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Lessons in Calcio - Gaetano Scirea

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By Mina Rzouki

Wednesday 07 April 2010

Often referred to as a quiet leader, Gaetano Scirea was infamous for his elegant play, his calming manner and his human touch. As our Andrea Tallarita put it, Scirea was: “A defender whose strong technical attributes were coupled with a highly ductile tactical disposition.” Alongside Claudio Gentile, the duo created history for both Juventus and the Nazionale.

Cantenaccio was propelled into infamy by Helenio Herrera of Inter in the 1960’s, the Serie A squad that was making history at the time. By the time it had reached the 1970s, the tactic had evolved to include a libero. Franz Beckenbauer may have been the man to introduce the role of sweeper, or ‘libero’ in Italian but it was Scirea who transformed the position into an art form. Scirea’s prime role was essentially a free one whereby he would roam at the back to recoup any loose balls, nullify the opponent’s striker, double-mark whenever necessary and most interestingly - initiate attacks. Notorious for his ability to redress the attack and to deliver valuable assists, he was simply a rare type of defender that was as much a threat in attack as he was in closing down opponents. His capability of delivering the perfect pass and his enjoyment at running down the wings allowed him to evolve the role so that it acted as the first line of offence. He had plenty of competition, but his vision and ability to dictate the tempo made him a complete footballer.

Starting his career at Atalanta as a forward and then a winger, Gaetano had a tough two years and was not able to score the amount of goals he had hoped. He even featured for the Nerazzurri in the number 10 shirt before Coach Heriberto Herrera believed he was born to be a sweeper. It was alleged Juventus agreed and it was Čestmír Vycpálek, Juventus’ then Coach that requested Scirea be bought to form the last part of his astounding Bianconeri defence. With Sandro Salvadore, the legendary sweeper on his way to retirement, the Old Lady was in search of a replacement that would fill the void and Gaetano was about to move to a club with which he would remain for the rest of his career. When asked later on about his feelings of being asked to be Dino Zoff’s deputy Coach to Juventus in 1988, Scirea replied: “What a thrill: I was awake all night, as in 1974, when Atalanta told me that I would go to Juve.”

At the ripe old age of 21, Juventus’ Coach, Carlo Parola decided to try the youngster in the heart of defence alongside Francesco Morini. Scirea with his nimble and elegant style of play, almost tip-toed his way around the pitch alongside the tough and gritty no-nonsense defender Morini - the two complemented each other beautifully. With Giovanni Trapattoni on his way as the Old Lady’s new Coach, history was made and Scirea went on to win every possible trophy with that legendary squad. Such was his devotion to the team that it was alleged that after having injured himself, Scirea continued to play by using only his left foot to kick the ball according to Giuseppe Furino in an interview he conducted with Goal.com.

The Italian game eventually evolved to create la Zona Mista whereby the defenders would mix zonal marking with man-marking. The Azzurri team won the 1982 World Cup by deploying this very method of play. In this tactic, four defenders were deployed, two centre-backs, a sweeper behind them and a full-back usually positioned on the left flank. Despite the heroics of Paolo Rossi, it was Scirea who was regarded as the tournament’s most dependable player.

As age took a toll on his attacking prowess, Scirea retained a more defensive role in central defence which he excelled at just the same. Yet despite his extraordinary skill as a footballer, Scirea was perhaps even more celebrated for his human qualities and gentleman-like persona. His tragic and untimely death restricted the world from a true legend and a gentle soul that no longer exists in the modern game. He has the honour of being remembered as a player that never received a red card and a defender that scored an unbelievably high number of goals for his beloved Juventus. The Curva will always carry the name of the legendary Juve Captain and the country will forever continue to mourn his loss.

“A gentleman, a great opponent. His death gave me a lot, a lot of pain.” - Diego Maradona.

Name: Gaetano Scirea

Age: Died at 36 (March 25, 1953 - September 3, 1989)

Position: Sweeper

Clubs (Appearances/Goals):Atalanta (58/1), Juventus (377/24)

Club level honours: Serie A (1975, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1986), Italian Cups (1979, 1983) UEFA Cup (1977), Cup Winners’ Cup (1984), European Champion Clubs’ Cup (1985), European Supercup (1984), Intercontinental Cup (1985), FIFA Club World Cup (1982)

Nationality: Italian

Caps/goals: 78/2

National honours: FIFA World Cup (1982)

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