Legend Of Calcio – Dino Zoff
Dino Zoff is regarded among many to be one of the greatest goalkeepers to have graced the game. He set many records in his career, one of the most notable being for the longest time without conceding a goal in international tournaments – 1142 minutes between 1972 and 1974. This unbeaten run was ended in the 1974 World Cup by, rather surprisingly, Haiti. However, at the start of his career few, if any, would have predicted the level of success he would go on to achieve.
Born in Mariano del Friuli on 28th February 1942 Zoff’s career in football started at the age of 14. He had trails with Inter Milan and Juventus who both rejected him for being too short. He briefly left the game and trained as a mechanic, but 5 years later scouts from Udinese spotted him playing for his local village team.
Having grown 33 centimetres since his rejection by Inter and Juventus, he now stood at a towering 1.82 metres. Zoff left his career as a mechanic and signed a professional contract soon after. However, things did not go to plan. On his debut in September 1961 Zoff conceded 5 against Fiorentina, and went on to make only 3 more appearances for the club. In 1963 Udinese were relegated and Zoff left the club.
Zoff was rescued from no man’s land by Mantova, who were themselves relegated in his first season at the club. They immediately bounced back to the top flight and Zoff soon gained recognition as a splendid keeper. By 1966 he was being considered for the Italian World Cup squad, but lost out to the trio of Enrico Albertosi, Roberto Anzolin and Pierluigi Pizzaballa. Manager Edmondo Fabbri left Zoff out as being a Mantova man himself he did not want to attract accusations of favouritism.
In 1968 Zoff moved to Napoli for 130 million lire and goalkeeper Bandoni in what turned out to be a successful year. He made his international debut and played in the side that won the European Championships and had the chance to display his skills on the big stage at both club and international level. Zoff’s success didn’t really begin until late in his career.
In 1972 he moved to Juventus and spent 11 years at the Turin club, amassing six Serie A championships, two Copa Italia’s and a UEFA Cup. He also played 322 successive games (disputed to be 330 in other sources) for Juventus, an amazing feat in itself. To stay injury free for so long and retain his place in the side was put down to Zoff’s determined way of thinking that he could always play better than in his last match. This fearsome desire for constant improvement kept him sharp and focused to the point that it made him a goalkeeping phenomenon.
With Zoff and Juventus dominating at club level it was during this period that he became a goalkeeping rock on the international stage and achieved some of his greatest feats. In 1982 he led Italy to the World Cup at the age of 40 and was voted Player of the Tournament. With 112 international caps he is third in the list of all time appearances for the Azzurri, behind Fabio Cannavaro and Paolo Maldini. Upon his retirement aged 41 Zoff set the record for Serie A’s oldest player and player with most appearances with 570 matches, holding both records until 2006 when Lazio keeper Marco Ballotta and Paolo Maldini broke them.
After his playing career ended he became goalkeeping coach at Juventus but found it an unsatisfying role. He ended up taking the job as coach of the Italian Olympic team for the Seoul games and made such a positive impression that in 1988 Juventus offered him the job of manager. This lasted until 1990 when he was sacked, despite winning the UEFA cup and guiding them to a third placed finish.
Joining Lazio he spent 4 years as a coach before moving upstairs to become president and in 1998 he became coach of the national team and took them to within 60 seconds of World Cup glory but a last minute equalizer sunk the Azzurri as France went on to triumph. Following stinging criticism from the media, and especially AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi, Zoff left and returned to Lazio as manager. Despite taking them into the Champions League by finishing 3rd it wasn’t enough to satisfy the fans who had tasted a league and cup double the year before.
The 2001/02 season started with embarrassing defeats and it marked the end of Zoff’s second stint at the club. It was a disappointing way to end his management career, having been so close to glory with the national team and having moderate success and won trophies with his Italian clubs. Although some of his records have now been broken and belong to more recent names one that still remains firmly intact is his 1142 minutes at international level without conceding a goal. I for one hope this record remains untouched for years to come lest we forget what a colossal figure Zoff was and how he dominated the game in his peak years.
For Legends of Calcio don’t forget to check out the Classic Calcio section of Forza Italian Football.
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