Italy are among the strongest footballing nations in the world, and have won 4 World Cups and 1 European Championship. They are also home to some of the biggest clubs in the world like Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan.
Italy are known for their emphasis on good defending and they have produced some of the greatest defensive players through the decades. However, they have also produced some very skillful attacking players, and therefore, it is not easy to pick their top 5 footballers of all time.
Still, we have tried to do the same, and here goes our list of the 5 greatest Italian footballers of all time:
5. Gianluigi Buffon
One of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, Buffon has had a long and distinguished career for the last two decades. He made it to the 1998 World Cup squad for Italy, and was supposed to be their No. 1 goalkeeper in that tournament. However, he suffered an injury and did not take part in what was supposed to be his first major tournament for Italy.
He made amends soon and established himself as the No. 1 Italian goalkeeper. He won the World cup in 2006 with Italy. He also became a legendary player for Juventus after having started his career with Parma. He has earned a humungous 901 caps in his club career, and featured in 3 Champions League finals for Juve. However, Juve could not win any of those finals, and Buffon could not taste Champions League success in his career. However, he won 11 Serie A titles with Juve.
Buffon has retired from international football, but still continues to play club football for French Club Paris Saint Germain. He has earned 176 caps for the Italian national team, and remains a terrific shot-stopper. He also has a commanding presence inside the penalty box, and continues to be a very good goalkeeper overall.
4. Paolo Maldini
The peerless Maldini played for his beloved AC Milan for more than two decades, and also collected quite a few trophies in the process. He won the European Cup 5 times, and finished runner-up on two more occasions. He also won 7 serie A titles with Milan.
Maldini’s longevity as a footballer is quite exceptional undoubtedly, and very few footballers can match him in terms of success in club football. Maldini played in 902 matches for Milan overall, and scored 33 goals. He was also quite possibly the finest left-back in the history of the game, and also played as a central defender in the twilight of his career.
However, he could not win any international honour with the Italian national team. Italy lost in the finals of World Cup 1994 and Euro 2000, and Maldini ended up with 126 international caps in his remarkable career.
Maldini was quite good with his overlapping runs, and his crossing was effective too. He also a good aerial presence and remained a clean tackler. He thwarted many great forwards with his anticipation and positional sense — indeed,one of the greatest Italian footballers of all time.
3. Franco Baresi
Baresi is inarguably one of the greatest defenders the game of football has seen. He played as a sweeper for AC Milan and Italian national team, and won quite a few honours for his club and country. Baresi won 3 European Cups and 6 Serie A titles for Milan. He also remains one of the few players to have won each of the Gold, silver and bronze medals in the World Cup.
Baresi won the 1982 World cup with the Italian team, and also finished runner-up in the 1994 World Cup, even after a stupendous performance in the final against Brazil, which earned him the Player of the final award. He also captained the all-conquering Milan side in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Baresi played in 719 matches in his club career and scored 33 goals. He also earned 81 international caps for Italy and was runner-up in Ballon d’Or 1989. He was one of the cleanest defenders of all time, and could read the game very well. His tackling, interceptions and anticipation made him an invaluable player.
2. Roberto Baggio:
Nicknamed as the “Divine Ponytail”, Baggio became one of the finest footballers in the World Football throughout the 1990s. He was an attacking midfielder, who could also play as the second striker, and had silken skills and grace. He almost won the World cup for Italy in 1994, and won the Ballon d’Or in 1993.
However, mere stats and titles would not be able to do justice to the great impact Baggio had in world football. His dribbling, passing and shooting skills were exemplary. And he remains one of the few players who have played for each of the three Italian giants — AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus. He also won 2 Serie A titles in his distinguished career.
Baggio also played for clubs like Fiorentina and Brescia, and ended up with 291 goals in 643 matches in his club career. He also scored 27 goals in 56 international appearances for Italy. He was a player for the big occasions, and scored 11 goals in the 3 World Cups he played in for the Azzuri.
Rivera was the greatest among all the legendary footballers Italy has produced and was an inspiration to a whole generation of footballers. He played for AC Milan from 1960 to 1979 and scored 164 goals in 658 matches for them. He was also a part of the Italian national team in the 1960s and 1970s, and won the Ballon d’Or in 1969.
Rivera was an attacking midfielder, who also managed to score quite a few goals in his career. He was a part of the Italian national team that finished runners-up in the 1970 World Cup. He won the European Championship with Italy in 1968. He also won 3 Serie A titles with Milan and remained one of the premier players in the world in his prime.
Rivera earned 60 caps for Italy and scored 14 goals for them. He also finished runner-up in Ballon d’Or in 1963. His passing and shooting skills were exceptionally good and he was duly adjudged the greatest Italian player of the 20th century in 1999.