Soccer fans, this SportsAspire post is for you. Here are the names of some of the most famous soccer players from Italy, who have dominated the soccer world with their skills.
Did You Know?
The Italian national team is known by the name Azzurri or squadra azzurra due to the blue shirts they wear.
Football is the national sport of Italy. This is just one of the reasons the Italians are crazy about football. The country has a well-established domestic soccer league system in place, attracting the best footballing talents from across the world. So, well entrenched is this domestic league that the fervor with which the club supporters support their respective clubs is legendary. There have been riots on match days when rivals play against each other. Failing to achieve the club’s expectations can get the club officials fired, and if a player scores a winning goal in any final, he is given god-like status. In short, Italy is a nation of football maniacs. They love their football … and their stars.
The domestic league structure has produced legendary home-grown players. These players are handpicked from youth sides, taught the Italian brand of defensive football, and sent to the senior sides to play. Unlike England and France, Italian players usually stay in their own clubs for life. The loyalty of some players is legendary as we will see in the subsequent paragraphs. This makes the Italians love their players even more, and this forms a cycle of a player’s incentive to perform for the country.
Italy’s national team has won 4 FIFA World Cups, second only to Brazil. They also have won the European Championships once and the Olympic football tournament once. Italian clubs have also won a record 27 club European Championships, making them the most successful country in club football, ever. After such a record, there has to be a big list of legendary players who made it possible, at the club and international level. This article lists out some of the most well-known footballers to ever play for Italy.
✦ Known for his tall stature, commanding persona, and spectacular saves, this player is probably the world’s best known goalkeeper. Gianluigi Buffon is widely accepted by many as the greatest goalkeeper to have ever played the game. He has been named the Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year a record 8 times and was a runner-up for the Ballon d’Or in the years 2006 and 2007. This was a big deal because goalkeepers are almost always overlooked for the Footballer of the Year award.
✦ Buffon is known to be dominating, with a good command of his area―a reason why he is so good at stopping shots. He is also known as a leader and can be seen motivating his teammates from his position. He also organizes defense occasionally. Buffon is very well respected in footballing circles, whether domestic or international.
✦ Buffon is currently 36 years old and is in the starting XI of his Italian squad in the ongoing World Cup in Brazil. If that is not impressive enough, he is playing his record fifth world cup; yes, a tourney played every four years.
✦ Known as l’architetto, il professore, and Mozart, Andrea Pirlo is the central player carrying Italy’s hope in this year’s World Cup. Like Buffon, Pirlo is also old and still in the starting squad. Usually 35 is considered a pensioner’s age in footballing players’ world, but this genius is still at the top, drawing paycheck after paycheck, and assisting with top-quality goals. He is known for his legendary long passes that are fodder for spectacular goals. Pirlo is also known as an expert set-piece and penalty taker.
✦ In the 2006 World Cup, he was given the Man of the Match award thrice and walked away with the Bronze Ball and Shoe awards. He also held the record for the most assists in that World Cup. He is also the fifth most capped player to play for his country. Although he is going to retire after the ongoing World Cup, on the field, he shows no signs of aging, supplying young and fast strikers with visionary passes and assists.
Alessandro Del Piero
✦ Del Piero, with Pirlo, was the architect of Italy’s World Cup win in 2006. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest Italian footballers ever. Because of his rare ability of creating goals in addition to scoring them, he has been frequently compared to Zinedine Zidane. Del Piero traditionally played as a Forward, but is equally comfortable in the midfield too.
✦ He has spent 19 years with his club Juventus, and his loyalty is legendary. He did not leave the club even when it was relegated to Serie B during the Italian Serie A Scam. He stayed behind and led Juventus to a Serie B victory in the 2006-07 season and saw his beloved club promoted to Serie A the next year. He is their most capped player, who has appeared a phenomenal 705 times for Juventus, scoring a club record of 285 goals. No wonder he is so well-known even outside Italy.
✦ Regarded by many as one of the greatest footballers of all time, Roberto Baggio is also Italy’s most loved footballer. In the recent “greatest ever” list, Baggio came fourth after Pepe, Maradona, and Eusebio. He was fondly called Il Divin’ Codino or the Divine Ponytail because of the iconic ponytail that he flaunted for a major part of his playing days.
✦ Baggio was given the World Player of the Year award and Ballon d’Or in the year 1993. In 1994, he led Italy to the World Cup finals. He is also very well-known for his penalty miss in the finals of that tournament. Even though he missed a crucial penalty, he is still loved and followed with the same enthusiasm throughout his country.
✦ Baggio holds the Italian record of scoring the most goals in a World Cup. He took up Buddhism as a religion and is known for his peaceful and cheerful nature. He was appointed as the Goodwill Ambassador of Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations.
✦ Also known as muro di Berlino or The Berlin Wall, Cannavaro led his team to World Cup Glory in 2006. For a sport where the fast wingers and goal-scoring strikers are worshiped, Cannavaro has carved himself a piece of history in the tree of footballing legends. He is till date the only defender to ever win the World Player of the Year award, which he won in 2006. He is also the second most capped player in Italian history (Buffon being the first) with 136 appearances for his national team.
