One of the most robust, well-knit and in-frangible defenses in the history of World football showcased four of the finest Italian defenders – Franco Baresi, Gaetano Scirea , Antonio Cabrini and Giuseppe Bergomi.
In an era where defenders like Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Sergio Ramos are thought of as the greatest and most complete, it’ll only be fair to backtrack to the 1990s and cogitate on one of the best defensive incarnations of the game. This piece highlights the everlasting legacy of the great, Giuseppe Bergomi.
Born in Milan on 22nd December, 1963, the career of this ‘calciatore’, which began at the young age of 17, spanned across two decades.
With a blue and black painted heart, Bergomi made a monumental 758 appearances for Internazionale from 1979 to 1999. He also represented Italy four times in the FIFA World Cup, leading the side in 1990. Unquestionably, Bergomi is a legend.
With shorts that lingered deeper than his knee caps, the 14 year old ‘Beppe’ passed a try-out at the San Siro pitch, which was later set to become his second home. However, his trial was with A.C Milan, the bitter rivals of his first and only love – Internazionale di Milano. Milan was unwilling to tie him up with a contract because of concerns over his health. In retrospect, it turned out to be a regrettable decision for the ‘Rosonerri’.
On the flip side, his performance on that Sunday of 1977 did not go begging. Arcadio Venturi, a visionary player scout, had his eyes firmly attached on the young prodigy. In an interview, Venturi reflected how he persistently tried to convince the Inter camp – “I spent all evening trying to convince how the number 6 of the training camp was really a boy made for Inter..he ran up and down the flank and protected the defense as well.”
Venturi’s words were trusted by Inter. Bergomi signed for the youth team and Coach Bersellini offered him generous match time.
After featuring for the youth team, Bergomi was promoted to the first team and at the age of 17 years and two months, he made his Serie A debut against Como Oriali. Fascinatingly, just 10 days later, Bergomi was storming down the flank for Inter in the Champions League against Red Star Belgrade and almost unbelievably, he was asked to represent Italy in the 1982 FIFA World Cup.
Bergomi sat out on the bench for the most part of the tournament but featured in the semi final and the final.
At a vernal age of 18, he was handed the responsibility of marking the Bayern Munchen great, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the 1982 World Cup final. Rummenigge was completely swept out of the game and was substituted in the second half. That summer night, the prodigy of the young Bergomi, gleamed around the Santiago Bernabéu. The ’Azzurri’ fans, ecstatic with their teams World Cup triumph, realized they had a dazzling defender, on whom they could rely on for years to come.
Bergomi lived up to the expectations he garnered. Two decades with Internazionale made him synonymous to the club. Despite serving for Inter during one of their most unsuccessful years in terms of silverware, he was able to lift several trophies.
When Inter conquered the league in 1979/80, Bergomi was playing for the youth side. The following year he was able to make his way into the first team. In 1982, he lifted the Coppa Italia with Inter and the World Cup with the ‘Azzuri’.
After the glory of the 1982 World Cup, he had to endure a long wait of seven years to lift another trophy. In 1988/89, Inter won the Scudetto. Bergomi played an instrumental role that season. He was a natural leader on the pitch, and those who have seen him play will recall how he made his presence felt on the pitch. Bergomi commanded great respect out of his players, while instilling fear into the rivals psyche.
In addition, he decorated his club career by winning three UEFA Cups and one Supercoppa Italiana.
Bergomi lead the national team which finished third in the 1990 World Cup after being ousted by Argentina on penalties. Following a red card against Norway in a Euro 92 qualifier, he was omitted from the national team until, remarkably, he was called up for the 1998 World Cup. His inclusion after seven years conspicuously depicts his consistency.
Although his achievement speaks more volume than words, the following adjectives partially describe him as a footballer.
Loyal – a true one club man. Dependable – equally at ease playing as a right back and also as a center back, he was ever dependable. Consistent – two long decades of service. Efficient – his playing style was of the ‘old school’ Italian defenders, driven by pragmatism and physicality. Hard working – he strenuously marshaled his team mates as the leader on the pitch, which also sheds light on his motivational nature.
Most people don’t remember him because of the lack of silverware he garnered during his captaincy. However, he was a strong character on the pitch, a double edged sword – a good player and a better leader.
Alongside his numerous accomplishments, Bergomi will also be remembered for his famous mustache, because of which, he is nicknamed “Lo zio” (the uncle). In actuality, on the pitch, his opponents regarded him as the ‘scary uncle’. He is also nicknamed “Il Capitano’ by the Inter fans as he marshaled the team for many years.
Bergomi belongs to the elite class of Italian defenders. His two decade long loyalty compliments his passion for the game. After his retirement, he worked as the youth coach of Esordienti (newcomers) at Inter and the U-17 at A.C Monza Brianza. Later, he took the same position at Atalanta. He did not shy away from the camera even after his retirement by working as a pundit and commentator for Sky Italia.
It should come as no shock that he was listed on the list of 125 greatest living footballers by Pele. In summation, Bergomi is a living gem of Italian football – forever remembered, respected and cherished. He certainly belongs to a fading, rare breed of players.
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