These are tough times for the Italian national team players. For some time, in fact, a generational change has been expected among the Azzurri, given that the old 2006 World Champions have now almost all retired and the new players have convinced only partially. For some time, above all, he has been expecting continuity of results that are still latent, between extraordinary and unexpected undertakings (such as the 2012 European final) and shameful defeats (such as the failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia, the first after 60 years).
To rebuild, one must understand where he was wrong. And compare the results of recent years with those of the past, given that even in remote times our national team has alternated moments of glory and deep crisis.
Also, we have decided to take back the history of the Azzurri, and in particular the names of the most important athletes who have worn the shirt of our team. The goal is not to understand just how many and which players have been called up throughout history, or who has collected the most appearances.
On Facebook we asked you, through various groups, to choose the strongest players. Here are those who finished in the top five.
Table of Contents
1. Gigi Riva
When we started our survey, we knew that there were big risks. For example, we expected a sort of overestimation of the most recent champions, those who have recently enchanted the eyes of football fans and instead of an underestimation of the great players of the past, which the new generations have never seen play.
To disprove this fear of ours, however, thinks the first place in our survey, namely Gigi Riva. The historic center forward of Cagliari did not start particularly well in the first phase, passing the round without enthusiasm.
From the semifinals onwards, however, a large group of fans began to vote for him, thanks to the fact that the Lombard striker boasts some important records, including that of the best scorer in blue history with 35 goals to his credit.
So Riva, despite having always played in smaller club teams and retiring more than 40 years ago, was the most voted athlete in our survey and therefore deserves the title of most loved Azzurro in the history of the national team.
Precisely because it has been a long time since he stopped playing, however, it is worthwhile to reconstruct his career and the main successes both nationally and internationally.
Born in 1944 on the shores of Lake Maggiore, in Lombardy, Riva started playing football very young, growing up in local teams. In the ’62 / 63 season, at 18 years of age, you made your debut in Legnano, being purchased just a year later by Cagliari, who was in Serie B at the time.
In a short time, the Sardinian team managed to conquer the top flight and Riva to be noticed for the great frequency with which he managed to go online. Throughout the 1960s, the rossoblùs made a series of excellent placings in the championship, with Riva capable of deserving the nickname “Rombo di Tuono”. The real masterpiece, however, came between 1968 and 1970.
In the first of these two vintages, the Cagliari team placed in second place in the championship, just 4 points away from the Fiorentina champion of Italy. The following year Riva and his companions then made a historic feat, conquering the first and so far the only title of the team of the Sardinian capital.
In the national team
Riva was in his heyday. He had already made his debut for the national team for 5 years, and for a couple of seasons, he had become the center forward, capable of scoring goals with great frequency. In 1968, during the European Championship played in Italy, he also won the title of Champion of Europe scoring a goal in the repetition of the final in Rome.
He also participated in the 1970 World Cup, those of the famous semifinal with West Germany and the final with Brazil of Pele. He scored goals both in the quarterfinals and in the semi-finals. But failed to impose himself during the decisive battle.
He retired from the national team in 1974, with 35 goals under his belt in just 42 appearances, with an average that is difficult to match. With Cagliari, however, he continued until 1976, becoming the best scorer in the history of Sardinian training. In his Palmares also there are also three titles scorer of the league.
2. Roberto Baggio
In second place is another great champion of the past, albeit from a more recent past: Roberto Baggio. The Divin pigtail proved to be one of the favorites to the final victory from the early stages of our survey, recording very high percentages both in the quarterfinals and in the semifinals.
Despite having never won a European or a World Cup with the national team, Baggio represents for many the prototype of the blue number 10: imaginative, unpredictable, capable of carrying an entire team on his shoulders and carrying it forward in the various tournaments.
Many, in the comments, however, also remembered his mistake from the disk in the final of ’94, but this does nothing but completes the image of genius and unruliness that has always distinguished him.
