Pass any park, field or playground in the days surrounding footballs biggest occasions, be it a World Cup, Champions League or FA Cup Final or even the opening match of a new season and you will more than likely find a group of children playing the game we all love. More than just playing, they will be attempting to emulate their heroes; a run like Lionel Messi, a thunderous shot a la Edinson Cavani or practicing their golf swing in South America like Carlos Tevez.
Many will wear the shirt of a player they admire, his name and number emblazoned across their back in tribute to their current idol. Those numbers, despite the best efforts of marketing men the world over, are still synonymous with certain positions from the magical left foot of anyone donning eleven or the hard working right back in his number two.
In Italy the number ten shirt takes on special significance, a hallowed garment that must always be honoured in the right way. From the magic of Fiorentina’s mythical Giancarlo Antognoni, through Diego Maradona at Napoli to the current day brilliance of Francesco Totti, it has been the exclusive property of the fantasisti, the play makers and creators so beloved by fans of all ages.
Nowhere is this more true than at Juventus where it has been seen on the back of Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio and, most recently, Alessandro Del Piero. Talk of retiring it for the club’s all-time leading goal scorer and appearance maker divided fans, torn between honouring their iconic skipper whilst worrying about ignoring the past.
Yet it may well be the case that the number ten is not even Juve’s most famous shirt, that another number could have provided more inspiration, more glory and indeed an even greater list of legends. As Del Piero wrote the latest chapter In his own incredible story, stroking home a wonderful goal after wonderful goal, the man replacing him as Captain is the current incumbent of a shirt whose own legacy may well surpass that of the Bianconeri number ten.
In goal for the Turin club since his still record transfer from Parma stands Gianluigi Buffon, arguably the World’s best ‘keeper and a man who, given his consistent all round brilliance and longevity, must be part of any conversation of all time greats to have donned the gloves. When Juventus made the decision to pay the highest fee ever for a goalkeeper and splashed out almost €52 million to capture him, he had already won four major trophies and the honours have continued ever since.
A proud winner of the 2006 World Cup, he also has helped Juve win five Scudetti and the 2006-07 Serie B title, three Italian Super Cups while also ending on the losing side in both the Euro 2012 and 2003 Champions League Finals. Personal accolades have also been consistently bestowed upon the 34 year old, now eight times Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year and the 2003 UEFA Club Footballer of the Year. The International Federation of Football History & Statistics have given him their annual award on four occasions whilst naming him as goalkeeper of the decade and of the 21st Century earlier this year.
He was brought in to replace Edwin van der Sar, the Dutchman ostracised after a number of high profile mistakes – most notably against Lazio – but who since rebuilt his career with Manchester United following a stint out of the limelight with Fulham. Before the former Ajax man came Angelo Peruzzi who played over 300 times for the Bianconeri, winning ten major honours and being an integral part of Marcello Lippi’s dominant side of the mid-to-late-nineties which reached three consecutive Champions League Finals.
He was preceded by one of three men arguably rivalling Buffon for the title of Juve’s best ever number one as a member of the elite group of five players to win every honour available to a European club footballer as he joined Danny Blind of Ajax and three fellow Bianconeri – Gaetano Scirea, Marco Tardelli and Antonio Cabrini – in winning all five international trophies.
If Tacconi’s reputation is diminished by his lack of international recognition with the Azzurri, the same cannot be said of the man he replaced in guarding the Old Lady’s goalmouth, the iconic Dino Zoff, a man synonymous with Italian triumphs as the only man to have lifted both the World Cup and the European Championship in the famous blue shirt.
Now aged 70, Zoff was – and to many people still is – the yardstick by which all Italian goalkeepers are mentioned. Despite Buffon breaking many of his records and proving to able to boast a similar longevity, it is the older man held up as the gold standard after such a long and storied career. He began with Udinese before moving south with Napoli where he helped Italy capture their first post war trophy at Euro ’68 in just his fourth international appearance. Fast forward some 15 years and he finally called time on this most distinguished of careers after spending eleven season in goal for Juventus and lifting a steady stream of trophies.
He is most fondly remembered for his role as captain in the gloriously victorious World Cup of 1982 with an image of him playing cards with Enzo Bearzot, Franco Causio and Italian President Sandro Pertini on the plane journey home from Spain. The proud golden trophy sits on the table between them almost as an afterthought but it is one of ten he won during his time in Turin and saw him become only the second man to captain a side to World Cup glory.
That honour went to one of Zoff’s predecessors at Juventus and perhaps one of the early Azzurri greats, Gianluca Combi. A Turin native, he represented his hometown club for thirteen years and won no fewer than five league titles before leading Italy to their first World Cup triumph in 1934. He amassed 47 caps over a ten year international career and also won a Bronze Medal at the 1928 Olympics. Having made 367 appearances for Juventus he retired in 1935 yet still holds the record for Serie A’s longest spell having lasted 934 minutes without conceding a single goal.
Part of the ‘Quinquennio d’Oro’ for those five consecutive titles, it is easy to argue that Combi, along with Zoff, Tacconi and Buffon forms a golden quartet for Juventus, one which could be supplemented by men such as Van der Sar, Angelo Peruzzi and Lucidio Sentimenti IV as the club proves to be home to many of the greatest number one’s in Calcio history. Long may it continue.