There have been periods in the history of Italian football in which practically no one is interested in the ranking of the best scorers in Serie A: if you look at the achievement averages of the past and compare them to those of today, you realize that it is now impossible to rival with the 0.77 goals per game of Gunnar Nordahl who played in the 50s or the two goals every three games by Aldo Boffi, who was a flag (also of Milan) at the turn of the 30s and 40s.
In recent seasons, however, the trend has reversed, thanks above all to the contribution of two veterans who, thanks to a long and enviable career, have slowly climbed the ranks. We are talking about Francesco Totti and Antonio Di Natale, the only two players still active in our league (abroad there are also Del Piero and Gilardino) to position themselves in the top 30 of the ranking.
But what are the top five on the list? And above all, what was their history and career? Here is a brief summary.
The Bomber Who Never Won the Scudetto
Leading the ranking of the most prolific Serie A goalscorers is, and clearly, the almost unattainable Silvio Piola, goalscorer of yesteryear who boasts 274 goals between 1929 and 1954, which rise to 290 if we also take into account the maximums championships played in several groups, as happened in 1945/46, just after the war (not to mention the Alta Italia championship of 1944, in which he scored 27 goals).
The numbers tell us that he was undoubtedly the greatest Italian bomber of all time, especially if we consider that he played almost all the championships in non-leading teams, which almost never fought for the Scudetto, and therefore for him it was even more difficult than others to go online. Born in the province of Pavia (but from a Vercelli family) in 1913, he played the first five seasons in the local Pro Vercelli, a historic club that in the ’10s and 20s had bought up scudetto’s; when Piola made his debut there (at only 16 years old), however, the golden days were now over and the team was living in mid-table (but after the farewell of his striker, in 1934, he immediately fell to Serie B and since then he has not more made return to the top flight).
In 1934 he thus passed to Lazio, wanted by some fascist hierarchs who dreamed of making the two Roman teams fly to the top of the standings and who with strong interference beat the competition from Turin and Ambrosiana; he would remain in the capital for nine years, becoming the most prolific scorer ever with the blue-and-white shirt, with 143 official goals. However, the Scudetto never arrived, despite the strong investments of the management: after a couple of years of adjustment, only in 1936 the team could actually compete for the final victory but was overtaken by Bologna.
On the other hand, in those years he made his debut in the national team, overcoming even the initial distrust of Vittorio Pozzo, finding himself the owner in the expedition to France for the 1938 World Cup: he scored 5 goals in all, among which the most important were those during the final. with Hungary, also graduating top scorer of the tournament. The war, unfortunately, interrupted his career in the period of maximum maturity, but Piola had a resistant body: during the last years of the conflict he played a championship with Turin and two with Juventus, without however winning any championship even here. He closed his career in Novara, which he brought back to Serie A and with which he continued to score in bursts until he was over 40 years of age.
The Most Prolific With a Single Jersey
Francesco Totti is the only player of our five who is still active, and therefore the only one who is still able to increase his already important loot by 239 goals in the top flight (even if it will be difficult to reach Piola’s levels). But the Roma captain has already achieved a record: he is the most prolific scorer ever to have played with a single shirt, given that all 239 goals were scored for the Giallorossi.
Born in Rome in 1976, Totti made his debut with the first team at the age of 16, sent to the field by Vujadin Boskov during a Brescia-Rome; his debut as a starter came the following year, in February 1994, above all thanks to Carlo Mazzone, who gradually included him in the team’s game. The first official goal is dated 4 September 1994 against Foggia, even if in these seasons the young striker is mainly used as an attacking midfielder and does not often go to the net, also because the coaches – famous for the difficult relationship with Carlos Bianchi – do not give him the continuity necessary.
The turning point comes when Zdenek Zeman goes to sit on the Roma bench: Totti becomes in fact a permanent owner and point of reference in the offensive maneuver, as well as captain of the team; the only thing missing is, however, the successes, so much so that the same playmaker threatens to transfer to other teams to force the management to expand the squad. In 1998 Fabio Capello arrives on the bench and builds his new team on Totti, also thanks to the arrivals of Batistuta, Montella, and other champions: in 2001 the coveted championship arrives, of which the captain is the absolute protagonist.
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The years immediately following are poor in satisfaction: he continues to score with great continuity and from the second striker he is also advanced to maneuvering center-forward, but the successes in the league do not come. The team returns to be competitive with the arrival of Spalletti on the bench and with a Totti who often fights for the title of top scorer of the tournament, in a process that seems to continue unchanged even with the current coach Garcia, of which number 10 is inevitably a fixed point. Even in the Champions League, despite the team failing to make it to the final stages of the competition, Totti often leaves his mark with memorable goals, currently holding the record for the oldest player to score in the competition. A final word on the national team: he made his debut immediately after the 1998 World Cup but it was especially in the 2000 European Championship that he entered the annals, inventing the “spoon” penalty; after the unfortunate periods of 2002 and 2004, in 2006 he was one of the owners, recovering from an injury of the team that wins the World Cup.
The Swedish Firefighter
In third place in the ranking, we find a bomber from other times, perhaps the strongest ever to have ever trod the Italian fields: the Swede Gunnar Nordahl, who made Milan great and ended his career at Roma. However, his 225 goals scored in Serie A are not only important for the amount achieved, but also for at least two other things that are worth remembering: first of all, they are almost all goals scored from open play, since only two were penalties. which he achieved in his career; moreover, among the players who have reached the threshold of one hundred goals he boasts an extraterrestrial scoring average of 0.77 goals per game (just to give a comparison, Piola is stopped at 0.51 and none of the players in the business today – in Italy or abroad – exceeds Ibrahimovic’s 0.56).