Born in Caldogno, in the province of Vicenza, in 1967, Baggio made his debut in the national team in 1988, but he really stood out for the first time in Italy in the 90s, when he formed an incredible attack tandem together with Totò Schillaci. He continued to play with the Azzurri until 2004, then competing in the World Cup in ’94 and ’98.
That last date, in fact, namely that of April 28, 2004, represents a unicum. Baggio, in fact, had stopped playing in the national team already in 1999, during the qualifications for Euro 2000. Besides, he was already more than 30 years old and his time seemed past. The incredible successes in the championship, however, brought him back at least for one last time to the national team.
Soccer Baggio was formed in Vicenza, the reference team of his area of origin. Just with the red and white team, he made his debut in football that counts: in the early 80s he made a series of appearances in C1 which made him noticed by important teams, so much so that in 1985, at 18 years of age, he switched to Fiorentina in Serie A.
With the lilies he gradually gained space, playing two seasons at a high level between 1988 and 1990 and making his debut in the national team. In 1990, in the year of Italy ’90 in which he signed a memorable goal against Czechoslovakia, however, he passed to the historical enemies of Fiorentina, Juventus.
In black and white, he lived periods of ups and downs, also linked to the alternate results of the team. He won a UEFA Cup in 1993 and then the Scudetto with Marcello Lippi in 1994/95, but just in this last season, it became clear that the playmaker would not remain in the new manager’s plans for long.
Then began a series of wanderings that led him to wear the jerseys of other great teams such as Milan and Inter, without ever fully convincing. Instead, he did much better in provincial formations, such as Bologna (where he scored 22 goals in one season) and above all Brescia, where he remained for four years until retiring.
3. Alessandro Del Piero
In third place in our ranking, we find a partially unexpected presence: Alessandro Del Piero. The historic champion of Juventus, in fact, was certainly one of the most important players that our country has expressed, but for a long time in the national team, he has struggled to show all his talent.
For a long time, the black and white number 10 seemed almost blocked when he wore the blue shirt as if the enormous expectations in his regard – also due to the excellent performances with the club team – were holding him back.
Only at the end of his career did he show how decisive he could also be in the National team, for example by signing a very important goal in the semifinal with Germany which allowed Italy to “go to Berlin” and then conquer the World Cup in 2006. Also in the final with France, in fact, Del Piero scored his penalty.
Perhaps for this very convincing career ending in Azzurro, as well as for the extraordinary goals achieved with Juventus, our readers have made it to the third step of the list of the greatest players who have played in the National team. But let’s see its history in detail.
A life in Juventus
Born in 1974 in Conegliano, Veneto, Del Piero grew up in Padua, making his Serie B debut in the 1991/92 season. Spotted by Juventus, he arrived in Turin in 1993, when Giovanni Trapattoni sat on the bench. And he managed to gain some space in the first team already that year.
In the following season, at the court of Marcello Lippi, his presence, however, began to become somewhat cumbersome: the young playmaker in fact began to contend for Roberto Baggio, the Juventus captain who had recently been awarded the Ballon d’Or.
Baggio would then leave the following year, also because of some misunderstandings with Lippi, while Del Piero became the spearhead of the new team destined for great successes both nationally and internationally. Pinturicchio – as he was renamed by the lawyer Agnelli – remained not by chance in black and white for a total of 19 seasons.
In his career in Juve, he played 513 league games with 208 goals. In the Palmares, he has 6 Italian championships (plus 1 revoked), 1 Italian Cup, 4 Italian Super Cups, 1 Champions League, 1 Intercontinental Cup, and a UEFA Super Cup, plus countless individual awards and records.
4. Paolo Maldini
When we kicked off our survey, we thought that World Champion players would probably have an edge over everyone else. We expected, for example, in the final Paolo Rossi or Dino Zoff, Fabio Cannavaro or Gianluigi Buffon, and at least in the semifinal some players from the old Italy of Pozzo.
This prediction of ours has been partially disregarded. In fact, in this fifty you will find a couple of 2006 champions, a European champion from 1968 but also two players who – more or less belonging to the same generation – unfortunately, did not manage to obtain trophies with the national team. One is Baggio, of whom we have already spoken. The other is Paolo Maldini.
