It should not be surprising that the greatest defender in the world, comes from the land of the greatest defense, Italy. And thus, the greatest defender naturally would come from the greatest team, our beloved Vecchia Signora.
Like many of Juventus Legends, Gaetano Scirea was plucked from his youth side, Atalanta at the young age of 21. He made an immediate impact on the side, and alongside one of the meanest stoppers of all time, Claudio Gentile, the duo would form one of the world’s greatest defenses in front of Dino Zoff. With the other defenders, Cabrini, Cuccureddu, and Brio, the group dominated Italy for much of the 1970s. It was in this time that the Bianconeri added the first star to the, and accumulated Scudetto after Scudetto under the management of il Trap. The team would also form the backbone of the 1982 World Cup-winning side.
Scirea was a special kind of player. I would not seek to dismiss the prowess of Gentile, or the brilliance at left-back of Cabrini, nor the intelligence required for the defensive midfielder Beppe Furino. But his position required a special kind of genius. Scirea played as a sweeper, a libero in Italian, during the position’s transition from its catenaccio origins to one of a fulcrum of the squad. As a sweeper, he naturally would roam the defense and anticipate plays, breaking them up and distributing the ball, sort of as a deeper defensive midfielder. But this was only part of his responsibility. A sweeper had evolved from a defender to a playmaker. Often Scirea had the directive to build up play from the back, as well as pushing forward in attack. That explains, as a central-defender, his excellent goalscoring record over his 14-year career at Juventus. Scirea had a very intelligent role to play with the Bianconeri, especially given the fact that he was neither particularly pacey nor physically strong, and he played the Bianconeri tune beautifully.
Gaetano was an elegant defender, blessed by his god-given ability to intelligently read the offense, anticipate play, and then quickly start a counter-attack by pushing forward whether dribbling like a striker or passing out wide to a midfielder. He was, in many ways, the opposite of his partner Claudio Gentile, he was a “gentleman sweeper” who rarely committed fouls due to his calm temperament and innate technical ability, never receiving a red-card his entire career, despite often playing as the last man in defense. His performances on the pitch mirrored his personality; never one to seek the limelight, he shied away from the media for much of his career.
It was this personality that won him so many Juventus fans and earned him general indifference from much of the football-fan populace during his career. It was this calmness and personality that won him many accolades for his conduct, to this day, many tournaments in Italy give out trophies for fair play and sportsmanship with the Scirea name. His greatest moments perhaps were defending the Azzurri name in Spain at the FIFA World Cup of 1982. Playing alongside his Juventus teammates Gentile, Cabrini, Zoff, Tardelli, Rossi, etc, the team went all the way to the final, triumphing against West Germany 3-1.
As his career dwindled, Scirea made less forward runs and stayed deeper in defense. Juve’s all-conquering side began to age, and the results followed. Trapattoni left in 1986, and Juve started trailing behind Napoli and then became shadowed by the all-conquering Milan of the late 80s and early 90s. Scirea decided to retire in 1988 after Juve struggled to finish in 6th place. He finished his career with 7 Scudetti, 2 Coppa Italia, 1 UEFA Cup, 1 Cup Winners Cup, 1 European Supercup, 1 European Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup, and of course, a FIFA World Cup winners medal.
As a life-long Juventino and the Bandiera of the squad, as well as the all-time caps record holder of Juve (until Del Piero surpassed him in 2008) he was hired by ex-teammate Dino Zoff to be assistant coach of the Bianconeri. In 1989, while scouting Juve’s next UEFA Cup opponent in Poland, he died in a tragic and horrible accident on the highway after colliding with a gas tanker, 20 years ago to this day. In his memory, the Juve fans have named their Curva after him. It continues to be named so to this day, and when the new stadium is finished, it will still be called the Curva Scirea.
Forever In Our Hearts
Scirea is a symbol of Juve. He embodies the Juve that the great Gianni Agnelli always wanted; determined with plenty of grinta, motivated, graceful, classy- on and off the pitch. Until April 6th, 2008, Scirea held the all-time presence record with Juve, until he was passed by our beloved captain Alessandro Del Piero. He had this to say about Scirea:
When I broke the record attendance mark for Juventus, it was only important for me because it was his record. “Being able to achieve such feats with this club is an honour that I am very proud of, however it’s an incentive as well, because of the players who have been here before me, such as Gaetano. Last season the club had some significant objectives that we knew would be difficult to achieve. When it comes to people like Scirea though, he provides me with the inspiration I need to succeed, as we all know how he achieved things in his career.
Fabio Grosso, who was just given Scirea’s #6 jersey, further paid tribute:
Wearing jersey number 6 of Juventus – said Grosso contacted while at the Coverciano camp – will be an honour and a great privildge. Wearing the number of Geatano Scirea, a football legend, a man who is still of an example to all footballers, contributes to making me feel part of an extraordinary history of sports immediately. I hope to deserve the faith of the club and re-pay the supporters and my team mates for the affection with which they greeted me.
Comments from Dino Zoff:
Gaetano? An extraordinary man and footballer. An example of style and class both on the field and off it. With him I shared great moments. During training camp we lived in the same room. I remember during the world cup in Spain, Tardelli could not sleep the night before the matches. To relax, he used to come to our room which he used to call “Switzerland” because it was the most tranquil room of the camp. In our way of being together we hardly needed any words. A look was enough.
