Gaetano Scirea, a legendary defender for both Juventus and Italy national team passed away on this day in a tragic car crash, almost two and half decades ago. TheHardTackle pays tribute to one of the greats of the game.
Among many stereotypes in world football the one regarding Italy and top class defenders is one of the most appropriate ones. Starting with the likes of Pietro Rava till recent names like Giorgio Chiellini, Italy has always had a knack of producing great defenders. Among these names few have weathered the test of time and have gone down as the greatest ever in history books. Gaetano Scirea was one such name – arguably the finest defender to have ever come out of the peninsula.
Scirea was born on 25th May, 1963 in Cernusco sul Naviglio in Lombardy, Northern Italy. Scirea was born into a modest family with his father working for Pirelli. Football, the game which would later give him world-wide fame, was soon introduced in his life as he started participating in seven-a-side matches in Cinisello Balsamo in his locality. His talent was soon spotted by scouts from bigger clubs as Giovanni Crimella paved his way to join Atalanta. The Nerazzuri had already established themselves as one of the best youth academies in Italy at that time and Scirea soon became one of the brightest talents in their squad. Under the guidance of Giulio Corsini, Scirea made his Serie A debut against Cagliari on 24th September, 1972. Initially he was used as a midfielder but gradually he shifted to sweeper, a position that would later make him legendary.
After two solid seasons in Atalanta the 21-year old defender joined one of the biggest clubs in Italy – Juventus. A new era was about to begin. Under Giovanni Trapattoni, the Old Lady was looking to push back the disappointments of 1960′s and start a new winning cycle. Scirea would join a squad which was already one of the strongest in Serie A – boasting the likes of Antonello Cucureddu, Roberto Bettega, Giuseppe Furino and a man who would later become his most famous partner – Claudio Gentile. Coming in to replace long time Juventus servant Sandro Salvatore, Scirea would make his Serie A debut for Juventus on 28th August, 1974 in a 4-0 Coppa Italia victory against Varese. As the last dialogue of Casablanca goes, it was “the start of a beautiful friendship”. Despite being relatively young, Scirea’s talent saw him cement a place in the starting XI in no time. He would go on to make 48 appearances that season as Juventus wrapped up their 16th Serie A title.
Over the next one and half decades, Gaetano Scirea would go on to become a living legend in Turin. He would set dozens of records, some of which still remain intact. And his influence was not just for Juventus as he would reach dizzy heights with the national team as well. Gaetano Scirea was not a player who needs to be judged by numbers but his stats make an intriguing read nonetheless. In his 15 seasons with Juventus, Scirea made a staggering 554 appearances, a then record. A man of exceptional fitness, Scirea averaged 42 games every season peaking at 51 games for 1981/82 seasons. Playing as sweeper, Scirea would often make forward surges into opponent penalty boxes and did score a handful of goals – 32, a good number for a defender in Serie A. He would also develop an ever bulging trophy cabinet during his time in Juventus. Seven Serie A titles (second highest of all time), two Coppa Italia titles. The haul of silverware didn’t just stop in Serie A. Gaetano Scirea is one of the few players to have won every recognized trophy in club football – UEFA Cup (77/78), Cup Winners Cup (83/84), Super Cup (84), European Champions Cup (84/85) and Intercontinental Cup (85). Oh and there is also this World Cup title that he won in 1982.
However, as already mentioned, Gaetano Scirea was not a player who should be measured on the dint of number of trophies he won. He was an exceptional player who perfected the position of a libero, which originated thanks to the great Franz Beckenbaur. Scirea was one of the most cerebral and intelligent defenders of all time. He relied on positioning and anticipation and would act as a silent assassin. Unlike his tough and often harshly derided partner Claudio Gentile, Scirea was one of cleanest tacklers in the game. His partnership with Gentile was close to perfection as both defenders were completely different in their approach and both were equally good at what they did. And Scirea was not just a great defender – as he would often go on overlaps and his excellent passing range meant he was the starting point of many of his team’s attacks. There are scores of pitch perfect defensive performances in his career but one of his finest attacking displays came during the Turin derby in March 1982. With Juventus trailing 2-0 against Torino after just 20 minutes, Scirea came out of his defence to score two times as the Bianconeri eventually triumphed 4-2.
Such was his consistency that he kept out the great Franco Baresi out of the Italy starting XI as long as he was part of the squad. Another remarkable fact about Scirea was, despite being a defender he never received a red card in his entire career. The number of yellow cards was also remarkably low – just 9 in a 15 year long Juventus career including a jaw-droppingly meager 4 in his first 10 seasons. His popularity didn’t only rise from the fact that he was such a genius on the field but also from the fact that he was a consummate gentleman on and off it. For a club which has idolized universally respected figures like Giampiero Boniperti and Alessandro Del Piero, Scirea was talismanic.
Scirea’s performance for Italy was as sparkling as his Juventus career. In total he played three World Cups, with Italy reaching the semi-final in 1978 and memorably capturing their 3rd World Cup title four years later. His remarkable record of clean defending was maintained on the biggest stage of football as well as he accumulated just two yellow cards in 18 World Cup matches. His greatest triumph came in 1982 when a sturdy Italian defence held strong in the face of some of the greatest attackers in the world to clinch their first post-World War 2 title. Gli Azzuri started terribly in group stages but exploded to life in the knock out rounds as they waltzed past Argentina, Brazil and Poland to meet West Germany in final. Italy dished out a flawless performance in one of the most one sided finals in the history of World Cup, winning 3-1, with Scirea assisting Marco Tardelli’s goal.
He was instrumental in Euros as well albeit not to similar levels of success. The Italian defence was unbreachable in front of their home crowd in Euro ’80 as they conceded just a single goal in four matches. However, impotency in front of the goal meant Italy failed to reach the final. They had to satisfy themselves with fourth place after a penalty shootout loss against the Czechs. The period between 1978 and 1982 was easily one of the greatest eras for the Azzuris and they finished in the top-4 of three consecutive International tournaments.
A man who embodied Juventus during his playing career passed away while he was still a Juventini. On 3rd September, 1989, Scirea was on a scouting trip in Poland, assessing Górnik Zabrze, opponents of Juventus in the first round of UEFA Cup. Scirea’s car collided with another vehicle which was carrying numerous canisters of gasoline. These canisters exploded on impact, killing Scirea as well as other passengers in his car. Scirea’s death brought about shock and despair in the Calcio world. Italy was busy preparing for the world cup carnival of 1990 but they had lost one of their most beloved players. In some ways, Dino Zoff-coached Juventus honoured Scirea’s memory by lifting the UEFA Cup that season.
Two decades have passed since Gaetano Scirea’s death but he still remains one of the most respected Juventus legends. His clean, almost pristine presence on and off the pitch has led to numerous tournaments and awards being named after him. Juventus has also named one of the sections in their stadium after him. Yet, in some ways he still remains under-rated thanks to his quiet, unassuming demeanor. When talking about the 1982 World Cup triumph, general football fans invariably talk about Paolo Rossi’s exploits. In defence, Claudio Gentile’s ferocious man-marking on Zico and Maradona usually gets mentioned but Scirea, someone who performed consistently in every match is often forgotten. Thankfully, fans of Juventus and Italian football in general have and will always continue to hold him in highest respect.