Showing posts with label Gianni Rivera. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gianni Rivera. Show all posts

5 February 2019

Cesare Maldini - footballer and coach

Enjoyed success with AC Milan as player and manager

Cesare Maldini took Italy to the quarter-finals of the 1998  World Cup in France after success with the Under-21s
Cesare Maldini took Italy to the quarter-finals of the 1998
World Cup in France after success with the Under-21s
The footballer and coach Cesare Maldini, who won four Serie A titles and an historic European Cup as a centre half with AC Milan and later coached the club with success in domestic and European football, was born on this day in 1932 in Trieste.

When, under Maldini’s captaincy, Milan beat Benfica 2–1 at Wembley Stadium in London in May 1963, they became the first Italian club to win the European Cup and Maldini the first Italian captain to lift the trophy.

Maldini’s international career included an 18-month spell as coach of the Italy national team, during which the Azzurri reached the quarter-finals of the 1998 World Cup. He had earlier won three consecutive European championships as coach of the Italy Under-21s.

He is the father of Paolo Maldini, the former AC Milan defender whose record-breaking career spanned 25 years and included no fewer than five winner’s medals from the European Cup and its successor, the Champions League. Cesare’s grandson, Christian - Paolo’s son - is also a professional player for Pro Piacenza in Serie C.

As a child, Cesare Maldini was largely brought up by his mother, Maria. His father, Albino Maldini, who originated from Padua, was a merchant seaman who was often at sea for long periods. The family also owned a small bakery.

Cesare Maldini was captain of the Milan team  who became Italy's first European champions
Cesare Maldini was captain of the Milan team
 who became Italy's first European champions
Maldini trained for a career as a dental technician but by the age of 20 had made his debut for his home town club, Triestina, then in Serie A. The next season he was appointed the team’s captain.

After two seasons with Triestina, Maldini joined AC Milan, making his debut in September 1954 against his former team, coincidentally. A strong Milan team that included included the great Swedish forwards Nils Liedholm and Gunnar Nordahl, and the Uruguay-born playmaker Juan Alberto Schiaffino, won 4-0.

Maldini was unawed by playing in such company and soon became a regular starter, winning his first league title in his debut season.

He went on to make more than 400 appearances for the club in all competitions, keeping the captain’s armband for five years after being appointed in 1961. He was succeeded in the role by another rossoneri great, Gianni Rivera.

Milan won the European Cup under the coaching of Nereo Rocco, who also hailed from Trieste and formed a strong bond with Maldini. When Rocco left to take charge of Torino in 1966, he took his trusted centre half with him, ending Maldini’s 12-year association with Milan.

Maldini with Enzo Bearzot, to whom he was assistant head coach at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, which Italy won
Maldini with Enzo Bearzot, to whom he was assistant head
coach at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, which Italy won
After only season in Turin, however, the pair returned to San Siro, Rocco resuming as coach with Maldini his assistant.  In tandem, they won the European Cup again in 1967, defeating Johann Cruyff and his Ajax teammates in the final.

For a while, Maldini was head coach, with Rocco as technical director, and he won the European Cup-Winners’ Cup and the Coppa Italia in the 1972-73 season. Yet he was still sacked the following season after Milan  failed to mount a credible challenge for the Championship.

Maldini went on to coach Foggia, Ternana and then Parma, where he discovered Carlo Ancelotti and won promotion to Serie B, before graduating to international football as assistant to Enzo Bearzot on the Azzurri coaching staff. Two years later, the were in the technical area as Italy won the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

It was as coach of the Italy Under-21s that Maldini found his métier. In his 10 years in that job, as well as steering the Azzurrini to three consecutive European titles in 1992, 1994 and 1996, he brought through countless future stars, including Fabio Cannavaro, Christian Panucci, Filippo InzaghiChristian Vieri, Gianluigi Buffon and Francesco Totti.

Paolo Maldini followed his father in  signing for AC Milan
Paolo Maldini followed his father in
signing for AC Milan
He took over as coach of the senior side when Arrigo Sacchi resigned midway through the 1996-97 season.  It was an achievement to qualify for the 1998 World Cup given the difficult situation Maldini inherited, yet after clinching their place at the finals in France via a play-off, Maldini’s Azzurri exceeded expectations by reaching the last eight.

They remained unbeaten, in fact, going out in a penalty shoot-out to the hosts and eventual champions, France, after a goalless draw in Saint-Denis.

