By Biodun Aiyegbusi
“At first the grass wouldn’t stick but the performance of such outstanding stars as the Italian eleven, with Roberto Bettega and his French style hairdo, a la Marcello Mastroianni and PAOLO ROSSI, the six million dollar man of football, all contributed to make the 1978 world cup a big success”……..
The above quote is culled from the commentary from the film ” THE POWER OF FOOTBALL” , a documentary on the I978 World Cup in Argentina. The film was said to have been banned by the Argentine government after its release , so it wasn’t as popular as “The Giants of Brazil” that was in most homes at that time. We had this Power of Football film at home and I must have watched it over a hundred times. It was through this film that I first heard of Paolo Rossi.
Even as popular as Paolo Rossi was in some football circles, he was unknown to many football aficionados outside Italy until the 1982 World Cup, where he emerged highest goalscorer, best player and gold medallist.
Paolo Rossi’s magnum opus was unarguably, the knock out stage match against the popular and well loved Brazillian “82 Selecao …featuring the likes of Zico, Falcao, Socratis, Eder , Cerezo etc. A World Cup trophy was eagerly expected and awaited from that squad but Paolo Rossi ” fucked” them up. Scoring a brilliant hat-trick to give the Azzuris a 3-2 victory. The team went on to beat Poland and West Germany in the semifinals and finals, with Rossi scoring in both games.
Of course Rossi became a heart breaker to millions of Brazil supporters (this writer inclusive) and tattooed same name on the hearts of millions of Azzuri fans.
Paolo Rossi was a very prolific striker, though injury prone, he was goleador in the Serie B, Serie A and was highly valued and coveted by Italian football clubs. At a point in his career, he was co-owned by both Vicenza and Juventus and when the ownership tussle was resolved, he became one of the most expensive football transfers in the world.
Paolo Rossi was the striker the likes of Ruud Van Nistelroy and Fillipo Inzaghi equally prolific in numbers, tried to copy. Only that the latter are regarded as “slimy, sneaky bastards” by defenders . Rossi was not a ” slimy sneaky bastard” by any means. He was the type a rugged defender will shake and say “well done” after a match.
He was that type of striker that was decisive, competitive, aware in positioning and with full concentration on the trajectory of the ball. Rossi would latch on to a deflection like he had planned for it to happen.
Majority of the Italian press were initially against his inclusion in the 1982 squad, since he was just coming back from a long lay off due to a match fixing scandal ( he insisted he was framed), but Enzo Bearzot, the Azzuri manager, stood his ground and was ultimately rewarded. The 1982 World Cup was undoubtedly “The Paolo Rossi Show” ably supported by a hugely talented squad comprising of Bruno Conti, Guiseppi Bergomi, Claudio Gentile, Marco Tardelli, Oriali, Cabrini, Altobelli, Dino Zoff, Fulvio Collovati, Gaetano Scirea, Francesco Graziani and others.
Paolo Rossi became a pundit for RAI and delved into real estate development with one of his former team mates until he died two months after his 64th birthday.
Thank you for the indelible memories. You will be remembered fondly by football lovers all over the world, maybe not so in Brazil.
Goodnight #LEGEND……….may your soul rest in peace.
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