There are some footballers whose legend supersedes them, grows around them, makes them into the kind of implausible superheroes we dream of having in our lives, men made Gods.
Giuseppe Meazza was one of them.
Hell, to this day when an Italian searches for a phrase to describe a rather spectacular goal, he often goes with "Gol alla Meazza" and "finte alla Meazza".
Some of the tales of his skill are astounding. Sample this from famed Italian intellectual/wine critic Luigi Veronelli: "I also saw Pelé playing. He did not achieve Meazza's elegant style of playing. One day, at the Arena, I witnessed him doing something astonishing: he stopped the ball with a bicycle kick, elevating himself two meters from the ground. Then he landed with the ball glued at his foot, dribbled over an astonished defender, and then went on scoring a goal with one of his hallmark shots, sardonic and accurate to the millimeter."
It's added on to by quotes from sources less prone to exaggerated prose, like this from the great Italian manager of the 30s Vittorio Pozzo: "He was a born forward. He saw the game, understood the situation, distributed the ball carefully and made the team offense operate. Having him on the team was like starting the game 1–0 up."
He was the central piece of the great Inter and Italy teams of the 30s, instrumental in the Italian triumphs in both the 1934 and the 1938 World Cup. A controversial figure - thanks to the fact that Benito Mussolini adopted him as the sporting symbol of his fascist government's success and to his absolutely flamboyant playboy lifestyle - his genius on the football arena is rarely disputed. He scored 314 club goals in 511 matches, and a rather astonishing 33 in 53 outings for the Azzurri.
His was a rags-to-riches story, a story that would have made a Hollywood scriptwriter flush with envy... turned down by AC Milan for being too skinny, he was picked up by Inter after a scout saw him juggling a rag ball on the streets of Milan. The Nerazzurri got to work bulking him, and he got to work smashing goals in. Excellent in the air - despite his short stature - he possessed a lethal shot on either foot, and his low of centre of gravity made his twisty-turny style of dribbling nigh on impossible to stop.
None of which meant, though, that he was a model athlete off the pitch... known for his fondness of women and wine, he himself once stated in an interview: "Luckily I lived near the stadium, and I managed to get there in a rush. My teammates and the coach looked at me disapprovingly. It was only five minutes before the kick-off, so I quickly changed and joined the team on the pitch. I could hear the Inter directors saying: 'We'll deal with him after the match. We'll find out what he's been up to.' Luckily I scored a hat-trick so afterwards no one said a word!"
For Italy, few have scored more important goals. He walked away with the Golden Ball in '34 and in '38 was the aging playmaking pivot around which Pozzo built the team that stopped everything in front of them - including a seemingly unstoppable Brazilian juggernaut in front of a French crowd desperate to see Mussolini's "fascists" lose. With Meazza on the pitch, though, that was always unlikely.
The best player of his time, and one of the greatest footballers of all-time, Giuseppe Meazza effortlessly dances his way into our list of 50 Greatest Players in World Cup History