We The Italians | Italian sport: Pablito, the symbol of a winning Italy

Italian sport: Pablito, the symbol of a winning Italy

Italian sport: Pablito, the symbol of a winning Italy

  • WTI Magazine #134 Dec 17, 2020
  • 512

He was more than a soccer player for Italy. He was a symbol for entire generations and thanks to an unforgettable summer, that of 1982, he was the man who, more than many others, succeeded in uniting Italy and the Italians. On December 9, Paolo Rossi passed away: for the Italians he was "Pablito", for the Brazilians the "carrasco do Brasil" (the executioner of Brazil), for soccer lovers all over the world one of the strongest strikers in history.

Born in Prato, Tuscany, Rossi was one of those fairy-tale sports figures. At only 17 years old, he made his debut with the first team of Juventus, the dream of every Italian soccer player. But after two years, with only a few games played, the dream vanished. He played with provincial teams, Como, Vicenza where he became a strong striker scoring 60 goals in three seasons, and Perugia where his career seemed to be over because he was banned for two years with the wrongful accusation of having rigged a match, when he just didn’t want to rat out a teammate, thinking he was just joking.

Without being able to play in Italy, he went to the United States, but after only one match with the Buffalo Stallions he returned to Italy. In 1980 and '81 he seemed to be a hopeless player, but after the end of his ban he came back to play with Juventus and also with the Italian national team that the following month would have participated in the World Cup in Spain. That was the year in which Paolo Rossi became a legend and for all of Italy he became a symbol of redemption and victory.

The National team had a very special coach, Enzo Bearzot. A simple man, of few words, a patriot like the President of the Italian Republic at that time, Sandro Pertini. Bearzot bet on Paolo Rossi as a forward, causing endless controversy in Italy, because no one believed in him. In Spain, the National Team was able to pass the first round thanks to luck. Three draws against Poland, Peru and Cameroon and only because we scored a goal more than others we went on to play the second round. Rossi played three games without glory. In the second round the opponents were Argentina, world champion with Maradona on the field, and Brazil, considered unbeatable. For Italy it was like climbing Mount Everest.

With Argentina, the miracle arrived: 2-1 for Italy. Rossi played another disappointing match. On July 5, 1982, the impossible challenge against Brazil was scheduled, which was worth the semi-final of the World Cup. And it became Pablito's day. After only 5 minutes, Rossi scores the first goal. Brazil ties, but Rossi scores the 2-1. Brazil ties again, but 15 minutes from the end Rossi scores the third goal that gives Italy the victory. Three goals to Brazil, as no one had ever managed to do in a World Cup. Three goals that made the fans in Italy explode, all of them now fans of Paolo Rossi. That day, the Brazilians began to call him "the executioner of Brazil" and they still remember him for that match. But the fable of the boy from the province who suffered the humiliation of being banned and played in small teams does not end there.

In the semi-final against Poland, Pablito scores the two goals that take Italy to the final against Germany. On July 11, 1982, at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, he is again the one who made Italy happy, scoring the 1-0 goal. The match ends 3-1 for Italy that wins the World Cup. Rossi becomes world champion, top scorer of the World Cup and at the end of the year he wins the Pallone d’Oro, the highest award for a soccer player.

That victory for the Italians was like winning a war. The nation united and felt strong, as had happened few times in history. Paolo Rossi became the son that all mothers wanted to have, the husband that all women wanted, the older brother, the father they dreamed of. He became a legend and thanks to him, to his goals, Italy began to breathe a different air.

The country was coming out of the economic crisis of the 70s and was still not fully modernized. A symbolic photo of that era is linked to the World Cup in Spain. On the plane that brought the Italian national team home from Spain, the President of the Republic Sandro Pertini, together with coach Bearzot and two players, Zoff and Causio, spent time playing a Neapolitan cards game loved by all Italians, just loike four old friends in a bar of the Italian province, only with the World Cup as the reward, there, in plain sight on the table. An image that remained in history because it was the mirror of Italy, a country still tied to the old popular traditions. After that victory, however, came a strong push towards a modern lifestyle, because that success gave courage to the Italians showing the whole world to be a winning country.

Paolo Rossi, or rather Pablito, is no longer with us, but his story will remain engraved in the hearts of all Italians because that summer of 1982, those 6 goals, that World Cup won after a ban still considered unjust, represent the dream of all ... that of being able to be a winner in life.