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Lessons in Calcio - Walter Zenga

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By Richard Hall

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Walter Zenga kept goal for Italy and Inter for the best part of a decade in which time he became regarded as one of the best goalkeepers of his generation. Nicknamed L'Uomo Ragno - Spiderman - Zenga’s incredible agility was his major asset allowing him to make incredible reaction saves that were as aesthetically pleasing as they were important.

Inter's youth academy was originally responsible for unearthing this rough diamond although they eventually let him go leaving him to roam the lower leagues of Italian football in search of a contract. He started out at Salernitana before moving to Savona and eventually Sambenedettese. In 1982 he returned to Inter and started to push for a first team spot eventually taking the No 1 jersey in 1983. This was the start of the glory years for Zenga as his ability to show workman like performances mixed with moments of sheer brilliance started to make the rest of Serie A sit up and notice him.

It was Zenga’s positional ability that stood out as much as his agility and these two combined allowed Zenga to seem not only like a very safe goalkeeper but also a spectacular one. This is uncommon in goalkeepers as it is either their good positional play or their ability to ‘shot stop’ that makes them stand out. Criticisms frequently made of goalkeepers are about their inability to take crosses consistently, such as Dida at Milan currently, or about their lack of positional play, such as Alexander Doni currently at Roma. Zenga had the quality to be able to perform in both departments, not only would he originally have a great starting position but anything that was fired quickly to either side of this was normally comfortably dealt with. When he conceded it was usually a very good goal indeed.

The Nerazzurri faithful were treated to 11 years of Zenga’s fine form, gymnastic ability and dramatic cursing at defenders and the skies should anything go even slightly wrong. Out of his 328 appearances his most successful were in the 1988/89 season when Inter lifted the Scudetto. With players such as the German pair of Andreas Brehme and Lothar Matthäus, and Argentine Ramón Díaz, Inter under Giovanni Trapattoni were superb that season. They could not retain the title the following season but Zenga did win an Italian Super Cup that year. The team had acquired Jurgen Klinsmann and with the squad looking strong from pillar to post it was a surprise that Zenga never managed to add another Scudetto whilst playing for the Nerazzurri.

Inter circa 1983-1994





Even so these were the keeper's best years as he displayed breath-taking performances for both club and country. The awards followed suit as Zenga was IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper for three years running: 1989, 1990 and 1991 and was also given the award for UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year in 1990. The 1990 World Cup rocketed Zenga into the eyes of the global community and as Inter had to watch neighbors Milan dominate the 1990s in club success it was to their now iconic goalkeeper that the Inter fans owed much to as Inter still managed some success. A UEFA Cup winner in 1991 and 1994 saw Walter sign off his Inter career with silverware before signing for Sampdoria in 1994. After two seasons with the Blucerchiati he left for Padova in 1996 before finally moving to the United States in 1997.

The one tournament that would showcase the best of Walter Zenga was the 1990 World Cup in Italy. After playing in Italy’s 1984 Olympic team and the 1988 European Championship team in Germany he was no stranger to the national team. His performances for Inter meant when the World Cup came to home soil he was without question the No 1. This was his showpiece as Italy went on to claim third spot and Zenga set a record of not conceding a goal at the finals for 518 minutes, keeping five clean sheets in a row. His countless saves propelled Italy to the semi-finals where he was beaten only once by a Claudio Caniggia header - unfortunately this was his only lack of concentration in the tournament as he was beaten in the air by the long haired Argentinian when coming to punch. Defeat on penalties followed, but he had now become the model that Italian goalkeeping needed to aspire to.

Zenga adhered himself to all the Azzurri faithful and not just the Inter fans. His expert mind for the game and physical ability will see him be remembered alongside Dino Zoff and Gigi Buffon as one of Italy’s great goalkeepers. Italy has a tradition of producing great goalkeepers but to do this you sometimes need to break the mould. They certainly did this with Walter Zenga.

Name: Walter Zenga

Age: 49 (April 28, 1960)

Position: Goalkeeper

Clubs (Appearances/Goals): Salernitana (3/0), Savona (23/0), Sambenedettese (67/0), Inter (328/0), Sampdoria (41/0), Padova (21/0), New England Revolution (47/0)

Club level honours: Serie A (1988-89), Italian Super Cup (1989), UEFA Cup (1991,1994)

Nationality: Italian

Caps/goals: 58/0

National honours: FIFA World Cup 1990 3rd place

Past Lessons in Calcio

  • Pavel Nedved
  • Roberto Baggio
  • Diego Maradona
  • Beppe Signori
  • Gabriel Batistuta
  • Ruud Gullit
  • Filippo Inzaghi
  • Gianluca Vialli
  • Zvonimir Boban
  • Marcel Desailly
  • Adrian Mutu
  • Zinedine Zidane
  • Francesco Totti
  • Kaka
  • Alessandro Del Piero
  • Fabio Cannavaro
  • Gigi Riva
  • Giorgio Chinaglia
  • Gianluigi Buffon
  • Salvatore Schillaci
  • Gennaro Gattuso
  • Andrea Pirlo
  • Giuseppe Bergomi
  • Marco van Basten
  • Claudio Gentile
  • Dino Zoff
  • Alessandro Nesta
  • Franco Baresi
  • Lothar Matthaus
  • Giuseppe Giannini
  • Walter Zenga

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