Paolo Rossi – The Man Who Did The Best Comeback Ever.
What is it that makes a player and his career perennial? What helps a tainted sportsman in transcending his evils and becoming an icon, a fetish for all? What it takes to conquer one of the greatest Brazilian side ever, and that too almost unaided-ly? Well, I perhaps might never be able to answer these questions but there’s one man who has done it all and can answer us. The Italian great, the “Pablito”, the “torero”, the Paolo Rossi.
They say, FIFA World Cup is the biggest, the most widely viewed and the most followed sporting event in the world, and to be the captivate of the tournament is in-itself a conquest of the footballing universe. Paolo Rossi is the man who had such privilege not once, but twice. In 1978 and in 1982 World Cups. In fact, he is one of the only three players ever to win all possible awards at a World Cup. While the likes of Ronaldo, Messi, Stafeno, Puskas, Cryuff, Platini and many more footballing first-rates failed to win accolade in the biggest event of the planet, Rossi toyed with every opposition he faced in World Cup thereby winning a Silver and a Golden Ball in successive tournaments. Also he retired as the player with most goals in World Cup Finals for Italy. A record he still holds along with Roberto Baggio and Christian Vieri.
Paolo Rossi was never short of arduousness throughout his career. From changing his playing position to undergoing three knee surgeries and to overcoming the tantrums of the fans while representing Azzurri’s in the World Cup. From not getting the opportunity to represent Juventus, the club he signed for, for eight straight years in the league to winning Ballon D’Or as a Juventus player, Rossi saw and experienced it all as a player. Rossi is one of the most prolific centre-forwards ever to don the Italian jersey. He was quick, agile and had a knack of creating spaces for fellow strikers. Starting career as a right winger meant he had quick feet that excelled at skills and was capable of holding the ball.
Rossi started his professional career with Juventus in 1972-73 season. Series of injuries meant he wouldn’t play much for the next three seasons and had to undergo three surgeries as aforementioned. As soon as he was back, he was sent on loan to Juventus’ fellow club Como; only to appear a mere six times for them, failing to find the back of the net even once. The next season he was loaned out to Serie B side Vicenza. There was a quantum leap in the work rate and the number of goals he scored. By scoring 21 and 24 goals in for Vicenza in Serie B and Serie A respectively, he became the first man to be top scorer of the top two leagues of Italy in successive seasons.
Top notch performances for Vicenza earned him national team call up for 1978 WC. He didn’t disappoint his coach and engineered his team to a fourth place finish, himself winning the Silver Ball for his 3 goals and 4 assists. Also Juventus were spurred enough to retain his services and ad hoc Vicenza were offered a world record transfer fee.
Everything looked well set. Rossi had become a national hero and was expected to be the cynosure of Juventus’ and Italy’s team. But then happened the infamous 1980 betting scandal of 1980. The scandal that left everyone piqued. Scandal that relegated Milan and Lazio from Serie A and deducted points of five other clubs of top two divisions. Also a huddle of players were banned from the sport including Italy’s very new superstar – Paolo Rossi. Albeit Rossi claimed himself to be innocent, he was handed a three year ban. While a small aspect of the crowd stood by the player, almost everyone else went nasty. The ban was later on cut short by a year.
Two years later came 1982 World Cup!!
Italy’s national team’s squad had the ‘Paolo Rossi’ even though he didn’t play a single game previous two years. If this is not enough to amaze you, then let me tell you that he was in Bertoza’s starting XI of every match of group stage. He didn’t score, neither played well, as expected. Italy drew all three games of first round scoring just twice. Italian journalists and fans went furious about Rossi’s inclusion and described him as a “ghost aimlessly wandering over the field.” While everyone else were enraged, Bertoza backed Rossi.
Second stage, Italy drawn into a group with Diego Maradona’s Argentina and Socrates’ Brazil. No one gave Italy the slightest of hope to go past the two giants, into the semifinals. But as they say – “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.” Rossi upped his game, scored a hat-trick against Brazil and sunked the great Brazilian ship. In the semifinals, he scored both the goals for his team against the Polish team, and in the finals opened the scoring against West Germany. Italy won 3-1 and Rossi was adjudged “Man of the match”. Rossi won the Golden Ball, the Golden Boot and most importantly the love of the fans, back.
No one knows whether he actually was into gambling or not, but we surely know that everyone deserves a second chance. And if the tainted one is someone like Rossi, he would make sure that the second chance is grabbed with both the hands. Rossi went on to win Ballon D’Or that year. He had a well decorated career then after. He is one of the very few who will be remembered more for his World Cup heroics than the league.
Rossi had a career one can only dream of. His name will always be right at top among the greatest Italian players ever.