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