Showing posts with label Torino. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Torino. Show all posts

26 January 2018

Valentino Mazzola – footballer

Tragic star may have been Italy’s greatest player

Valentino Mazzola scored more  than 100 goals in Serie A
Valentino Mazzola scored more
than 100 goals in Serie A
The footballer Valentino Mazzola, captain of the mighty Torino team of the 1940s, was born on this day in 1919 in Cassano d’Adda, a town in Lombardy about 30km (19 miles) northeast of Milan.

Mazzola, a multi-talented player who was primarily an attacking midfielder but who was comfortable in any position on the field, led the team known as Il Grande Torino to five Serie A titles in seven seasons between 1942 and 1949.

He scored 109 goals in 231 Serie A appearances for Venezia and Torino and had become the fulcrum of the Italy national team, coached by the legendary double World Cup-winner Vittorio Pozzo.

In just over a decade at the top level of the Italian game he achieved considerable success and some who saw him play believe he was the country’s greatest footballer of all time.

His life was cut short, however, when he and most of the Grande Torino team – and at the same time the Italian national team – were killed when a plane carrying them home from a friendly in Portugal crashed in thick fog on its approach to Turin airport on May 4, 1949.

The Superga Disaster – so-called because the aircraft collided with the rear wall of the Basilica of Superga, which stands on a hill overlooking the city – claimed the lives of 18 players, including all bar one of the Torino first team, as well as the team’s English coach, Leslie Lievesley, and four other officials, plus three journalists and all of the crew. Of the 31 on board, no one survived.

Mazzola in action for the Italian  national team in 1947
Mazzola in action for the Italian
national team in 1947
It was a tragedy of which there were eerie echoes in the Munich Disaster of nine years later, when many members of a talented Manchester United team were killed, including Duncan Edwards, who though much younger had similar qualities to Mazzola and many thought had the potential to become the English game’s greatest player.

Mazzola was il Grande Torino’s leader and inspiration, known for literally rolling up his sleeves when his team were not playing up to the standard he demanded, a habit that came to symbolise his determination and to lift those around him. If a game was not going well, the crowds in Torino’s old Filadelfia stadium would watch for the moment Mazzola gave the cue and would respond with a roar of encouragement for the team.

His character on the football field was a reflection of his life, which had seen him show bravery in the face of adversity in many ways.

Born in a poor neighbourhood, he had to leave school early after his father, a labourer, was laid off as the Wall Street Crash of 1929 began to reverberate across the world, taking a job as a baker’s boy and, at the age of 14, in a linen mill on the Adda river.

He had demonstrated his selfless courage at the age of 10 when he dived into the fast-flowing waters of the Adda to save the life of a six-year-old boy.  By an extraordinary coincidence, the boy who would likely have drowned had Mazzola not come to the rescue was Andrea Bonomi, a future footballer who would go on to captain a title-winning AC Milan team.

Mazzola played for two local teams, Tresoldi and Fara d’Adda, where his talent was noted by an employee of Alfa Romeo, the car manufacturer which had a plant in Arese, on the outskirts of Milan.

Valentino with his son Sandro, who would grow up to be a star like his father
Valentino with his son Sandro, who would
grow up to be a star like his father
Factories at the time in Italy regarded a successful football team as good for prestige and Alfa Romeo were particularly proud of theirs, which played at a semi-professional level in Serie C, the third tier of the Italian league system.  Companies were keen to find good players and the reports they heard about this boy from Cassano d’Adda prompted Alfa Romeo to offer him training as a mechanic if he would play for their team.

For the Mazzola family, the timing could not have been better. His father, sadly, had been killed when he was hit by a truck and this offer of a job enabled Valentino to become a breadwinner. 

His career evolved despite the outbreak of war in 1939.  Conscripted to the Royal Italian Navy, he was based in Venice and was soon invited to play for Venezia, making his Serie A debut in 1940 at the age of 21.

He moved to Torino after Venezia won the Coppa Italia in 1941 and finished third in Serie A in 1942, just a point behind the Turin team, who paid 200,000 lire for his services.  In Turin he worked for FIAT at their Lingotto plant. 

Mazzola won his first scudetto in 1943, his second in 1945 and then three in a row from 1947 to 1949, by margins of 13 points, 10 points and a record 16 points. The names of Eusebio Castigliano, Mario Rigamonti, Rubens Fadini, Romeo Menti, Ezio Loik, Gugliemo Gabetto and Franco Ossola as well as Mazzola became the talk of Italy, giving hope to the national team too.

The wreckage of the plane in which Mazzola and  his Grande Torino teammates perished
The wreckage of the plane in which Mazzola and
his Grande Torino teammates perished
In the desperate poverty of the immediate post-war years, life in Italy was grim but when the Italian national team beat Hungary 3-2 in a friendly in 1947, with 10 of the 11 Azzurri players coming from Torino, it gave the country a considerable fillip. Mazzola won 12 caps, although it would have been more but for the Second World War, which also denied him the chance to participate in a World Cup.