The Milan defender and captain made his debut in the senior national team in 1988, twenty years remaining, proving immediately ready to take on the international stages. And he immediately gained a starting role in the defensive lineup, keeping it for almost 15 years, until 2002.
So he participated in the 1988 European Championships (in which Italy stopped in the semifinal), the 1990 World Cup (another semifinal), the 1994 World Cup (final lost on penalties), the 1996 European Championship, the 1998 World Cup (outside the quarterfinals, still on penalties), the 2000 European Championships (final lost to the golden goal) and the 2002 World Cup.
An extraordinary and (partially) unfortunate generation
His was a generation of great footballers, who unfortunately in Azzurro collected less than they deserved, touching the triumph several times but almost always missing it for a trifle. Fortunately, however, Maldini was able to make extensive use of his club team.
Born in Milan in 1968 and son of Cesare, formerly the flag of Milan, he grew up in the Rossoneri’s youth. He made his Serie A debut at just 16 and already the following year he became an immovable holder. With the shirt of the devils, he played throughout his professional career, for a total of 25 seasons and 648 appearances in Serie A.
He is currently the player with the most appearances in the club’s history (902 if we also count the international competitions and the cups), but he is also the player with the most Champions League finals played and the one with the most minutes played in the World Cup.
In his Palmares, there are 7 badges, 5 Italian Super Cups, 1 Italian Cup, 5 Champions League (between 1989 and 2007), 5 UEFA Super Cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups and 1 World Cup for club teams. Furthermore, he is highly respected not only for his attachment to the shirt but also for a behavior that is never over the top and always respectful of the values of sport.
5. Andrea Pirlo
Last in our final but fifth overall is Andrea Pirlo, one of the bulwarks of the last victory in the World Cup of our National team and recently retired from football. With the Azzurri, the midfielder played 116 games, with 13 goals. He is the fourth player with the most games played on the national team.
But it is not only with the major representative that Pirlo has left his mark. Regarding his career, one cannot fail to notice that he played matches with all the youth selections. He boasts 3 appearances in Under-15, 6 in Under-16, 4 in Under-17, 18 in Under-18 and 37 in Under-21. Without forgetting the competitions in the Olympic national team.
On the other hand, from a very young age, the player from Brescia has bode well for his future. In fact, he seemed to be Baggio’s heir until, however, it was understood that he could do his best in a slightly more backward position, no longer as a second striker but as a midfielder or midfielder.
This intuition, due to coach Carlo Ancelotti, has turned his career: from hope in some ways already half betrayed, Pirlo has become one of the strongest players in the world, placing himself in the top 10 of the Golden Ball ranking for four times, even over 30 years of age.
AC Milan successes
Born near Brescia in 1979, he grew up in the local team making his debut in Serie A in 1994/95. After a few promising seasons, he was bought by Inter who wanted to make him his playmaker of the future. In the Nerazzurri, however, he struggled to establish himself, playing better on loan at Reggina.
He then returned briefly to Brescia before being purchased by Milan where he finally found his size as mentioned. He played for 10 years with the Rossoneri, winning the national team and numerous trophies for club teams.
In fact, he won two Italian championships, an Italian Cup, an Italian Super Cup and then above all two Champions League, two UEFA Super Cups and a World Cup for club teams.
After the age of 30, however, it seemed that the Rossoneri no longer guaranteed the role of the owner and thought instead of rejuvenating the team. So in 2011, he accepted the Juventus court, moving to Turin.
In black and white, he found his place as an immovable holder and managed to win 4 championships in four seasons, first under the guidance of Antonio Conte and then of Massimiliano Allegri, already his coach in the last Milanese seasons.
Pirlo then ended his career in America, in New York City, but in the National team, he played from 2002 until very recent times, given that he made his last appearance in 2015. He was one of the Azzurri heroes of the 2006 World Cup but also participated in all subsequent European and World Cups.