We The Italians | Italian sport: Gigi Riva, the legend of Italian soccer

Italian sport: Gigi Riva, the legend of Italian soccer

Italian sport: Gigi Riva, the legend of Italian soccer

  • WTI Magazine #172 Feb 17, 2024
  • 820

Gigi Riva left us last January 22, on the threshold of his eightieth birthday. A heart attack stopped the big heart he had causing a real shock to all the Italian people. "Rombo di Tuono," as he was nicknamed by Italy's greatest sports journalist, Gianni Brera, had not only been a great footballer.

He was the greatest of all, the most loved by all, the most idolized of all. Gigi Riva had become a myth for the Italian people, not only for soccer fans, but for everyone.

Born in 1944 in Leggiuno, a small town in the province of Varese, Lombardy, he had started playing in Serie C (third division) with Legnano, a provincial team, and when he was only 19 years old he moved to Cagliari, the Sardinian city's team that from 1920, the year it was founded, to the day it hired Riva had never won anything.

Cagliari was a modest team and when the young striker arrived no one would have thought that one day, thanks to him, it would become the strongest Italian team. Just as no one would have thought that a player who became in a few years the strongest striker of the glorious Italian national soccer team would play for his entire career only with Cagliari, despite the fact that the most important Italian clubs, such as Juventus, had signed him offering sums unthinkable until then for a footballer.

Riva, on the other hand, fell in love with that city of Sardinia and especially its inhabitants who became like brothers to him, so he played with Cagliari from 1963 to 1977, the year he retired from soccer. In those 14 years he scored 208 goals, still ranking as the top scorer in the club's history, and in 1970 he dragged the team to win its first, and so far only, Scudetto.

His connection with Cagliari did not end with his retirement from playing soccer, for he also became the team's manager and honorary president until his death last month in the very Cagliari that had become his city. Riva, however, was also a legend for the Italian national team, with which he played 42 games scoring 35 goals, still an absolute record for an Italian footballer, won the European Championship in 1968 and finished second in the 1970 World Championship.

Even with the national team his bond did not end when he stopped playing, as for thirteen years he became the team manager guiding the Azzurri to victory in the 2006 World Championship as a leader.

Gigi Riva became the idol of the citizens of Cagliari and all of Sardinia, a land that had always been isolated from Italy, but also of all Italians. In those years, in every city, from south to north, there were Riva and Cagliari fans. It became almost a fashion to cheer Cagliari, and even if they played and won against your favorite team, you were not sorry because they had beaten you Riva, the strongest striker you had ever seen play in Italy.

Fast, powerful, agile, intelligent, Riva was a true soccer artist and was also respected by all his teammates and opponents, because he was a person with a big heart on the field and also in everyday life. And in silence, without disturbing anyone, he left earthly life on January 22 to go and score a few goals in heaven, making the angels in heaven happy.