Gianni Rivera’s 80th birthday, from the golden ball to the relay with Mazzola

The ‘Abatino’ arrives in splendid form and with many satisfactions gathered in his career both with the Milan shirt and with that of the national team,

John Rivera one of the myths of Italian football, the man who scored the 4-3 goal in extra time in the endless challenge between Italy and West Germany at the Mexico ’70 World Cup, crosses the 80-year mark. The ‘Abatino’ – this was the nickname Gianni Brera gave him – arrives there in splendid form and with many satisfactions gathered in his career both with the Milan shirt and with that of the national team, winning three championships, two Champions Cups, an Intercontinental, a European (the only one won by Italy so far) and a Ballon d’Or.

Born in Alessandria on 18 August 1943, he took his first steps in professional football with the Grays shirt, making his debut in Serie A not even 16 years old. It was evident that he had not indifferent technical qualities, so much so that he was even chosen by the Italy coach at the time Nereo Rocco to participate in the 1960 Rome Olympics, at the end of which he was awarded the best young player of the tournament. Already in the tour of Milan on the recommendation of Gipo Viani, he was immediately redeemed by the Rossoneri club, ready for a dream epic that would last until 1979.

Despite a complicated start due to some skepticism about his age and role that proved to be unjustified, Rivera was decisive for the 1962 championship for his elegant and efficient offensive game, then the definitive consecration with his first call-ups for the senior national team and success in the 1963 European Cup comeback against Benfica. That year he also touched the Ballon d’Or which will arrive 6 years later.

Twelve seasons as captain of Milan, amid criticisms for some missed triumphs around the mid-60s dominated by the great Inter and the exploit from 1968 onwards, thanks to the agreement with players of the caliber of Sormani, Hamrin and Prati, winning a Scudetto at the expense of Naples and Juventus and another Champions Cup with a clear 4-1 against Ajax, showing once again that he is a brilliant number ten, with an unmistakable and extraordinary flair. He, different from any other Italian talent and also esteemed by the greatest heroes of the time like Pelé. The 1969 Ballon d’Or was the pinnacle of his career, then many second places, some disagreements with some coaches, the last title in 1979 with Liedholm on the bench and his retirement at the end of the same championship.

Rivera was one of the first players in the history of Italian football to be able to stand up to the press and critics in general. Better in front of the defence, attacking midfielder or second striker? Sometimes accused of running too little and of being too “elegant” in his plays – hence the nickname “Abatino” -, he was able to silence anyone with assists and volley goals. Even in the controversial Mexico ’70 World Cup he left his mark despite the dualism with the Inter player Sandro Mazzola and the friction with coach Valcareggi and the Federation, without forgetting the European Championship he won in his homeland two years earlier.