Despite this creditable performance, Maldini was heavily criticised in the Italian media for being too defensive in his outlook, commentators complaining about the omission of the brilliantly talented Gianfranco Zola from his squad and his reluctance to have Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero, two creative players he did take, on the field at the same time.

As a result, Maldini resigned at the end of the tournament.  After a brief return to the bench at AC Milan for the last few games of the 2000-01 season, he accepted the head coach position with the Paraguay national team for the 2002 World Cup, for which they had already qualified.

At 70 he was at the time the oldest coach to be in charge of a national side at a World Cup tournament. Paraguay were good enough to reach the last 16, where they were unlucky to lose to a last-minute goal against Germany, who went on to reach the final.

Maldini remained in football as a scout and then a TV pundit. He died in Milan in 2016, his funeral at the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio attended by many former players.  His widow, Marisa, passed away a few months later.

Trieste's vast Piazza Unità d'Italia is the focal point of the port city in northeastern Italy
Trieste's vast Piazza Unità d'Italia is the focal point
of the port city in northeastern Italy
Travel tip:

Maldini’s home city, the port of Trieste, capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, did not officially become part of the Italian Republic until 1954. It had been disputed territory for centuries and after it was granted to Italy in 1920, thousands of the resident Slovenians left. The final border with Yugoslavia was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo. The area today is one of the most prosperous in Italy and Trieste is a lively, cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building.  It also has a coffee house culture dating back to the Hapsburg era. Caffè Tommaseo, in Piazza Nicolò Tommaseo, is the oldest coffee house in the city, dating back to 1830.

The atrium of the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio in Milan, where Cesare Maldini's funeral took place
The atrium of the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio in Milan,
where Cesare Maldini's funeral took place
Travel tip:

One of the most ancient churches in Milan, the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio was built by Saint Ambrose himself between 379–386, while he was Bishop of Milan. One of several new churches he had constructed, it was built in an area where numerous martyrs of the Roman persecutions had been buried. The first name of the church, in fact, was the Basilica Martyrum. It was only later that it was renamed in Saint Ambrose’s honour. Initially, the basilica was outside the city of Milan, but over time the city grew up around it. In 789, a monastery was established within the grounds and for a while two separate religious communities shared the basilica. Its two towers symbolise this division.

More reading:

Enzo Bearzot, the pipe-smoking maestro behind Italy's 1982 World Cup glory

The brilliant career of Paolo Maldini

How Arrigo Sacchi's tactics transformed Italian football

Also on this day:

The Feast Day of Saint Agatha of Sicily

1578: The death of painter Giovanni Battista Moroni

1964: The birth of footballer and coach Carolina Morace

(Picture credits: Piazza Unità by Welleschik; Basilica by Óðinn via Creative Commons)


23 September 2017

Paolo Rossi - World Cup hero

Goalscorer who bounced back from two-year ban

(This article was written in 2017; sadly, Paolo Rossi passed away in 2020 at the age of 64)

Paolo Rossi celebrates his goal in the 1982 World Cup final in Spain
Paolo Rossi celebrates his goal in the 1982
World Cup final in Spain
The footballer Paolo Rossi, whose goals steered Italy to World Cup glory in 1982, was born on this day in 1956 in Prato in Tuscany.

At the peak of his career in club football, in which his best years were with Juventus and Vicenza, Rossi scored almost 100 Serie A and Serie B goals in seven seasons.

Yet for many his exploits with the Italian national team define his career. In 48 appearances he scored 20 goals, including six in the 1982 finals in Spain, when he won the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer and the Golden Ball as the best player.

In 1982 he also won the Ballon D’Or, the prestigious award given to the player of the season across all the European leagues, following in the footsteps of Omar Sivori and Gianni Rivera to become the third Italian player to win the vote, in which company he has since been joined by Roberto Baggio and Fabio Cannavaro.

His success story is all the more remarkable for the fact that he scaled so many personal peaks after being banned from football for two years in a match-fixing scandal, although he denied the accusations levelled at him.

The 1982 World Cup saved his career and his reputation, although the fairytale would never have happened but for the faith shown in him by the national coach, Enzo Bearzot.

Italy's coach, Enzo Bearzot, stood by Rossi
Italy's coach, Enzo Bearzot, stood by Rossi
Bearzot’s selection of Rossi for the squad he took to Spain came barely a month after his suspension was lifted and sparked an outcry in Italy. Apart from those who thought he was unworthy of wearing the Azzurri shirt, others argued he would be too lacking in fitness to make an effective contribution.

