Gigi Riva. (Italy)
Portraits of legendary footballers
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Luigi Riva , nicknamed 'Gigi' remains the top scorer of all times in the Italian Nazionale, with 35 goals scored in 42 matches.
With Cagliari (Sardinia), the only team in which he played, he won the title of the champion of Italy in 1970.
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Sport and games
- Italy - Islands - Sardinia
Born in the Lombardy village of Leggiuno on November 7, 1944, Luigi (known as Gigi) Riva spent his entire professional football career with the Sardinian club, Cagliari. To this day he remains the emblematic Rossoblu player, not only because of his loyalty (several times he refused to be transferred to the prestigious Juventus), but mainly because of his contribution to the club’s most glorious years – a club which, since its creation in 1920, had hardly sparkled. In 1963, a year after signing his first contract, and thanks in part to him, Cagliari was promoted to the Series A, Italian football’s first division. Leading the Sardinian attack, he finished the 1967, 1969 and 1970 seasons as top scorer, allowing his team to take the leading roles. In 1969, Cagliari finished in second place. The following year they obtained the Scudetto. Since the beginning of the Series A in 1929, no club from southern Italy’s Mezzogiorno had ever been crowned champions of Italy before. The echoes of this great victory went far beyond the Amsicora stadium, and Luigi Riva’s new-found prestige should also be measured in non-sporting terms. He was seen as a key player in the southern Italians’ revenge against the northerners, always so quick to condemn the slow attitude and old-fashioned ways of the marginalised southern regions. Socio-economic statistics, as well as books and films, have often made Sardinia the stereotype of the southern question. Cagliari winning the Scudetto in 1970 sparked off not just the pride of a region whose insularity and history had given it a strong cultural identity, reflected in the linguistic diversity, the little shield-shaped badge became the symbol of the south’s integration with the rest of the country, which had been in question since the Risorgimento.
Luigi Riva’s influence in the national team is part of that same movement to recognise the contribution of southerners in Italy’s reconstruction since the end of World War II. The first times he was selected to play for his country coincided with the national squad’s recovery. Since winning two world championship titles in 1934 and 1938, the Italian team had lived through many disappointments, the worst being the resounding defeat by the modest Korean team during the 1966 World Cup. Although he had been selected for the first time in 1965, Luigi Riva was not involved in that traumatic episode, considered a national disgrace. But becoming a regular member of the national squad in 1967, he played a decisive role in winning the 1968 European Nations Championship. The event was hugely important and the Azzurri were given a special reception by the Italy’s President, Giuseppe Saragat. More sensational still was the trajectory of both the Italian team and its striker, Luigi Riva, during the World Cup in Mexico in 1970. The crushing defeat in the final, 4 goals to 1, did not erase the "Match of the Century" against Germany in the semi-finals, a match which gave the Italians "a long night of excitement and national unity”, according to Tempo. Rivera was one of the principal heroes, author of the third of four Italian goals that allowed Italy to win after extra time (4-3).
The player nicknamed “Rombo di Tuono" (thunder) was then at the height of his career: in 1969 he won second place in the Golden Ball awards, which reward the best European footballer, awarded that year to his Italian team-mate Gianni Rivera. Then he played in the 1974 World Cup, Italy failed to get through the preliminary round. His international career ended after 42 selections and 35 goals, making him the highest scorer in the history of the Nazionale. His club career ended in 1976 following a serious injury in a match against Milan.
Very attached to Sardinia, he founded a football school before taking the chairmanship of the Cagliari club for a short time (1986-1987). Since 1990, he has been part of the Italian Football Federation, coaching the national team.
Antonio Papa, Guido Panico, Storia del calcio social in Italia, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2002, 489 p.
Boi Nanni, A Tiro Mancino. Riva, he Cagliari e uno che scudetto not finisce May, Genova, Frilli, 2001, 320 p.
Vargiu Valerio, Rossobluottantacinque. Fatti e della squadra dei protagonisti sardi dal 1920 al 2005, Napoli, La Guida, 2005, 675 p.
Official website of Luigi Riva http://www.rombodituono.com/home.html
Official site of Cagliari Calcio: http://www.cagliaricalcio.net/club/storia/storia.html