Away from football, Mazzola was a quiet person who valued his privacy.  In Turin in 1942, he married Emilia Rinaldi, moved into an apartment on Via Torricelli and they had two sons, Ferruccio and Sandro. The latter would grow up to play for Internazionale of Milan and become even more decorated than his father, winning the scudetto four times and the European Cup twice, as well as winning a European championship winners’ medal with Italy in 1968 and playing in the World Cup final in 1970.

He and Rinaldi separated in 1946 and he married for a second time in April 1949 to 19-year-old Giuseppina Cutrone, only to be killed just 10 days later.  He is buried in the Monumental Cemetery in Milan.

The Borromeo Castle by the Adda at Cassano d'Adda
The Borromeo Castle by the Adda at Cassano d'Adda
Travel tip:

Cassano d’Adda sits on the eastern bank of the Adda, the river that has shaped its history in may ways. The town developed as a result of the crossing there, which gave it a strategic importance that led it to be the site of several battles over the centuries, from Roman times to the French Revolutionary Wars of the 18th century. It is notable for the Borromeo Castle, built in around 1000 and significantly expanded by Francesco I Sforza in the 15th century. At different times it has been owned by the Venetians, the Spanish and the Austrians as well as by different Italian families.  Connected by canals with Milan and Lodi, Cassano d’Adda grew prosperous in the 19th century through linen manufacture using watermills.

The Basilica di Superga, near Turin
The Basilica di Superga, near Turin
Travel tip:

The Superga tragedy is commemorated with a simple memorial at the site of the crash, at the back of the magnificent 18th century Basilica di Superga.  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 31 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.

2 March 2017

Vittorio Pozzo - double World Cup winner

Manager led Azzurri to victory in 1934 and 1938

Vittorio Pozzo is Italy's most  successful manager
Vittorio Pozzo is Italy's most
successful manager
Vittorio Pozzo, the most successful manager in the history of Italy's national football team, was born on this day in 1886 in Turin.

Under Pozzo's guidance, the Azzurri won the FIFA World Cups of 1934 and 1938 as well as the Olympic football tournament in 1936. He also led them to the Central European International Cup, the forerunner of the European championships, in 1931 and 1935. No other coach in football history has won the World Cup twice.

Pozzo managed some outstanding players, such as Internazionale's Giuseppe Meazza and the Juventus defender Pietro Rava, but his reputation was tarnished by the success of his team coinciding with the Fascist regime's tight grip on power. Italy's success on the football field was exploited ruthlessly as a propaganda vehicle.

While not a Fascist himself, Pozzo upset many opponents of Mussolini across Europe at the 1938 World Cup in France when his players gave the so-called 'Roman' salute - the extended right-arm salute adopted by the Fascists - during the playing of the Italian anthem.

At Italy's opening match against Norway, the salute was greeted with boos and hisses, generated by Italian supporters in the crowd who had fled their home country to escape Fascism.  Some of the Italian players dropped their arms but Pozzo ordered them to resume the salute, which further antagonised the crowd.

Pozzo holds aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy surrounded by the Italian team after their 1934 triumph on home soil
Pozzo holds aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy surrounded by
the Italian team after their 1934 triumph on home soil
Afterwards, Pozzo said he insisted on the salute only out of respect for protocol, claiming that neither he nor his players had given consideration to political issues.  He explained that he gave the order to resume the salute because he did not want his players to be cowed by intimidation, fearing their confidence would suffer.

Nonetheless, the incident cast a shadow over the remainder of his career and some commentators feel the appreciation of his achievements was diminished as a result.

Pozzo was born in Turin, where family had moved from the small town of Ponderano in the province of Biella, some 75km (47 miles) north-west of the city in the foothills of the Alps.

He attended the Liceo Cavour, where he studied the classics and languages.  He became proficient in English, French and German, in which he expanded his knowledge by studying in England, France and Switzerland.

At the same time, Pozzo took the opportunity to immerse himself in football, for which he had a passion.  While in Manchester, he became friends with two prominent players, the Manchester United half-back, Charlie Roberts, and the Derby County forward, Steve Bloomer.

The 1934 World Cup final took place in the Stadio Nazionale del PNF - the national stadium of the Fascist party
The 1934 World Cup final took place in the Stadio Nazionale
del PNF - the national stadium of the Fascist party
In Switzerland he played as a professional, spending the 1905-06 season with Grasshoppers of Zurich, and on returning to Italy was one of the founding members of FC Torino.  He retired as a player in 1911 but stayed at the club as technical director, while simultaneously pursuing a business career as a manager with the tyre manufacturer Pirelli.