Yet Bearzot not only believed in Rossi’s innocence, he also recalled the three goals the striker had scored in the 1978 World Cup finals in Argentina and was convinced he could make an impact again.

His faith was borne out totally.  Rossi looked off the pace at the start of the tournament but found his feet memorably in the second phase, scoring all three of Italy’s goals in a 3-2 win against a superior Brazil team that still ranks as one of the greatest matches in World Cup history.

He went on to score both Italy’s goals as they defeated Poland in the semi-finals and opened the scoring in Italy’s 3-1 victory over West Germany in the final.

As a boy, Rossi played his first football with an amateur team in the Santa Lucia area of Prato. At the age of 12, he was spotted by a scout from Juventus, who had also been interested in his brother, Rossano, but had sent him home after a year.

His mother, who had always been worried about Rossano having to fend for himself in Turin, was reluctant to suffer a similarly anxious time with Paolo, especially since Rossano’s dreams ultimately came to nothing.

Paolo Rossi in action for Juventus
Paolo Rossi in action for Juventus
But Juventus were persuasive, offering substantial inducements for him to sign, and ultimately in 1972 a deal was agreed.

It took a long time for his career to take off, however. He suffered a series of serious knee injuries and apart from a handful of Coppa Italia games he did not make any real progress towards a regular place in the first team at Juventus.

A spell on loan with Como did not change his fortunes and he might have been told to seek an alternative career had Lanerossi Vicenza, the Serie B club, not stepped in with another loan deal.

Rossi had, until then, been seen as a winger, slight in build but with the speed to beat defenders. Vicenza’s coach, Giovan Battista Fabbri, had other ideas, reckoning that Rossi’s pace could be deployed in the middle, despite his lack of physical stature. 

It proved a masterstroke.  Rossi scored 21 goals to help Vicenza win promotion to Serie A and followed it with 24 in the top flight as Vicenza finished second, a remarkable performance.  Rossi became the first player to be top scorer in Serie B and Serie A in consecutive seasons.

In the event, Vicenza’s flame went out as quickly as it had ignited. They paid 2.612 million lire to make Rossi their own player, making him the world’s most expensive footballer, which he rewarded with another 15 goals, despite missing many games through injury. Yet Vicenza were relegated.

Rossi (right) with Giovan Battista Fabbri, the coach of Vicenza, who turned him into a striker
Rossi (right) with Giovan Battista Fabbri, the
coach of Vicenza, who turned him into a striker
Had they stayed up, Rossi might never have been embroiled in the match-fixing allegations.  Instead, in order to continue playing in Serie A and continue his international career, he went on loan to Perugia, who were heavily implicated in what became known as the Totonero scandal after a match against Avellino, in which Rossi scored twice, was found to have been rigged to end in a draw.

Rossi admitted he had been approached by a third party interested in fixing the result but said he had agreed to nothing.  Nonetheless, he was found guilty and banned for three years, reduced on appeal to two.

Disillusioned, he threatened to leave Italy for a new life elsewhere but Juventus bought him back from Vicenza and the bianconeri finally saw the real Rossi.  He helped them win the Serie A title – the ‘Scudetto’ - the UEFA Cup and the European Cup during a period when his very presence in a team seemed to guarantee their winning a trophy.

Since retiring, Rossi has run a real estate company, opened an agritourism complex in Bucine, near Arezzo, taken part in Ballando con le Stelle – the Italian version of Strictly Come Dancing – and worked for several newspapers and television stations as a columnist and pundit.

He has also run for election to the European Parliament and worked on behalf of a number of charities.  Married to journalist Federica Cappelletti, he has three children.

The Castello dell'Imperatore in Prato
The Castello dell'Imperatore in Prato
Travel tip:

Paolo Rossi’s home city of Prato is the second largest in Tuscany after Florence and has a considerable number of historic churches and palaces and two castles, yet is rarely part of anyone’s tourist itinerary.  Attractions include beautiful frescoes by Filippo Lippi inside the Duomo and the external pulpit by Michelozzo and Donatello, the beautiful Palazzo Pretorio and Piazza del Comune where it sits.  The remains of Castello dell’Imperatore are also worth exploring.  Prato’s traditional textile industry, which today employs many of the city’s large Chinese population, once saw it described as ‘the Manchester of Italy.’

