Thursday December 10 2020
Paolo Rossi: farewell to the Boy of the Summer of 1982

The man who made Italy live its dream suddenly died at 64. Giancarlo Rinaldi recalls the 1982 World Cup campaign that upset a Brazilian taxi driver…

There are words of Paolo Rossi that always struck a chord with me. After winning the World Cup in 1982 he recalled wishing he could stop time because his joy was tinged with a little sadness. He knew that he would never experience such a moment again and wanted to savour it as much as was humanly possible.

It didn't seem to fit with the player we saw out on the pitch. He was one of the greatest seize-the-moment strikers who always appeared to pop up in the right place to stick the ball in the net. Then he wheeled away from goal in celebration with a smile like a schoolboy who had stolen some sweeties.

That glorious summer in Spain was the pinnacle of his career. He would win other trophies and garner personal honours but his achievements in taking the Azzurri to their third title outshone everything else. In the collective imagination he was forever Pablito.

It was a redemption story, too, and we love one of those. Rossi had not long come back from a lengthy suspension due to the latest football betting scandal to rock Italy. He always protested his innocence but that didn't stop him spending a long spell on the sidelines. And yet, Italy boss Enzo Bearzot - somewhat controversially - kept the faith.

It did not look like such a smart move to anyone who remembers the opening games of that World Cup. The fragile frontman was listless and lacking in sharpness as the whole team struggled to produce much in the way of attacking football. Most pundits agreed that the Azzurri were far from being serious contenders - especially when they limped through into a mini-group containing Argentina and Brazil.

It would be in the decisive match with the Selecao that his legend would be born. A chance came in the opening five minutes and he woke from his long goalscoring slumber to pounce. Then he did it again. And then he scored once more for good measure to knock out most people's favourites for the tournament in an epic clash. From nowhere, a nation believed.

A team which had been playing without much flow had suddenly hit its stride and Rossi was at its heart. The swashbuckling runs of Bruno Conti, the elegance of Giancarlo Antognoni and the honest endeavour of Ciccio Graziani all suddenly had an outlet and a purpose. Give him half a chance, a quarter of a chance, a sliver of a chance and Paolo would find the net.

It almost felt like a formality to deliver the double that saw Italy past Poland and it was "that man Rossi" who inevitably struck the opener in the final against West Germany. "Campioni del Mondo! Campioni del Mondo! Campioni del Mondo!" was the commentator's cry at the final whistle. On the steps of a Tuscan cafe, this little 12-year-old cried tears of joy, much like the man himself.

Trophies followed with Juventus as well as a Ballon D'Or in recognition of what he achieved that year, but his career started to fizzle out quite quickly. He moved to Milan and then on to Hellas Verona but injuries hampered his game and eventually he hung up his boots in his very early 30s. A physique that often looked ill-suited for the battle grounds of football at that time could stand no more.

His legend, however, would live on - and not just in Italy. Rossi himself told a story of going to Brazil years after the World Cup and finding out he was well remembered there too. A taxi driver recognised him in the rear-view mirror and ordered him to get out of his cab for the anguish he had caused his nation quite some time ago. Only by gentle persuasion did the player eventually convince him to at least take him back to his hotel rather than dump him unceremoniously in the street. One nation’s hero was another’s villain.

He would become a familiar voice to another generation as a TV pundit where his insight into the goalscorer's art was second to none. And he was, of course, wheeled out for his memories every time an anniversary of that glorious summer came around. For many of us, he got his wish as he remained frozen in time back in 1982 as the boy who hit form at just the right time to send Italy into ecstasy. It is hard to think that he is no longer with us, another little bit of football history gone. But he will always have a special place in the hearts of anyone who danced in delight on that July evening nearly 40 years ago.