Scirea would have been an excellent coach if he had the chance: he was convincing and loved to teach. He would have liked today’s football even though he was not the type to want to be a protagonist. He would have never become a “front page” person but he knew how to make himself heard by all.
His heir? Up to yesterday Paolo Maldini. I wouldn’t know about today.
Winger Franco Causio pays tribute:
He came to Turin when he was still very young while I was already much older. I can say I saw him grow: youngster, fiancé, husband, exemplary father. He was shy and a good man perhaps even too good. I often told him to react, to be a bit crueler with the opponents: his serenity made me angry. You know what his answer used to be? “I can’t”. He used to say so with a smile on his lips and it was disarming. I never saw him get angry. He used to say it was not worth it and in hind sight I must admit I think so too. We spent the best years of our lives together, won a lot and shared great joys. When I left Juve we still remained very close. It was impossible not to love him. It was impossible to speak badly of him. I loved him a lot.
1982 World Cup winner Marco Tardelli speaks of his teammate:
He was one of the best players in the world but was too humble to say so or even to simple think so. His way of being quiet and reserved maybe took away his chance of being better known but it surely won him esteem, respect and the friendship of everyone, Juventus fans and not. This does not mean that he was weak or that he had nothing to say: on the contrary, he was very strong on the inside and knew how to speak through his silence. We had completely opposite characters but got along well.
One day, he came to see me by the sea and we played hide and seek, a strange thing for Serie A professionals but it was part of our spending time together and enjoying ourselves in a simple manner. In today’s football I think he would have felt a bit lost but only on a personal level. When it came to football he was very competent and knew how to be authoritarian. Let us say that personalities with his character, nowadays, do not exist any more.
And finally from goalkeeper Stefano Tacconi:
With Gaetano I only shared joys: together we won all there was to win. In the football annals there are only 5 players who managed to win all the international tournaments: Blind of Ajax, Brio, Cabrini, Gaetano and myself. It is a reason to be proud having been able to write those pages together and having been his friend. In Turin we lived very close to each other and we often went to training together. Once I forgot to pick him up and made him arrive late for the first and only time in his life. When he arrived at the Combi he came up to me and said “bravo, bravo” but you could see he had already forgiven me.
On Friday night us two together with Zoff had the superstitious rite of going to the same restaurant but in reality it was an excuse to spend time together. I will always be grateful to him because he was one of those who helped me recover from the dark batch when I was relegated to the bench. He used to tell me to insist and finally I won back my place. As usual, he was right.
Juve President Giovanni Cobolli Gigli also expounded on Scirea’s greatness. Besides the class shown on the field, Gaetano perfectly incarnated the spirit that forever has been the soul of the great players in the history of Juventus and which is the basis of the Juventus style:
The 3rd of September was a normal day for me until I got to know from the television the news of the tragic death of Gaetano Scirea in Poland. Apart from my feelings, I remember that the whole of Italy joined the Juventus supporters in memory of a champion who had given so much not only by playing for Juventus but also for the national team.
He was a classy great player who represented Juventus by playing as a bianconero for many years in a role that does not exist anymore, the libero role, but which he interpreted in a very dynamic manner. He was very good with his footwork and was capable of imposing the game. As a child, in the Atalanta youth sector he had gained experience as a winger and this sowed in him the want to attack. He was even capable of scoring great goals: I remember two impressive ones scored against Torino which fill me with joy and satisfaction.
Today’s Juventus is also made up of memories of men who gave this team something and this perhaps allows our club to be different from others. Scirea’s style is the style of Boniperti, from whom he learnt it and is now the style of many others and definitely of Del Piero. This is what allows Juventus, besides the coaches and the management, to maintain its tone of a compact club which allows it to rise-up even in the hardest of moments.
Lastly, a tribute from Juventus.com:
“A role model from all points of view: technique, style and behaviour“: this is how Gaetano Scirea was spoken of on the day of his demise by Enzo Bearzot, the coach of the Italian national team who won the world championship in 1982.
It is a sentence which lends itself perfectly to his way of playing and a lifestyle which was loved by all those who had the fortune of meeting him. It is impossible to separate the two and it is this which saw the person winning esteem everywhere amongst the supporters of all teams.
His immense class was always appreciated and it made him the best libero of all times but in addition to this was his great character: Scirea was never involved in controversy, neither on the field nor off it and journalists of his time never managed to find a shocking title to attribute to him but a heart-felt gratitude for having interviewed him.
Much More Than A Soccer Player…
A group of Italian journalists give out an annual award, the Scirea award, for being an “ideal footballing role model on and off the pitch” (Premio Nazionale Carriera Esemplare “Gaetano Scirea”). Del Piero took the award in 2008, receiving a landslide 80% of the votes. Truly, for his class on and off the pitch, Del Piero deserves the award and to succeed Scirea as the all-time record holder for Juve.
Unfortunately, I was not alive to have watched Scirea’s grace on the pitch, and I’ve only watched the clips on the Amore Bianconero DVDs and the little bit I can find on YouTube. Of all of them… not surprisingly, Esoesgallo’s is the best. Today we commemorate the life of a great calciatore, who embodied the spirit of our great club and the pride of Bianconeri world wide. Just as importantly, we mourn the death of a great man whose life, tragically, ended far too soon.
I leave you with class from the man himself…