He became involved with the national team for the first time in 1912, when an Italian team - the first in a competitive event - went to the Olympics in Stockholm, but he resigned after defeat to Finland in the first round.  He returned to Pirelli before joining the Alpini - the mountain warfare corps of the Italian army - at the outbreak of the First World War.

He was handed the reins of the national team for a second time in 1921.  He stepped down again in 1924 following a quarter-final defeat to Switzerland at the Olympics in Paris, although his decision was influenced by the need to care for his wife, who was terminally ill.

Appointed as national team coach for a third time in 1929, he had almost immediate success, winning the Central European International Cup, defeating Hungary 5-0 in the final.

Giuseppe Meazza of Internazionale was one of Pozzo's key players
Giuseppe Meazza of Internazionale was
one of Pozzo's key players
The key to Pozzo's winning formula was his clever use of tactics. Most teams still favoured the so-called Cambridge Pyramid formation, consisting of five forwards, three half-backs and just two out-and-out defenders.  Teams were top-heavy with attacking players because the basic philosophy of the game was simply to score more goals than the opposition, with little attention paid to defending.

Pozzo saw things differently.  His military experiences had taught him that even when on the attack it was an unwise general who would leave his base undefended.  Under what he called simply Il Metodo - the Method - he tweaked the 2-3-5 formation, retaining the centre forward and the wingers but pulling the two inside forwards back into midfield, where the half-backs served a dual purpose, supporting the attacking players but dropping back to defend when the opposing team was in possession.

A pragmatist who was always more concerned with winning than entertaining the crowd with expansive football, he was never afraid to leave a player out if his abilities did not suit his tactics. Twice he dropped the team captain, leaving out Adolfo Baloncieri, the Torino star who was country's highest scoring midfield player, in 1930 and, on the eve of 1934 finals, of which Italy were hosts, the Juventus defender Umberto Caligaris.

Thus Pozzo, who became known as il Vecchio Maestro - the Old Master - achieved unprecedented and - so far - unrepeated success.

Pozzo's 2-3-2-3 formation was revolutionary in terms of football tactics
Pozzo's 2-3-2-3 formation was revolutionary
in terms of football tactics
He continued as national manager until the London Olympics of 1948, his last match ending in a 5-3 defeat to Denmark in the quarter-finals. His Azzurri record was 64 wins, 17 draws and 16 defeats.

After declaring his career in management was over, he became a journalist with the Turin newspaper La Stampa, for whom he reported the 1950 World Cup finals.

He returned to his roots in Ponderano on retirement and died there in 1968 at the age of 82, a few months after watching Italy win the 1968 European championships.

Even after his death, some Italians felt his two World Cup wins were devalued by the association with Mussolini's regime. In the 1990s, he was posthumously exonerated, at least in part, when evidence came to light that he had secretly fought with the Italian anti-Fascist resistance during the Second World War.

Biella's Romanesque baptistry in Piazza Duomo
Biella's Romanesque baptistry in Piazza Duomo
Travel tip:

The village of Ponderano sits just outside Biella, an attractive town in the sub-Alpine area of northern Piedmont. Biella is famed for Menabrea beer, for its production of wool and cashmere products and as a centre for hiking and mountain biking holidays.  The Fila sportswear company was founded in Biella in 1911. The town's historic centre is notable for a Romanesque baptistry and the Renaissance church and convent of San Sebastian.  Ponderano has staged an annual youth football tournament, one of the most prestigious in Italy, in Pozzo's honour every year since his death.

Piazza San Carlo is a typically elegant square in the beautiful city centre of Turin
Piazza San Carlo is a typically elegant square
in the beautiful city centre of Turin
Travel tip:

Turin made its name as Italy’s manufacturing powerhouse, spearheaded by the car giant Fiat, although the city itself has elegant echoes of Paris in the tree-lined boulevards put in place during its time as capital of the Kingdom of Savoy. However, the city's economy suffered badly in the face of global competition in the 1980s, when more than 100,000 workers lost their jobs. Modern Turin is doing its best to regenerate. Former industrial sites such as Parco Dora, once a factory district where Fiat, Michelin and carpet manufacturer Paracchi were big employers, have been transformed into public leisure venues with modern facilities for sport and the infrastructure to host major open-air concerts.

Search Tripadvisor for hotels in Turin

More reading:

Giuseppe Meazza - Italy's first superstar

How Marcello Lippi led Italy to 2006 World Cup glory

Paolo Rossi's hat-trick in World Cup classic

Also on this day:

1603: The birth of the Sicilian painter Pietro Novelli

(Picture credit: Baptistry by Alessandro Vecchi via Wikimedia Commons)


15 January 2017

Gigi Radice - football coach

Former Milan player steered Torino to only title in 68 years

Gigi Radici, whose coaching methods were inspired  by the 'total football' of Dutch coach Rinus Michels
Gigi Radici, whose coaching methods were inspired
 by the 'total football' of Dutch coach Rinus Michels
Luigi 'Gigi' Radice, the only coach to have won the Italian football championship with Torino in the 68 years that have elapsed since the Superga plane crash wiped out the greatest of all Torino teams, was born on this day in 1935 in Cesano Maderno, near Monza, some 24km (15 miles) north of Milan.