Pic credit: FIGC

Have your say...
I was a young adult in 1982 and remember Italy barely qualifying in the group stage. Once the knock out draw was determined I remember my father telling me italy had no chance. The rest is history thanks to Paolo Rossi. Yes, there may have been better players at the time, but to win you have to be clinical in front of goal. No one was more clinical than Paolo Rossi and hence Italy won the cup. That’s what eternal champions are made of. RSP Mr. Rossi.
on the 21st December, 2020 at 9:09pm
The Rossi of 82 gained glory because he scored those great 6 goals. But the Rossi of 77-80 (before the unfair suspension) was the greatest; his choice as 2nd best player behind Kempes testifies for this. To present the real Rossi you need to write about that one...
on the 15th December, 2020 at 9:41pm
Rest in peace sweet prince
on the 14th December, 2020 at 11:47am
I also wept tears of joy as an 11 year old in 1982.
He was my hero from 1978 and made me fall in love with the game. He is indeed frozen in time, arms outstretched celebrating his hat-trick.Ciao Pablito, grazie per i ricordi.
on the 12th December, 2020 at 4:16am
There is more to rossi than that world cup but still to score 3 goals against the 1982 brazil one of the best Brazilian teams of all time that special.
on the 11th December, 2020 at 5:16pm
I lived in swindon Englang when Italy were put in the same group as Argentina and Brazil my local bookie was offering
odds of 33/1 on italy winning the group i could'nt believe it.I had 5 pounds on Italy to win the group i won 165 pounds
thanks Paulo RIP Great one
on the 11th December, 2020 at 2:47pm
He was our Maradona! A National hero! The news is so sad, he was an icon and inspiration for Italian and World Football. RIP Pablito
on the 11th December, 2020 at 11:47am
Altobelli was a far superior player
Giordano would have been a starter if not for his suspension and was also more talented

Rossi just had an iconic 3 games!Storybook!
on the 11th December, 2020 at 6:54am
Espania 82 was the first time I saw the likes of Platini, Boniek, Rummenigge & of course those crazy talented Brazilians. But the man who stole the limelight from all those icons was Paolo Rossi. A hat-trick in the Italians must-win game against tournament favourites Brazil; both goals in the semi-final victory over Poland & the all-important opening goal in the World Cup Final against West Germany. Being a Juventus & Azzurri fan, Paolo Rossi means a lot to me and I will never forget him.
on the 11th December, 2020 at 2:47am
damn...another total legend gone too soon and unexpectedly ! when ya think back to'82 winning side hes first one that pops in or stands out in everyone's mind. PAOLO ROSSI...ROSSI ROSSI ROSSI.

i was only 9 in 1982, but recall hearing the news in america that italy had won. his name was synonymous with that win. ha world cup winner, golden boot, scudetti, euro/supercup, to his name. all around champion known world wide. modest and humble.
on the 11th December, 2020 at 12:54am
Before my time but sad to see such a legend go. I still had the opportunity to grow up admiring his brilliance in the mid 90s through VCR tapes, classic times, classic players, classic tournaments and Pablito will go down as a legend and one of the greats in world cup history. His brilliance played a major part in us winning our third star. RIP.
on the 10th December, 2020 at 11:50pm
Gave all young Italians growing up in the UK something very special in the Summer of '82 and a cherished memory every since and bragging rights. RIP Pablito
on the 10th December, 2020 at 9:21pm
Where do I start? In 78 he was probably a better all-round player skillfully combining with Bettega to score the best goal of the tournament. We were all devastated when he was banned for two years, only to return and struggle in the games against Peru, Poland and Cameroon. But destiny had a different story written for 'Pablito'. The hat trick against Brazil made him a legend but scoring in both the semi and final of the WC sealed his legacy. Plays No.9 in my Azzurri dream team.Riposare in pace.
on the 10th December, 2020 at 7:25pm
I was a young teenager at the time. I lived in Umbria. I remember when the second group stage was drawn and Italy had Argentina and Brazil. That was that then. Unforgettable game vs Brazil and then Italy were in the semi. T hen the final against West Germany. After the momentous 3 - 1 everyone spilled out onto the Piazza and got very drunk. I ended up barfing - as u do. I was a boy and had too much red wine. Great World Cup - in an era before mass football coverage.
on the 10th December, 2020 at 5:49pm
Sad to seem Rossi leave so early. I watched most of the 82 World Cup matches at the start of our lock down back in March. The match against Brazil is truly one of the best games I ever saw. I'd urge people to check it out, the quality is quite good too.
on the 10th December, 2020 at 4:17pm

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