Every now and again a player comes along that is the epitome of the club he represents. In modern times many will put forward the names of Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Del Piero for inclusion in this exclusive, if entirely made-up, club.
Of course, these days it’s very difficult for a player to spend his entire career at one club and with such distinction. It’s rare that a player would even think of staying in one place for the best part of 20 years never mind the constant managerial merry-go-round with new managers coming in practically every season.
How much easier it is of course though, if the club that you devote your entire career to has a trophy cabinet full of gleaming silverware, but with always room for one more.
When Sandro Mazzola signed professional terms with his beloved Internazionale they were far from the best side in Serie A.
Born in 1942 in Turin, his father was the great Torinomidfielder Valentino Mazzola. Unfortunately the young Sandro, and all of the country, Valentino was a victim of the Superga air disaster in 1949 which killed 31 people including pretty much all of il Grande Torino side.
Sandro was only six years old when his father died and grew up with his mother and his younger brother Ferruccio, who was also to sign professionally for Inter.
He made his debut for Inter in 1961 in a game that will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons. Most players dream of scoring the winning goal on their debut, Sandro’s debut was the stuff of nightmares. Juventus were the opponents and they proceeded to score nine goals as they completed routed a shell-shocked Inter side.
If power, size and strength were not qualities associated with the young Mazzola, then determination certainly was. He would prove to be an attacking midfielder/inside-right with a beautiful touch and wonderful vision. A player who could see a few moves ahead and had the skills to make the most of it.
Despite the rather miserable start to his Inter career the team would go on to conquer Europe within three years. This occurred thanks to the quality of players that coach Helenio Herrera inherited and also brought to the squad.
Players such as former Barcelona midfielder Luis Suarez, left sided midfielder Mario Corso, defender Armando Picchi and fullbacks Tarcisio Burgnich & Giacinto Facchetti.
Another reason for their success was the preferred tactic of Catenaccio. In recognising Inter’s weakness of previous seasons as their ability to ship in goals, strengthening the defense was of paramount importance to Herrera and would be the platform on which the future success of the club would be built.
Scudetto success in 1963 lead Inter to their first foray into the European Cup and a run of three successive finals. The first two finals Inter emerged victorious with wins over Real Madrid and Benfica. The third ended in defeat against Scottish champions Celtic. Mazzola played a huge role in the wins and also scored in the Celtic defeat.
More Scudetto success followed and the entire period became known as La Grande Inter with Mazzola as a kingpin of the side.
The 1960’s saw the best of Inter and they failed to continue their run as the 1970’s appeared. A run of six trophy less seasons brought an end to Mazzola’s career in 1977.
Overall his record of 116 goals in 418 appearances for Nerazzurri and two scudetto’s, two European Cups & two Intercontinental Cups provide a fitting statistical representation of the man who will never be forgotten in the blue & black section of Milan.
For the Azzurri he made 70 appearances, scoring 22 goals and was part of the successful 1968 side that won the European Championship. He competed in the 1966, 1970 & 1974 World Cups
During the 1970 World Cup, which Italy entered as favourites, coach Ferruccio Valcareggi believed that Mazzola and another star player, Gianni Rivera, could not play together at the same time. An admirer of both their talents he devised a system which he called Staffetta (relay), which in a nutshell meant that Mazzola would play the first half and Rivera would replace him in the second half.
Despite the strange nature of this tactic, it appeared to work as Italyreached the Final to play Brazil. However, on the biggest stage of all, Valcareggi abandoned his plan and started the match with Mazzola and continued to play him until the 82nd minute when Rivera eventually came on. Mazzola also remained on the pitch. Brazil won the match comfortably by four goals to one.
Sandro is still working in football today as a football analyst and commentator. This gives him the opportunity to express his views on the game verbally in the same way that he did with his feet.
Whenever football historians, fans and pundits go back to the 1960’s era of Italian football you can always be assured that Sandro Mazzola will be one of the first names mentioned.
For more Legends of Calcio don’t forget to check out the Classic Calcio section of Forza Italian Football.
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