Palladio's Villa Capra, known as La Rotonda
Palladio's Villa Capra, known as La Rotonda
Travel tip:

Known as both the city of Palladio and, on account of its historical trade in precious metals, the ‘city of gold’, Vicenza is one of the gems of the Veneto, with a centre rich in beautiful architecture, much of which has been built or influenced by the 16th century architect Andrea Palladio, who also left his mark on the area by building many impressive villas in the countryside around Vicenza, the most famous of which, the symmetrically four-sided Villa Almerico Capra, commonly known as La Rotonda. There are some 23 buildings in the city itself that were designed by Palladio, including perhaps the city’s most popular attraction, the Teatro Olimpico, which was his last work.


8 May 2017

Franco Baresi - AC Milan great

Defender voted club's 'player of the century'

Franco Baresi made 719 appearances for AC Milan
Franco Baresi made 719 appearances for AC Milan
The great AC Milan and Italy footballer Franco Baresi was born on this day in 1960 in Travagliato, a town in Lombardy about 13km (8 miles) south-west of Brescia.

Baresi, a central defender who was at his most effective playing in the libero – sweeper – role, made 719 competitive appearances for the rossoneri, with whom he spent his entire playing career, spanning 20 years.

During that time he won the Italian championship – the Scudetto – six times and the European Cup three times, as well as many other trophies. He was made captain of the team at just 22 years old.

At Milan he was part of one of the most formidable defences of all time, alongside Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Mauro Tassotti, and later Christian Panucci, with Giovanni Galli in goal.  He and Maldini shared the extraordinary record that in 196 matches they played together, AC Milan conceded only 23 goals.

Baresi also won 81 caps for the Azzurri in an international career in which he went to three World Cups. 

Although he did not make an appearance, he was part of the Azzurri squad that won the competition in Spain in 1982, was an integral member of the team that finished third on home soil in Italia ’90 and captained the side in the United States in 1994. There he heroically battled back from a meniscus injury to lead the team in the final in Pasadena, where he suffered the cruel misfortune, in common with another Azzurri legend, Roberto Baggio, of missing a penalty in a shoot-out won by Brazil.

Franco Baresi with his brother Giuseppe (left), who played for Milan's city rivals Internazionale
Franco Baresi with his brother Giuseppe (left), who played
for Milan's city rivals Internazionale
At his peak, Baresi earned the right to be considered the equal of some of the greatest defensive players in the history of football.  Although he was not a giant physically – he stood only 1.76m (5ft 9ins) and weighed just 70kg (11st 4lb) – he tackled ferociously and headed powerfully. The gifts that made him stand out, however, were his ability to read the game, to anticipate trouble and to launch attacks with his accurate passing. In that respect, he was spoken of in the same breath as the sweeper of the West German team of the 1960s and 70s, the redoubtable Franz Beckenbauer.

Baresi lost both his parents by the age of 16, which meant that he and his older brother, Giuseppe, had to grow up quickly. Both were determined to make their careers in football. Giuseppe was taken on by AC Milan’s rivals, Internazionale, at the age of 14. Franco tried to follow the same path but was rejected as too small.  Undaunted, he went for trials with the rossoneri and won a contract, claiming that he was “always a Milanista” as a fan and was therefore fulfilling his dream.

His potential was recognised almost immediately and Nils Liedholm, Milan’s legendary Swedish player and then coach, gave him his debut towards the end of the 1977-78 season, in the same team as Fabio Capello and Gianni Rivera.  His nickname in the Milan dressing room was Piscinin, a Milanese dialect word meaning ‘the little one’, yet he quickly established himself as one of the key members of the team, winning the Scudetto in his first full season.

Franco Baresi as he is today
Franco Baresi as he is today
Milan subsequently went through some tough times, which included relegation from Serie A in a match-fixing scandal, but Baresi stuck with them and became a vital component in some of the finest Milan teams of all time, notably the squad coached by Arrigo Sacchi to win the 1989 European Cup, beating Real Madrid 6-1 on aggregate in the semi-final before thumping Steaua Bucharest 4-0 on the final.  Apart from the aforementioned defensive combination of Baresi, Costacurta, Tassotti and Maldini, the team included the great midfielders Roberto Donadoni and Carlo Ancelotti and the brilliant Dutch trio of Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit.

In 1999, he was voted Milan's Player of the Century. He was named by Pelé one of the 125 Greatest Living Footballers at the FIFA centenary awards ceremony in 2004, and inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2013.  After his final season at Milan in 1997, the club retired Baresi's number six shirt in his honour.