✦ He also won two consecutive European Championships with his U-21 Italian side. He is known for his dominating presence in the defense area and is also an exceptional leader with a good influence on his teammates. Playing in a team with an average age of late twenties, Fabio must have been a very efficient leader to maintain his leadership and motivate other senior players too.
✦ He is also known for his awesome endurance, which was very evident when he played every minute of every match in the 2006 World Cup. He narrowly missed out on the Golden Ball for the tournament to Zinedine Zidane.
✦ One of the prolific goal scorers in Serie A, Totti is regarded as one of the greatest footballers of his generation. He is also labeled as the greatest player of his club AS Roma, where he has spent his entire senior career, spanning more than 20 years. Over this time, he has become the most capped player of the club as well as their highest goalscorer.
✦ Totti is also counted as one of the most popular players in Europe and was in the national squad that won the World Cup in 2006. He is known for his lethal finishing, although he is fairly comfortable in the attacking midfield position too. He and his wife Ilary Blasi are known as the other Beckham couple, where their private lives are often scrutinized by the media. He is well respected by his colleagues and is still active in Serie A. Italian coach Cesare Prandelli even considered including Totti in the Italian squad for the present World Cup. Totti is 37 years old, by the way.
✦ Baresi is known as the greatest defender to have ever played the game. In his career that spanned more than 20 years, he has won 3 Champions League, 6 Serie A tiles, 4 Italian Cups, the 1982 World Cup, and led Italy to the final of the 1994 edition (phew!). All this and he is just 176 cm tall. A relatively short defender, he has made his name legendary in Italian football.
✦ He spent his entire career―youth and senior―at AC Milan. Such is his legend that after he retired from professional football, Milan retired his jersey number 6! He was also named Milan’s Player of the Century in 1999.
✦ A man of such accomplishments, you think it would end there, but no. He was befittingly inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2013. A true legend indeed.
✦ Maldini, like Baresi, was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2013. He is considered to be one of the greatest defenders ever to play the game. He spent his whole life at AC Milan, 24 seasons to be exact.
✦ If that was not enough, this Duracell of a player retired just last year! He is 41 years old. Like Baresi, even Maldini has accumulated enough silverware to make anyone envious. Maldini has won the Champions League 5 times, the Serie A 7 times, 1 Italian Cup, and 5 European Super Cups. A hoarder for sure.
✦ Maldini, even though was known for his leadership abilities, his commanding nature and his towering persona in the defender’s zone, was well-known for fair play. In his entire career that spanned 1,000 professional matches, despite being a defender, he has picked up the red card only once! He was known for his calm and correct behavior on field. It was because of this that he won the Golden Boot several times. This award is given in Serie A for gentlemanly behavior.
✦ The new bad boy of Italian football, Balotelli is a player in stark contrast with the players listed above. Balotelli is talented, fast, and has great technique, but he is also brash, impulsive, arrogant, mischievous, and is ignorant of authority. He was hailed as the golden boy of Italian football and a wonderkid when he was at Inter Milan. But that image has taken a backseat with people developing a negative image of him.
✦ While his senior counterparts are known to start and end their careers at one club, Mario has wandered. He has not changed clubs because he does not fit in. He changes because the management says he is “unmanageable.” These were the words of José Mourinho. His two-time coach Roberto Mancini said Balotelli was a “lost cause.”
✦ His antics have received wide public attention. From shooting air pistols in Milan’s Piazza del Republica to setting his house on fire, from speeding and crashing his sports car to throwing darts at a youth player as a prank, the media has seen it all.
✦ He is currently playing at AC Milan and has scored 26 times in 43 appearances. He also scored in the inaugural Italy match at the World Cup. People, his managers, media, pundits, and his fellow teammates do not deny his talents or his footballing ability, but they are, however, apprehensive of his out-of-the-field antics. Will he ever mature as a player? Time will tell.
✦ Not all players are well-known and famous solely for their footballing capabilities. Some like Balotelli increase their popularity with their public antics, and some like Materazzi become world-famous for just one incident. Like Maradona’s Hand of God was a turning point for Argentina and won them their World Cup, Zinedine Zidane’s famed head butt on Materazzi probably sealed France’s fate during the 2006 World Cup.
✦ A fairly average player, Materazzi was nationally known as a substitute in the Italian squad for the World Cup. He spent most of his time on the benches. After Nesta suffered an injury, Materazzi was called up. He fouled and that led to Zidane scoring the match’s first goal as a penalty. Materazzi made up for his mistake by scoring with a header and equalizing. Then came the turning point. He teased Zidane by pulling his shirt, and allegedly provoked him by calling his sister a prostitute. Zidane responded by head-butting him. As a result, France was down to 10 men and lost a crucial set-piece taker. Italy won 5-3 on penalties. Marco Materazzi probably won the world Cup for Italy that day.
Except for Materazzi and Balotelli, we see many common characteristics among the above famous players. They were hardworking, loyal, and passionate footballers. And unlike the rest of the footballing nations, Italy’s list of legends consists of predominant defenders. This is because Italian football is played that way. These players are known to anyone who follows football and are very well-known even outside footballing circles.