Silvio Piola was one of the definitive pre-war Serie A and Italy masterminds, a goal scorer of such grandeur that the records he set are not likely to be broken. Ever.
Piola was a mix between a Paolo Rossi-type poacher and a classy, skillful striker in the mold of Christian Vieri. His speed, hunger for goals, aggression and overwhelming physique made him one of the most feared attackers in the game in the 1930s. In addition to these abilities, he was sublime in the air and had an extremely powerful shot, which earned him an amazing number of goals.
Silvio Piola was a player whose importance for the game can be seen and understood fully even by forgetting the numbers. He affected generations of new strikers with the skills, the style and the versatility. We don’t need to look at the numbers to appreciate and grasp the greatness he showed partnering Giuseppe Meazza for Italy in the 1938 World Cup.
The legacy of the grand footballer echoes in the names of the stadiums of both Novara and Pro Vercelli. He perfected the bicycle kick and made it known throughout Europe. The pure beauty of his goals scored with the overhead kick still makes waves all over the peninsula. Lazio fans adore him, as do those of Novara and Pro Vercelli.
His significance for the game and the audience goes beyond the amount of goals he scored, the number of games he played and the length of his career. We don’t need to look only at the statistics to see who he was and why he is considered among Serie A’s all-time greatest. Nevertheless, we can of course turn it all around and take a look at the numbers.
Piola is the best goal scorer in the Serie A history by an outstanding margin, having scored 274 goals in 537 appearances. The next man on the list is Roma’s Francesco Totti, who currently sits precisely 30 goals behind. It has been calculated that in all competitions Piola scored over 500 goals. He is the only player alongside Omar Sivori to score six goals in a single game in Serie A.
His playing career lasted for unbelievable 26 years from 1929 to 1954 and he is an all-time seventh in the number of matches played in the league. Of course the long career has an effect on the amount of goals Piola scored but his goal ratio in the national team shows that his goals are not only due to the sheer length of the career. Silvio Piola scored 30 goals in 34 matches for the Azzurri. That gives an impressive ratio of 0.88 goals per game.
Piola only managed to play in a single World Cup tournament, in 1938, where the Azzurri triumphed. Playing with Meazza, Piola’s performances were glorious. He scored five goals in four matches and formed with Meazza the arguably greatest ever striking partnership in the history of Italian game. Never after 1938 has the world seen a more dangerous Italian offensive combination.
Sadly, though, Piola was denied from participating in further World Cups. Bad timing prevented him from participating in 1934 as he was considered too young for the team, and the 1942 World Cup was cancelled due to the war. It is said that fate alone was an adversary capable of stopping Piola from achieving even greater heights as a footballer.
At the club level, Silvio Piola represented Pro Vercelli, Lazio, Juventus, Torino and finally Novara. He took to coaching, but remained only briefly in the football world after his career as a player ended. In the end, Piola suffered from Alzheimer’s and lived in peace in Gattinara near Vercelli where he died in 1996.
Piola’s status as Italy’s greatest ever centre-forward has naturally been under suspicions since there are as many opinions as there are football-enthusiasts, but the lanky attacker from the town of Robbio has a few advantages over his rivals for the throne.