His coaching career included a short spell working in England as director of football at Fulham and he has worked for AC Milan in various capacities, as executive, youth team coach and in the club’s marketing department.. The father of a 16-year-old son, Eduardo, and the uncle of Inter women’s star Regina Baresi, his opinion nowadays is regularly sort by the Italian media as he remains a high-profile figure. 

The Piazza Libertà in Travagliato
The Piazza Libertà in Travagliato
Travel tip:

Baresi’s hometown, Travagliato, just outside Brescia, is sometimes called the Citadel of Horses on account of the equestrian festivals hosted there every April and May, which feature polo matches, harness racing and show jumping events among other things. The town also has a number of fine churches, including the church of Our Lady of Lourdes and the church of Santa Maria dei Campi.

Travel tip:

Brescia is a rich industrial city not on the main tourist track but has numerous things to see, including the old and new Duomos, one built in the 12th century, one in the 19th century, which are next door to one another.  It is also famous for its museums, one of which is dedicated to the Mille Miglia, the former car race from Brescia to Rome and back.

17 March 2017

Giovanni Trapattoni - football coach

His seven Serie A titles is unequalled achievement

Giovanni Trapattoni during his time as Juventus coach
Giovanni Trapattoni during his
time as Juventus coach
Giovanni Trapattoni, the former Juventus and Internazionale coach who is one of only four coaches to have won the principal league titles of four different European countries, was born on this day in 1939 in Cusano Milanino, a suburb on the northern perimeter of Milan.

The most successful club coach in the history of Serie A, he won seven titles, six with Juventus and one with Inter.  His nearest challengers in terms of most Italian domestic championships are Fabio Capello and Marcello Lippi, each of whom has five Scudetti to his name.

In addition, Trapattoni has also won the German Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, the Portuguese Primeira Liga with Benfica and the Austrian Bundesliga with Red Bull Salzburg, with whom he secured his 10th league title all told in 2007.

Current Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho is among the other three managers to have won titles in four countries.  He has been successful in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain.

Alongside former Bayern Munich coach Udo Lattek, Trapattoni is the only coach to have won all three major European club competitions - the European Cup, the UEFA Cup and the now defunct European Cup-Winners' Cup - and the only one to do it with the same club.  With Juventus, he also won the European Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.

During a career in the dugout that spanned four decades, Trapattoni - often referred to as 'Il Trap' or simply 'Trap' -  was in charge at nine different clubs, including five in Italy.  He has also tasted international management twice, with the Italian national side and with the Republic of Ireland.

Trapattoni (right) and his assistant Marco Tardelli on the bench with the Republic of Ireland
Trapattoni (right) and his assistant Marco Tardelli on the
bench with the Republic of Ireland
He built his achievements around a method that combined elements of 'catenaccio' - for many years the defensive foundation of Italy's best teams - and the 'total football' pioneered by the Dutch coach Rinus Michels in the 1970s. His biggest regret was that he could not translate it to success with the Azzurri after he succeeded Dino Zoff as Italy coach in 2000.

Trapattoni's team qualified unbeaten for the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea but in the finals were knocked out in the round of 16 in controversial circumstances by the co-hosts, South Korea, when a number of decisions by Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno went against Italy, leading many Italian commentators and Trapattoni himself to suspect a conspiracy to keep the Koreans in the tournament.

He also led them to the finals of Euro 2004 but the Azzurri this time failed to survive the group stage, their fate sealed when the final group match, between Denmark and Sweden, ended in a draw, which resulted in Italy's elimination. Trapattoni was replaced by Lippi as coach soon afterwards.

Trapattoni entered coaching after a massively successful playing career with AC Milan.

Trapattoni with goalkeeper Fabio Cudicini and coach Nereo Rocco after the 1968 Cup-Winners' Cup Final
Trapattoni with goalkeeper Fabio Cudicini and coach
Nereo Rocco after the 1968 Cup-Winners' Cup Final
A central defender or defensive midfielder in the Milan team in which Gianni Rivera was creative star, Trapattoni won two Serie A titles and two European Cups during his 12 years with the rossoneri, also winning the Cup-Winners' Cup, the European Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.

Apart from one season with Varese at the end of his career, he played only for AC Milan. It was there that he began life as a coach, looking after the youth team and, for one season, the senior team before Juventus took him to Turin, where he enjoyed immediate success, leading his new team to the Serie A title in his first year in charge.