Born in 1921, Nordahl – who at home was an amateur and worked as a firefighter – arrived in Italy in January 1949, after having impressed well at the London Olympics, thanks to 7 goals in 4 games that helped lead Sweden to the conquest of the gold medal. Two other compatriots joined him for the Rossoneri: the midfielder Gunnar Gren and the midfielder Nils Liedholm, all players who, like Nordahl, were heading towards thirty years of age but who would have left an indelible mark in the history of Milan and the Italian championship.
The trio, particularly portentous in attack, was soon renamed by the fans “Gre-No-Li”, and in Nordahl, they found the ideal finalizer, given that the Nordic center forward was not particularly tall (1.80 meters, which for the time was, in any case, a respectable stature) but he had exceptional strength and musculature that allowed him to withstand the shocks of the defenders but also to fly away in a sprint. In the seven seasons played in Milan – Gren actually left after four years, while Liedholm resisted longer -, the “fireman” won two league titles and two Latin Cups (forerunner of the Champions Cup).
Above all, memorable from the realization point of view were the first three years in Italy: in 1949 he arrived in January, playing only six months but immediately scored 16 goals in 15 games; the following year his goals were 35 out of 37 matches played (record still unbeaten), while in 1950/51 the Scudetto – after forty-four years of waiting for the Rossoneri – also came thanks to his 34 goals. Some of his brothers played in various Italian teams (Knut in Rome, Bertil in Bergamo), while he ended his career at almost 37 years old, after two championships in Rome, of which he also briefly became the coach. Furthermore, he is still today the striker with the best scoring average in the history of the Swedish national team, with 43 goals in 33 games.
The Balilla Who Made Inter and the National Team Great
Let us now move towards the conclusion: in fourth place we find, tied for 216 goals, two legends of the past very different from each other, that is, on the one hand, Giuseppe Meazza, on the other José Altafini. Let’s start from the first, both in order of seniority and because his total would rise to 262 if we counted the non-single-group championships that he played at the beginning of his career and during the war.
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The story of Giuseppe Meazza is, in its own way, the most epic of our football, and also for this reason we have already had the opportunity in the past to talk about him and his goals. Born in Milan in 1910, an orphan of war on his father’s side, he started playing football on the streets of Milan, until he was able to join Inter Milan, then renamed Ambrosiana (due to fascist interference, which poorly digested an “international” team even in the name) after being discarded by Milan for being too thin. His debut in the first team took place when he was only 17, in 1927, which earned him the nickname of Balilla.
Already in 1930, in the first edition of Serie A, he won the championship and the title of a top scorer with 31 goals, earning his first call-up to the national team, which in the 1930s gave him many more successes than the club team could give him, limited by winning cycle of Juventus (the second and last Scudetto would arrive in 1938): under the guidance of Vittorio Pozzo, Meazza became the champion of the Azzurri, proving capable of guiding them to win two International Cups (the first winning in Hungary 5-0 against the very strong local team, thanks to his hat-trick) and above all two World Cups, in Italy in 1934 and in France in 1938.
In 1939, when he was still highly competitive, he got injured: an occlusion to the blood vessels of his left foot – which became known as “frozen foot” – kept him away from the fields for a long time, and when he was able to return to play on one side he was World War II broke out, with the consequent stop in international matches and the division of Serie A into several groups, on the other hand, he was no longer the player of the past. He played a few more seasons in Juventus Cisitalia, in Varese, in Atalanta, and then again in Inter, but without being able to repeat the exploits of the past. He is still, however, the second most prolific scorer in the history of the national team behind Gigi Riva.
The Goalscorer From Brazil
And we conclude our overview with José Altafini, the only South American not only of our five but also of the top ten, considering that the other Latin American strikers in the ranking are Gabriel Batistuta in eleventh place, Luis Vinicio in twenty-first place, Hernan Crespo at the twenty-third and Omar Sivori at the twenty-sixth.
Born in Brazil in 1938 and called, at home, the nickname of Mazzola due to his resemblance to Valentino Mazzola, Altafini began to make himself known on the international scene thanks to his militancy in Palmeiras, a team that traditionally hosts Italian-Brazilian players like him. Thanks to his performance in green-and-white he got a call-up to the national team for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden; precisely during the preparation phase for that competition – which brought the Verde Oro to Italy – it was viewed by the Milan emissaries who decided to buy it and bring it to the beautiful country, at just 20 years of age. At the World Cup, he played three games and scored two goals, winning the title of world champion; the transfer to Italy and the acquisition of Italian citizenship however excluded him from then on from other convocations in Verde Oro.
At Milan he immediately won the Scudetto, then repeated himself in 1962, the year in which he also won the top scorer with 22 goals; but perhaps the most important year in the Rossoneri was the following when he led the team to the final of the Champions Cup by defeating the very strong Benfica of Eusebio, who had won the previous two editions: particularly memorable was the final played at Wembley, in which the Nereo Rocco’s team beat the Lusitanians 2-1 thanks to a brace from Altafini, who was also the top scorer of the tournament.
In 1965 some internal contrasts in the team made him arrive at Naples, where he formed a golden couple with the mature Omar Sivori and brought the Neapolitan team to what until then had been the best placement in its history, the second place in 1968. In 1972, when everyone now considered him close to retirement, he moved to Juventus with Dino Zoff, where he lived as a second youth: while always starting from the bench, he managed to score 25 goals in 64 appearances, resulting in a decisive victory in two league titles. He ended his career at almost 42 in Switzerland.
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