Top 10 greatest Italian footballers to have worn the blue shirt
Italien has been widely regarded as one of the most successful national football teams globally.
However, their decline in recent years has been shocking despite being the second-most successful team in the history of FIFA World Cup, with four titles joint with Germany.
They were knocked out in the group stage in 2010 and 2014, marking their worst ever campaigns since 1974. To make matters worse, they failed to qualify this year, as Sweden sent them packing in the playoffs.
We look back at the top 10 greatest Italian footballers to have worn the blue shirt, even as Italian football moves towards a future without Buffon and Chiellini.
10. Giuseppe Meazza
Modern football fans are unfamiliar with Meazza, but they know him as the foundation of their World Cup victories in 1934 and 1938.
Meazza was a flashy player on and off the pitch. He played both as an all-out striker and an inside forward most of his career and is well-known for his shooting, passing, and heading.
Meazza was a product of Inter’s youth academy. He set a record for scoring 31 league goals in his debut Serie A season and won the Serie A with Inter that season, which also happened to be its inaugural year. He won it again two years later.
Meazza was limited by an injury in 1938/39 and transferred to AC Milan for the following season. After representing Juventus and Atalanta, he returned to Inter in 1946 to be the player-manager.
9. Alessandro del Piero
Alessandro del Piero was possibly the most technically skilled Italian player of all times. He played primarily as a forward in deep-lying positions throughout his career. After barely making it in Padova’s senior team of Serie B, del Piero was scouted by Juventus in 1993 and signed for EUR2.58 million.
He won 6 Serie A titles and 1 Coppa Italia title in 19 outstanding seasons in Turin. He also won league titles in 2005 and 2006, which was later canceled due to the Calciopoli scandal.
Del Piero was part of a star-studded team that included Nedved, Trezeguet, and Nedved. The Turin giants stormed through the second division to be promoted to Serie A immediately in 2007.
With 91 caps, he is the 10th most captained player for Italy. He was a part of 27 goals, including the semi-final goal against Germany in the 2006 World Cup. In the final, he also scored a penalty against France.
Del Piero, who had represented Sydney FC and Delhi Dynamos in the final stages of his career, announced his retirement in 2015.
8. Francesco Totti
Francesco was the original one-club man and became the embodiment of Roma during his 26 year reign in Rome.
Totti is one of the most distinguished players in history, despite being a great enough player to have been a part of a better team than Roma.
He chose to decline Real Madrid’s offer, and his name is now etched in the footballing history of Rome.
Totti is well-known for his flexibility in attack. He could play from the front line to number 10 or even further down and was known for his excellent vision and ball control. His ability to dictate the play in midfield is a testament to his skill at the passing range, vision, and finishing.
He played a key role with Italy in the 2000 and 2004 Euro campaigns and the 2002 & 2006 World Cups. After nearly leading his country to glory in 2000, they lost to France by 2-1 in the final, and he was forced to endure a disappointing World Cup 2002 before finally enjoying success in 2006.
Italy defeated France 5-3 with Luca Toni, as it partnered with Luca Toni to attack the final. After his retirement, he became club director for Roma.
7. Sandro Mazzola
Mazzola, an attacking midfielder, played for Inter throughout his entire career. In 1968, he won the Euros with his country.
Mazzola helped make Inter the most successful club team of the 1960s, alongside Helenio Herrera as a coach and iconic players like Luis Suarez.
He won four Serie A titles with them, two consecutively in 1965 & 1966. To help Inter win the first continental trophy in 1964, he scored twice against Real Madrid during the final.
Mazzola was skilled, quick, and tactically intelligent. He also had a high defensive work rate. Herrera later made him a right forward.
He has 22 goals and 70 caps for Italy. After the Euros victory, the Italians expected big things in the 1970 World Cup.
They did amazingly well right up until the final. Valcareggi rotated between Gianni and Mazzola, frequently bringing in the latter to take the place of the former. Brazil ran out as winners with a 4-1 victory.
Mazzola was the club’s captain from 1970 until 1977, when he retired.
6. Roberto Baggio
Roberto Baggio is perhaps the greatest attacking Italian player of all time. His vision, creativity, and finishing are unrivaled during an era of dominance between the ’80s & ’90s.
He made his way through Caldogno and L.R.Academies. Vincenza, Fiorentina signed Vincenza for PS1.5million in 1985. That was quite a sum to pay on an 18-year-old talent.
Although he was injured during his time in Florence, he is considered their best player. His outstanding form earned him a PS8million move to Juventus in 90, which was a world record. Michel Platini handed him the coveted number 10 shirt.
During five seasons in Turin, he indeed became one of the top players in the world.
Despite having only one Serie A title and Italy never winning the World Cup, he still inspired generations with his playstyle.
5. Franco Baresi
The mysterious sweeper/center-back played for AC Milan over his 20-year career. He is one of the most important players of the 20th Century.
After climbing the Milan ladder, he debuted in the first team at 17 years old. He was 18 years old when he made his first-team debut in 1978/79, one of the most successful club teams.
Baresi won six league titles and even the European Cup with his boyhood club. He was part of the 1982 World Cup-winning squad, even though he had never played in a match.
He was only in his mid-eighties that he became a regular member of the national squad. As a regular member of the national squad, he came within striking distance of winning the World Cup in 1990 and 1994. He finished 3rd and 2nd, respectively.
Milan retired the number 6 shirt in his honor after he had finished his career at 37.
4. Fabio Cannavaro
Cannavaro, the current manager for CSL side Guangzhou Evergrande is the second most-capped Italian player with 136 caps.
Cannavaro was one of the most outstanding center-backs ever to play the game. He spent most of his time in Italy, having been through Napoli’s youth systems. He was part of the Parma side that won a UEFA Cup and two Coppa Italy titles in the ’90s. Despite his success on sides like Inter or Juventus, Cannavaro didn’t win the Serie A.
He led the Italians to the 2006 World Cup victory. His nickname was “The Berlin Wall.” He was part of a remarkable defensive team that kept five clean sheets in Italy and conceded just two goals.
3. Andrea Pirlo
Pirlo was a member of the youth teams of Voluntas, Flero, and Brescia before he made it to the senior team. He became the youngest player in Serie A.
Mircea Lucescu, Inter’s manager, saw his potential and signed him in 1998. However, he was initially loaned to Reggina or Brescia. He didn’t make much of an impact at Inter, and AC Milan took advantage by spending EUR17 million in 2001.
A key player at Inter’s city rivals. He won 2 Serie A titles and 2 Champions League titles. Milan made the same mistake as Inter and let him go to Juve free of charge when he was in his 30s.
He continued his performance at Juventus, winning four consecutive Cupdettos. In 2017, he retired from MLS New York City.
Pirlo was a deep-lying playmaker throughout his entire career. He is well-known for his vision and passing accuracy. He was Italy’s midfield general and won 116 caps. They went on to win the 2006 World Cup after 24 years.
2. Paolo Maldini
Maldini was a great defender and, like Baresi only played for AC Milan during his entire career. He even assumed the captaincy after Baresi retired.
In 25 seasons, he won an incredible 25 trophies in one of the most successful periods of club history.
Maldini holds the record for most Champions League titles, with Milan, at five. This is a feat that Cristiano Ronaldo recently beat. He won 7 times the Serie A.
At just 16 years of age, he made his AC Milan debut. He was 17 when he became a regular, he excelled as both a fullback or a wingback because of his technical skills, stamina, and anticipation. He played as a centreback until he lost his speed towards the end his career.
Maldini has 126 caps for Italy and was even the captain from 1994 to 2002. He has one trophy from the national team, but he was very close to winning it in 1994 when he lost to Brazil in the final.
1. Gianluigi Buffon
Italy is known for its defense flair and strength, so it’s only fitting that its greatest ever player (176 caps) is also one of the most outstanding goalkeepers ever to play the beautiful game.
Juventus paid EUR52 Million for Buffon, who became a regular player for Parma in the late 1990s.
Even though Cech, Casillas and other veteran goalkeeping stars became second choice at their clubs late in their 30’ss, Buffon has managed to maintain his place at 40 in a Juventus side that has been arguably the best defensive team Europe has seen in the last decade.
In 2018, he announced his resignation from Juventus. which marked the end to an era in Turin. The era saw seven consecutive Scudettos and personal honours for Buffon during one of the most significant periods in club’s history.
Buffon, who had a brief stint at Paris Saint-Germain, returned to Juventus in 2019, and is still a part of their first-team squad at age 42. As Gigi fans wait anxiously to see his next steps, Buffon’s legacy will last for many years.