After four titles in his first six seasons with Juve, he took the bianconeri to the European Cup final in 1983, where they lost to Hamburg.  Two years later, he won the European Cup, although the victory over reigning champions Liverpool in Brussels was rendered hollow by the crowd violence at the Heysel Stadium, where 39 fans - mainly Italians - were killed when a wall collapsed.

Following a decade with Juve that brought six Serie A titles, two Coppe Italia and all the European glory, Trapattoni moved to Inter, where he won his seventh Serie A crown, then back to Juve, adding the 1993 UEFA Cup to his long list of silverware, before venturing abroad for the first time, with Bayern Munich.

Giovanni Trapattoni
Giovanni Trapattoni
He left Munich after just one season to become coach at Cagliari, where he was sacked for the first time in his career in 1996, before a triumphant second spell in Germany, in which he led Munich to the Bundesliga title in 1997.  Next stop was Fiorentina, whom he took into the Champions League.

After his disappointing four years in charge of the national side, Trapattoni's next five seasons took him to Benfica, Stuttgart and Salzburg.  After winning his ninth and 10th national titles, he returned to international football in slightly unexpected circumstances, taking over as coach of the Republic of Ireland team in 2008.

His biggest achievement with the Irish was qualification for the Euro 2012, hosted by Poland and Ukraine, although in some ways it was small consolation for failing to reach the World Cup finals in 2010, when Ireland earned a play-off against France only to be beaten by a contentious goal from William Gallas in the second leg in Paris after Thierry Henry handled the ball twice in the build-up.

Away from football, Trapattoni, who came from a working class background, has been married for 53 years to Paola. They have two children and a number of grandchildren.

A religious man, he is a follower of the Catholic institution Opus Dei and has been known to sprinkle holy water on the field before a game.  In 2010, he realised a lifetime's ambition by coaching the Vatican City team for a match against an Italian police team.

Cusano Milanino, notable for its leafy thoroughfares, is served by Milan's extensive tram network
Cusano Milanino, notable for its leafy thoroughfares, is
served by Milan's extensive tram network
Travel tip:

Although the history of the town of Cusano goes back to the fourth century, the 20th century brought a change in its character due to the development of the garden city of Milanino, the first to be built in Italy along the lines of those that began to appear in England at the end of the 19th century. With the support of a co-operative movement founded by Luigi Buffoli, Milanino was created to meet the housing needs of the middle class, consisting of elegant villas and cottages, in Art Nouveau and eclectic styles, interspersed with numerous green spaces, which are a particular rarity in the urbanised northern outskirts of Milan. The area became known as Cusano Milanino in 1915.

Milan's stunning Gothic cathedral
Milan's stunning Gothic cathedral
Travel tip:

Milan, where Trapattoni spent almost his entire playing career, is to many a more appropriate city to be the capital of Italy than Rome.  The global capital of fashion and design, it is also home to Italy's stock exchange, a financial hub and a city with a wealth of culture and history. The striking Gothic Duomo di Milano is one of the finest cathedrals in Europe, there are numerous prestigious art galleries and the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent houses Leonardo da Vinci’s mural The Last Supper.  The city has one of the world's most important opera houses in Teatro alla Scala and two of Europe's leading football clubs in AC Milan, for whom Trapattoni played and coached, and Internazionale, where he coached.

19 December 2016

Gianni Brera - football journalist

Outspoken writer who embellished Italian language

Football journalist Gianni Brera
Football journalist Gianni Brera
Italy's football world lost one of its most influential personalities on this day in 1992 when a car crash near the town of Codogno in Lombardy claimed the life of the journalist Gianni Brera.

Brera, who was 73, had enjoyed a long and often controversial career in which his writing was famous not only for its literary quality but for his outspoken views.

He could be savage in his criticisms of players and allowed reputations to count for nothing.  His long-running feud with Gianni Rivera, the AC Milan midfielder regarded by many as one of Italian football's all-time greats, in some ways defined his career.

Yet the positions he occupied in Italian football journalism gained him enormous respect.  He rose to be editor-in-chief of La Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy's biggest sports newspaper, before he was 30 and went on to write for Il Giorno, Il Giornale and La Repubblica among the country's heavyweight news dailies.

The intellectual La Repubblica for many years considered sport to be too trivial to be worthy of coverage, an attitude that persisted even through the 1970s. But the style and innovative brilliance of Brera's writing was a major factor in persuading them to drop their stance.

Famously, Brera introduced new words to the Italian language in his efforts to convey to his readers the things that he saw on the field in front of him and pass on his own interpretation of the game.