An attacking full-back with AC Milan, where he won the Scudetto three times and was a member of the team that won the 1962-63 European Cup, Radice made five appearances for Italy, including two at the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile.

He switched to coaching in 1965 after a serious knee injury ended his playing career prematurely and achieved immediate success with his local club, Monza, whom he guided to promotion as champions in Serie C.

After leading Cesena to promotion to Serie A for the first time in the Emilia-Romagna club's history in 1972-73 Radice had spells with Fiorentina and Cagliari before Torino owner Orfeo Pianelli hired him in 1975.

Stadio Comunale, now the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino,  has been the home of the club for much of the club's history
Stadio Comunale, now the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino,
 has been the home of Torino for much of the club's history
Torino had finished third in 1971-72 and in the top six in each of the following three seasons but were not close to breaking the dominance of city rivals Juventus, whose 1974-75 Serie A title was their third in four seasons and 16th overall.

Yet Radice transformed Torino's fortunes instantly, toppling the bianconeri at the first attempt as I granata - the Maroons - finished two points ahead of Juventus to win their seventh Scudetto and the first since the Grande Torino team of the 1940s.

Crucially, Torino beat Juventus in both of the season's derby matches, each played at the shared Stadio Comunale.  Radice's team won 2-0 as the 'home' side in December and by the same scoreline in the return fixture in March, the two games watched by a total of almost 120,000 spectators.

Radice had a reputation for taking a tough, no-nonsense approach with his players that earned him the nickname 'the Iron Sergeant' and sometimes 'the German.'  On the field, his Torino teamed played at a high tempo, pressing their opponents all over the pitch as Radice tried to implement the so-called 'total football' created by the Dutch coach Rinus Michels, of whom he was a great admirer.

Paolino Pucci with the trophy he won as Serie A's top scorer in 1975-76
Paolino Pucci with the trophy he won as
Serie A's top scorer in 1975-76
It was an antidote to the rather sterile, defensive tactics favoured by some Italian coaches and earned Radice the Seminatore d'Oro award as Serie A's best coach for 1975-76. His two strikers, Paolino Pulici and Francesco Graziani, thrived in his system, scoring 36 goals between them in the title-winning season.

For Pucci, who spent 15 seasons with the club, ending his career as Torino's all-time record goalscorer with 172 goals, it was the best season of his career, bringing him 21 Serie A goals.

Juventus reasserted their superiority in the city by winning back their crown the following season, with Radice's Torino runners-up.

Radice achieved two more top-three finishes before leaving the club in 1980, a year after he had suffered serious injuries in a road accident.  He returned for a second spell in charge in 1984, again achieving success at the first attempt when Torino were runners-up to Verona in 1984-85.

He moved on again after Torino were relegated in 1989 and his coaching career never again reached the same heights, although his Fiorentina's team were second at the half-way stage in the 1992-93 season before a row with the club's chairman, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, cost him his job.

He retired at the age of 63, having returned to his first club, Monza, where he ended on a high note by winning promotion to Serie B.  Now 82, he still lives in Monza. His son, Ruggero, one of three children, followed him into football and was a member of the Siena team that won an historic promotion to Serie A in 2003. He now coaches in the youth section at the Tuscan club.

The black and white marble facade of the Duomo in Monza
The black and white marble facade of the Duomo in Monza
Travel tip:

Cesana Maderno is a town of around 35,000 inhabitants situated about 15km from Monza, the Lombardy city best known for its motor racing circuit, which has been the home of the Italian Formula One Grand Prix every year bar one since 1950.  The city has other attractions, including a 14th century Duomo, built in Romanesque-Gothic style with a black and white marble facade, and the church of Santa Maria in Strada, also built in the 14th century, which has a facade in terracotta. The Royal Villa, on the banks of the Lambro river, dates back to the 18th century, when Monza was part of the Austrian Empire.

Travel tip:

Although the home of Italy's former royal family and the first capital of the modern Italy, its architectural style gives Turin a different look from most Italian cities.  Dominated by Baroque palaces and churches built when Turin was part of the Kingdom of Savoy, it is sometimes called 'the little Paris' on account of the wide boulevards and white buildings that are typical of the French capital, of which the elegant 19th century cafes in the city centre are another echo.

More reading:

Nevio Scala - the coach behind Parma's golden era

Claudio Ranieri - the man who made the Leicester miracle happen

The Torino winger who became the world's most expensive footballer

Also on this day: