others after his accident
It was only the swift actions of Pierluigi Gatto - the Genoa team doctor - that saved his life, the medic instantly recognising what had happened, freeing Antognoni’s tongue and performing CPR on the pitch to restart his heart, which had stopped for at least 30 seconds. Antognoni remained in a coma for two days and it was found that he had also suffered a fractured skull in two places.

Fiorentina fans feared their player’s career was over and Martina was the subject of criminal proceedings after a review of the incident deemed that he had been needlessly reckless in his attempt to deny Antognoni a goalscoring opportunity. A court hearing found Martina guilty of common assault but Antognoni refused to put his name to an official complaint, which meant that Martina escaped punishment.

Amazingly, Antognoni recovered so well from both the fractured skull and his cardiac arrest that he was playing again by the following March and faced Martina again in the second match of his comeback. In an act of outstanding sportsmanship, Antognoni sought out the Genoa ‘keeper before the kick-off and the two shook hands.

Antognoni’s earliest memories of playing football were on dirt pitches in Prepo, a village on the outskirts of Perugia. His father owned a bar in the city that was the headquarters of the local branch of the AC Milan supporters club and Antognoni grew up idolising the Milan star Gianni Rivera.

Antognoni's skills helped Italy win the World Cup in Spain in 1982
Antognoni's skills helped Italy win the
World Cup in Spain in 1982
The first major club to take an interest in him was Torino, although after watching him in a friendly they decided he was not for them. He remained in Piedmont, however, beginning his career with Asti in Serie D at the age of 16. His performances soon attracted attention, however, and when another former AC Milan legend, the Swede Nils Liedholm, asked him to sign for Fiorentina, the young Antognoni jumped at the chance.

He made his debut in Italy's Serie A in October 1972 and went on to make 412 appearances for the viola, scoring 61 goals. He won the Coppa Italia in 1975 and narrowly missed out on the Serie A title in 1982 season, losing out to rivals Juventus by a single point. He holds the record for the most appearances in Serie A for Fiorentina, with 341 games between 1972 and 1987.

Antognoni’s international career, which began in 1974, gained momentum under World Cup-winning coach Enzo Bearzot, who took him to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina and picked him again for the 1980 European championships, the azzurri finishing fourth in both tournaments. By the 1982 World Cup, he was Italy’s first-choice No 10. He is said to have worn the No 10 shirt for Italy more times than any other player, more than Alessandro Del Piero, Roberto Baggio, Francesco Totti or even his idol, Rivera.

After his international career ended in 1983, Antognoni remained with Fiorentina until 1987, after which he had two seasons playing in Switzerland for Lausanne Sports before hanging up his boots in 1989 at the age of 35.

Within a year, he was back with Fiorentina, initially as a scout but later as general manager. He dramatically resigned in 2001 in protest at the sacking of the club’s Turkish first-team coach, Fatih Terim. After a spell working for the Italian national federation in youth football development, he returned to the viola in 2017 and since 2018 has had the title of club manager.

The Torri Bolli is one of three medieval towers in Antognoni's home town of Marsciano
The Torri Bolli is one of three medieval towers
in Antognoni's home town of Marsciano
Travel tip:

The town of Marsciano, where Antognoni was born, has its origins in Etruscan and Roman times. In around 1000 it was a fief of the Lombard family of Bulgarelli.  It is notable for its three medieval towers: the Torre Bolli (1217), the Torre Boccali (1228) and the Torre di Porta Vecchia (1271), which have been renovated. In the heart of the old town - Marsciano vecchia - is the parish church dedicated to San Giovanni Battista. Nowadays, it is among the most important agricultural-industrial centres of Umbria and the largest Umbrian producer of tiles and bricks.

The Stadio Artemio Franchi is an atmospheric venue when packed with Fiorentina supporters
The Stadio Artemio Franchi is an atmospheric
venue when packed with Fiorentina supporters
Travel tip:

Antognoni’s club, Fiorentina, play at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, one of Italy’s most famous stadiums and one of the earliest projects undertaken by the architect Pier Luigi Nervi, who would go on to design landmark buildings all over the world. The stadium is built entirely of reinforced concrete - the medium that became Nervi’s hallmark - with a 70m (230 ft) tower that bears the stadium's flagstaff. The tower is called the Tower of Marathon. The record crowd for a football match at the stadium in 58,271 but the stadium has also hosted more than 42,000 people for pop concerts by David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen.

Also on this day:

April Fool’s Day, Italian style

1946: The birth of AC Milan and Italy football coach Arrigo Sacchi

1953: The birth of AC Milan football coach Alberto Zaccheroni

(Marsciano picture by Umbria ws via Wikimedia Commons)


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