AC Milan star Gianni Rivera had a long-running feud with Brera
AC Milan star Gianni Rivera had a
long-running feud with Brera
For example, it was Brera who coined the term libero for the player designated as "sweeper" in the catenaccio defensive formation that dominated Italian football in the 1950s and 60s, and deemed that the players who could no longer be described as half-backs or inside forwards as the game moved away from the traditional 2-3-5 formation would be known in future as centrocampisti - midfielders.

Brera would also invent nicknames for players to amuse his readers.  He dubbed Rivera Abatino - the "little abbot" - and hailed the old-fashioned centre forward Luigi 'Gigi' Riva as Rombo di tuono - the "rumble of thunder".

He was a lifelong advocate of the ultra-defensive tactics characterised by the catenaccio system, and part of his antipathy towards Rivera stemmed from his belief that creative talents such as his were luxuries the game could do without.

Most of Brera's heroes were defenders and where many writers would enthuse about goals scored as moments of beauty in a match, Brera tended to see them as aberrations, the unwanted consequence of flawed defending.  His idea of perfection was a match in which the forwards were players of a manly vigour that constantly tested the defenders but which ultimately ended 0-0.

His spats with other journalists were also legend, most notably with the Neapolitan writer Gino Palumbo, a proponent of attacking play and therefore philosophically at odds with Brera.  The two once engaged in a punch-up in the press box before a match in Brescia.

The Arena Civica in Milan was renamed Arena Gianni Brera
The Arena Civica in Milan was renamed Arena Gianni Brera
At the same time, though, he enjoyed playing host to fellow journalists, players and coaches at his 'Thursday club' at a restaurant in central Milan, where he lived for much of his working life.

To avoid accusations of bias in debates about Milan's rival clubs, Brera always claimed he was a supporter of Genoa, Italy's oldest football club.

Born in 1919 in the village of San Zenone al Po, which sits on the banks of the River Po around 25km south-east of Pavia, Brera was the son of a tailor and barber, but his humble stock belied a considerable intellect, which he demonstrated in obtaining a degree in political sciences from the University of Pavia while simultaneously serving with a parachute division of the Italian army.

He regarded himself as Padanian rather than Italian and was vehemently anti-Fascist, fighting on the side of the Italian resistance towards the end of the Second World War, although proudly proclaiming later that he never fired a shot at a fellow human being.

After his death, Milan's monumental Arena Civica, the stadium conceived as the city's Colosseum by Napoleon I in the early 19th century, was renamed Arena Gianni Brera.

The Castello Visconteo is an attraction for visitors to Pavia
The Castello Visconteo is an attraction for visitors to Pavia
Travel tip:

The elegant Lombardy city of Pavia is renowned for its university, which is regarded as one of the best in Italy and numbers among its alumni the explorer Christopher Columbus and the poet and revolutionary Ugo Foscolo.  Among its important historic buildings are the well preserved 14th century Castello Visconteo, a Duomo dating back to the 15th century and the impressive Lombard-Romanesque church of San Michele Maggiore, which was completed in 1155.

Travel tip:

The Arena Gianni Brera in Milan, formerly known as the Arena Civica, can be found in the Parco Sempione behind the Castello Sforzesco. It is one of Milan's main examples of neoclassical architecture, an elliptical amphitheatre commissioned by Napoleon soon after he became King of Italy in 1805. At one time the home of the Milan football club Internazionale, it is nowadays a venue for international athletics and rugby union as well as being the home of Milan's third football team, Brera Calcio FC.

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18 August 2016

Gianni Rivera - footballer and politician

Milan legend served in the Italian Parliament and as MEP

Gianni Rivera, idol of AC Milan fans for almost two decades
Gianni Rivera, idol of AC Milan fans
for almost two decades
Gianni Rivera, a footballer regarded as one of Italy's all-time greats, was born on this day in 1943 in Alessandria, a city in Piedmont some 90km east of Turin and a similar distance south-west of Milan.

Rivera played for 19 years for AC Milan, winning an array of trophies that included the Italian championship three times, the Italian Cup four times, two European Cup-Winners' Cups and two European Cups.

He won 63 caps for the Italian national team, playing in four World Cups, including the 1970 tournament in Mexico, when Italy reached the final.

Later in life, he entered politics, sitting in the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament from 1987 to 2001 and serving as a Member of the European Parliament from 2005 to 2009.

