Italian Soccer Legend Paolo Rossi, 1982 World Cup Champion And Ballon D’Or Winner, Dies At 64
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Italy woke up this morning to terrible news from the sports world.
Rossi was born in Prato, Tuscany in 1956. His soccer career took off at the age of 20, when he joined Serie B side Vicenza and began showcasing his unique goal-scoring abilities to the soccer world.
A fast, elusive striker, Rossi had a killer instinct when it came to converting chances into goals and was known for his ability to always be in the right place at the right time.
“He lived to score goals,” is a common expression used by soccer pundits in Italy to describe Rossi’s playing style.
Before the 1982 FIFA World Cup, Rossi had to live through a very complicated time.
He endured a two-year suspension due to alleged involvement in match fixing and was forced to sit out of all competitions until April of 1982. When he came back, he played three Serie A games before departing that summer with the Italy national team to participate in the 1982 FIFA World Cup.
Despite missing out on competitive games for two years, Rossi’s physical and mental preparation proved impeccable at the World Cup tournament in Spain.
Rossi scored six goals, which pushed Italy past very tough opponents, chief among these being the Brazil national team with its star player Zico. Rossi helped Italy defeat other notable rivals, like Diego Armando Maradona’s Argentina, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s West Germany and Zbigniew Boniek’s Poland.
“At this point, we have beaten them all, we don’t know whom to beat anymore,” Rossi quipped in an interview to Rai after the FIFA World Cup final played at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid.
Rossi, nicknamed “Pablito” after his memorable performances in Spain, became the first player in soccer history to combine three outstanding achievements in one year: He won the FIFA World Cup, was the FIFA World Cup’s top scorer, and received the Ballon d’Or. This record would be equalized, 20 years later, by Brazilian Ronaldo.
At a club level, Rossi played for Como, Vicenza, Perugia, and Juventus. With the Bianconeri, he won two Scudetti, a European Champions Cup (modern-day UEFA Champions League), a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, and a UEFA Super Cup. He spent the final years of his career at AC Milan and Hellas Verona.
At 31 years old, Rossi retired from soccer due to repeated knee injuries. He would continue to stay involved in the soccer world as a pundit and analyst for major sports broadcasting channels in Italy.
This morning, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte remembered Rossi with an emotional tweet.
“In the summer of 1982 with his goals, he (Rossi) gifted a dream to entire generations. He was the symbol of the (Italy) national team and of a united and tenacious Italy, capable of beating high-caliber opponents. Goodbye, Paolo Rossi, unforgettable champion. Italy will remember you with affection,” Conte tweeted.
The cause of death was a lung disease that Rossi had kept under the radar from public opinion. This morning, several of Rossi’s former teammates said on national television to have been unaware of the severity of Rossi’s illness.
Rossi’s desire to lead a reserved and quiet life was exemplary of the person that he was: a normal guy who believed he could do great things through determination and commitment.
In his biography from 2002, Rossi wanted to leave a simple but powerful message to the next generations of soccer players. He told them that power of will can go as far as turning an average player into a national sports hero, just like it happened to him.
“An ordinary guy, a normal one, can make it,” Rossi wrote.
Italian clubs Milan, Napoli, and Roma will honor Rossi’s memory tonight by playing with a black armband during the last matchday of the UEFA Europa League group stage.
On Saturday morning, the Cathedral of Vicenza will host Rossi’s funeral.