Paolo ‘Pablito’ Rossi – A Truly Legendary Life……

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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Paolo Rossi, a football player that will always be emblematic of the magic of the game.

Like many people, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of one of my heroes, Paolo Rossi.

I first became aware of Paolo Rossi, 8th March 1978 watching the highlights of England Under 21s playing Italy Under 21s at Maine Road on Sportsnight, BBC. Despite England winning 2 1, and Paolo Rossi not scoring I do recall the commentator praising the young Italian footballer. Thereafter, via the Italian sports publications, La Gazzetta Dello Sport and Guerin Sportivo, which my father purchased in London, and the British Publication, World Soccer, I started to hear more about this Italian wonderboy who was scoring goals for fun. Please bear in mind, the Italian articles were read to me by my family.

Having developed a love for Italian football in 1976, for I was a child Juventus and Italy fan, with Roberto Bettega, the striker for both teams, as my first football hero. I had a poster of Bettega from Guerin Sportivo pinned above the headrest of my bed. So, every morning I would awake to the image of Bettega in the classic Azzurri kit of a blue top and white shorts, great inspiration for a kid!

Roberto Bettega had been instrumental in Juventus winning the UEFA Cup in 1977, beating Manchester City and Manchester United en route and Italy qualifying for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, much to the expense of England. Bettega’s four goals against Finland, 15th Oct 1977, when Italy won 6 1, helped to give Italy a better goal difference than England. Both teams ended the group with 10 points, but it was Italy that went to Argentina.

Bettega’s place in the Italy squad for the 1978 World Cup was a given, yet when Enzo Bearzot the Italian Manager picked Paolo Rossi, it was a surprise inclusion. However, Rossi had ended the 1977 -78 Serie A season with Vicenza as the top goal scorer (Capocannoniere) with 24 Goals, assisting the team to claim second spot, after being promoted from Seria B to Juventus, who co-owned Paolo Rossi with Vicenza. So, it was a calculated risk on Bearzot’s part, as Paolo Rossi was a proven goal scorer.

Italy did not disgrace itself, nor did Paolo Rossi, in the 1978 World Cup. Italy came fourth, Paolo Rossi scored three goals, even scoring his first goal for Italy on his competitive debut against France, that is some announcement to the world of football. Incidentally, Italy won 2 1 in their opening game against France. Moreover, Rossi provided two assists, with the classic ‘one two’ with him and Bettega against Argentina, in which Bettega, scored the only goal of the game.

During the World Cup, Paolo Rossi, to me, joined Roberto Bettega as a football hero. He, and the rest of Italy, were exciting to watch, with their skills, drive, and determination. Every game was a battle, with victory being the only option. But Holland, with their long-range shots of that World Cup, crushed Italy’s dream in the semi-final. I cried myself to sleep that night but believing that Paolo Rossi would be back, as did most of the Azzurri supporters, for a star was born in the World Cup 1978.

With me developing a new love for music and fashion in the late 70s, I remained a fan of Italian football, but not as fanatical. Yet my brother and I did walk to a local hotel one Sunday afternoon in late 1979, which had Ceefax on their TV in the lobby, so we could see the draw Italy had for the 1982 World Cup qualifiers in Spain: Yugoslavia, Denmark, Greece, and Luxembourg, with the top two going through, and the first game being played in September 1980. My brother and I both felt assured, probably even laughed, that Italy especially with Paolo Rossi, will win every game with ease. Today Denmark, Greece, and the countries from the former Yugoslavia would not be teams to be sneered at, but even back in 1980, they proved to be difficult opponents.

Then one day on the news in March 1980, I cannot remember which channel, there was a report of a betting scandal in Italy, Totonero and Paolo Rossi would be banned from playing football for three years, meaning he would miss out on the 1982 World Cup. I was distraught, as I saw news footage of Paolo Rossi leaving an official building a broken man, he was not the footballer that I had seen gracing the football pitches of Argentina two years previously. Paolo Rossi proclaimed his innocence, and it has never been truly proven that he was guilty of any wrongdoing.

Fast forward to late 1981, the news was trickling through that Paolo Rossi’s ban could be reduced, making him eligible to play for Italy in the World Cup. Oh boy oh, was I pleased to hear that. For Italy’s qualification had not been as easy as I had originally anticipated, a 3 1 loss, away to Denmark, an away draw with Yugoslavia, a home draw with Greece, and only beating Luxembourg one-nil at home in the last group game, but Italy did qualify for the World Cup in second place.

paolo rossi happy 1

Yet, unlike in 1978, very few Italians fancied the team’s chances in the 1982 World Cup. However, Italy entered the World Cup group draw as a seeded team, but Italy’s crisis deepened as striker Robert Bettega was ruled out due to injury.