Rivera had a tough upbringing in Alessandria, which suffered heavy bombing during the later stages of the Second World War, with hundreds of residents killed.  His family were not wealthy but Rivera found distraction playing football with his friends in the street and it was obvious at an early age that he had talent.

His father, a railway mechanic, arranged for him to have a trial with the local football club when he was 13 and he was quickly taken on as a youth team player.   The club, US Alessandria, competes in the semi-professional Lega Pro nowadays but was a much grander concern as Rivera was growing up and when he made his senior debut in 1959, aged just 15 years and 288 days, it was in a top-flight Serie A match against Internazionale.

He was the second youngest player in Serie A history.  By the age of 17, Rivera had been sold to AC Milan for 90 million lire.

Small and slight, Rivera had to win over his critics, some of whom decried him as a 'luxury' player in that he was never one for the physical side of football.  Gianni Brera, one of Italy's foremost football writers, dubbed him abatino - literally 'little abbot' - and did not intend it as a compliment.

Rivera (right) with his international team-mate and rival in club football, Sandro Mazzola
Rivera (right) with his international team-mate
and rival in club football, Sandro Mazzola
Yet Rivera's intelligence and imagination, first as a winger and in time as a classical 'number 10', playing just behind the forwards, enabled him to score and create goals in abundance.

Rivera helped Milan win the 1962 scudetto - the Serie A title - when he was only 18 and when the rossoneri became the first Italian club to win the European Cup a year later, beating Benfica 2-1 at Wembley, it was Rivera who set up both Milan's goals for José Altafini.

In his international career, Rivera was a member of the Italy team that won the European Championships on home soil in 1968 and scored the winning goal in an epic semi-final against West Germany in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico as the Italians triumphed 4-3.

This was the tournament in which Ferruccio Valcareggi, Italy's coach, could not decide between Rivera and the similarly gifted Sandro Mazzola as his playmaker and ended up reaching a bizarre compromise that he termed the staffetta - 'relay' - in which Rivera, captain of AC Milan, and Mazzola, captain of their fierce city rivals Internazionale, would play one half each, with Rivera often coming on at half-time.

It worked effectively in the quarter-finals, when Italy overwhelmed the hosts Mexico 4-1 with three goals in the second half, and against the Germans, when Rivera's influence in extra time was decisive, although Valcareggi abandoned the policy in the final, with Rivera kept on the bench until the final six minutes, by which time the brilliant Brazilians were well on their way to a 4-1 win.

Rivera played his last match for Milan in 1979, retiring after 658 club appearances, having scored 164 goals.  As with many outstanding club servants in Italian football, he was given what was assumed would be a job for life with the rossoneri, who made him a vice-president.

Gianni Rivera in his days as a politician
Gianni Rivera in his days as
a politician 
All that changed, however, when Silvio Berlusconi bought the club in 1986. Rivera and the future Italian Prime Minister were diametrically opposed politically.  The former player made outspoken comments about the controversial Berlusconi's involvement, as a politician of the right, in what was traditionally regarded as the club of Milan's working class, after which he was stripped of his status as vice-president and had his right to match tickets withdrawn.  Not surprisingly, Rivera resigned.

It was soon afterwards that he stood for election to the Italian Parliament, initially winning election as a centrist but moving to the centre-left.  As a member of the Italian Renewal movement set up by former Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, he served in the Olive Tree coalition led by Romano Prodi that defeated Berlusconi in 1996.  For a while, Rivera was under-secretary of state for defence.

After his stint as an MEP, Rivera returned to football in 2013, appointed by the Italian Federation as President of the Technical Sector, overseeing the training and qualification of coaches.

The Cittadella di Alessandria, viewed from the air
The Cittadella di Alessandria, viewed from the air
Travel tip:

Alessandria is notable among other things for the Cittadella di Alessandria, a star-shaped hexagonal fortress built in the 18th century when the city was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia.  Situated just outside the city across the Tanaro River and surrounded by a wide moat linked to the river, it covers more than 180 acres and is one of the best preserved fortifications of its type.  It remained a military establishment until as recently as 2007 and now holds a permanent exhibition of about 1500 uniforms, weapons and memorabilia.

Travel tip:

Milan is the most populous metropolitan area in Italy and the fifth largest in Europe with an urban population of around 5.5 million.  It is the wealthiest city in Italy with the third largest economy in Europe after London and Paris.  Its many notable tourist attractions include the magnificent Gothic cathedral, the Sforza Castle and Leonardo da Vinci's mural painting of The Last Supper, in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie.

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