However, it goes without saying that the Italian squad of 1982 was certainly talented. All the outfield players were seasoned pros, capable of defending, controlling the ball, passing, attacking, and scoring, from defender Antonio Cabrini to forward Francesco Graziani. Moreover, goalkeeper and captain Dino Zoff is regarded as one of the greatest of all time.

Yet Italy had struggled to win convincingly in the qualifiers, so I believe Italian manager Enzo Bearzot thought recalling Paolo Rossi, nicknamed Pablito by Bearzot himself, would give Italy that spark they so desperately needed. But to the press and many of the fans, it seemed an insane choice, for Paolo Rossi had only played three games for Juventus, scoring one goal since his ban had been lifted, so Paolo Rossi’s match fitness and awareness were debatable.

However, Bearzot saw something, but for the first three group games, which Italy drew, Paolo Rossi was nowhere to be seen on the score sheet, let alone the pitch. The Italian press labelled him a ghost, this, and the other critical press the Azzurri were receiving forced Bearzot to order a press blackout, no interviews from the players or staff would be granted. This bold move paid dividends, as Italy beat Argentina 2 1, in the three-team group stage quarter-final, with the other team, Brazil, being the favourites. Even though Paolo Rossi did not score in the Argentina game, he looked alive and on form. In the next game against Brazil, the moment Paolo Rossi scored the first goal of his hat trick against them he became a legend of football. And as history tells us, Italy went on to win the World Cup in style, with Paolo Rossi winning the Golden Boot.

I thought Bearzot recalling Paolo Rossi to the national team was wonderful, as I looked forward to seeing my hero play football again. Of course, I was now a young teenager driven by love and the positive emotion of seeing Italy winning the World Cup, in other words, I was and still am a fan.

The desire to win and against all odds attitude of the Italian national team, to me, went hand in hand with the driving aggressive and creative force of The Jam. Both gave me confidence, belief with a yearning to never give up, and they both still do. For no schoolbook or teacher, ever gave me these feelings, all I got from school was detention and a bad report.

Yet in the final days of the term of that school year, no teacher could crush my spirit, because The Jam were the best fxxking band in the World and Paolo Rossi and Italy were the champions of the World, so there…. Ha. I just knew the summer holidays of 1982 were going to be magical.

Moreover, Italy’s success in 1982 helped to develop a positive attitude of the Italians by the British. For many decades, Italy was perceived as a nation of cowards and cheats, that ate ‘foreign muck’, but that summer they witnessed a brave and strong nation be victorious. OK, there is no denying that the defending from Italy of 1982 was a tad brutal at times. A good example of this is the man-marking of Claudio Gentile on Diego Maradona, which was fierce and would not happen today. Although it was fun to watch and has become regarded as a legendary duel in football, coupled with Gentile responding to the critics of his tactics, that ‘Football is not for ballerinas!’. Yet Maradona would get revenge over Italy in 1990 World Cup, for that is the cycle of football.

I experienced and witnessed this wonderful change of attitude towards Italy after the World Cup, as the soul boys at my school, who were casuals in the making, would often tease me, not bully, but took the mick out of my Italian heritage, would then speak to me with glee about Dino Zoff’s saves, Paolo Rossi’s hat trick and Marco Tardelli’s legendary goal celebration in the World Cup final. They had fallen in love with Italy, Italian football, and their favourite player, was yes, you guessed it, Paolo Rossi.

Paolo Rossi’s road to success was a rise, a big fall, followed by a flight to the stars. Just think in March 1980, Paolo Rossi probably didn’t believe or even dare to dream, that in just over two years, he will become a winner and a legend. A remarkable comeback and there is no doubt that Enzo Bearzot knew that Paolo Rossi was his talisman. Bearzot gambled on Paolo Rossi twice, and we know the result.

An interesting fact about Paolo Rossi, World Cup, and Golden Boot Winner. He never played once for Italy in a World Cup qualifying game. Paolo Rossi was not picked for the 1978 qualifiers, he was banned during the 1982 qualifiers and Italy did not need to play any qualifying games for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, as back then, the winner of the previous World Cup, automatically qualified. Paolo Rossi was in the Italian squad for 1986, but he was an unused sub. To this day, I still believe Enzo Bearzot should have replaced Giuseppe Galderisi with Paolo Rossi in the second-round game against France, not Gianluca Vialli, for Paolo Rossi might have just found his magic touch once more. I was screaming at the TV, ‘bring on Rossi, please, bring him on’. Oh well, I can’t get obsessed about that, because the 1982 World Cup victory of Paolo Rossi and Italy is a beautiful story of dreams coming true!

Paolo, you made me happy, gave me joy, I loved watching you play football, and score goals. Your smile, when you scored, was infectious.

You will be missed so much, thank you Pablito RIP x

paolo rossi happy smiling

 

 

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Read 490 times Last modified on Monday, 14 December 2020 18:21
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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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