20 Greatest Italian Players of All Time

Matteo Bonetti@@TheCalcioGuyContributor ISeptember 5, 2013

20 Greatest Italian Players of All Time

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    Putting together a list of the 20 greatest Italian players of all time will always draw plenty of debate, especially since you're picking out of a massive talent pool in the second-most successful footballing country in history.

    Each decade had a plethora of talent to choose from, and there are possibly a hundred omissions from this list which would've easily fit in.

    After hours of meticulous research, and asking living "Wikipedias" such as my Father and other friends in the media in Italy, here's the list I've come up with.

    Without further ado, here are the 20 greatest Italian players of all time:

    *NOTE: THIS LIST IS IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER*

Gianni Rivera

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    Perhaps the greatest Italian midfield playmaker to ever grace a pitch, Gianni Rivera was a Milan legend who played nearly two decades with clubs in the '60s and '70s.

    Known for his surgically placed passes, Meazza could cut open an entire defense in a split second. Apart from this, he also had a scoring touch and was lethal in his era. 

Gianluigi Buffon

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    One of the best goalkeepers in modern times, Gianluigi Buffon was the main catalyst who guided Italy to the 2006 World Cup trophy in Germany.

    Buffon is known for his positioning and ability to make stellar reaction saves.

    His surreal performance at the back for Italy was one of the main reasons why the team only conceded one goal (a Christian Zaccardo own goal) until the final. Only 35 years old, he still has a few quality years to give to Juventus on the domestic level.

Luigi Riva

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    Considered one of the best forwards of his generation, Luigi Riva’s stellar left foot and incredible spell on the Italian national team led him to become an Azzurri icon.

    It's rather unfortunate that he always played with Cagliari, because one can only imagine the success he would've had at a more prestigious club.

Giuseppe "Peppino" Meazza

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    The legendary Giuseppe "Peppino" Meazza managed 242 goals in 348 appearances for Inter between 1927-1940. Having won two World Cups, the Milan-born Meazza has long been known as one of the most feared strikers ever produced by the peninsula.

    If you're surprised that you've heard his name before, it's because it was given as the honorary title for a stadium also known as the San Siro.

Fabio Cannavaro

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    Even though some debate that if he won a Ballon d’Or, then Paolo Maldini should have won several, there’s no doubting that Captain Fabio Cannavaro was the rock behind the 2006 World Cup-winning defense.

    Cannavaro formed a great partnership throughout that tournament with the mercurial Marco Materazzi, who turned out to be the perfect contrast for him at the back.

    A diminutive central defender, Cannavaro had to rely on his elite jumping ability and defensive timing which was second to none.

Roberto Baggio

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    The attacking midfielder, affectionately known as "Il Divino Codino" for his famous ponytail, is a legend who played for most of the top teams in Italy.

    Even though Roberto Baggio broke the hearts of Fiorentina fans when he left them for bitter rivals Juventus in the prime of his career, Baggio is a beloved figure in Italy who had magical feet and vision, linking up with teammates and creating moments of sheer brilliance.

    More unfortunately, one of the most infamous moments of Italy's history will be tied to him, when he skied a penalty against Brazil in the World Cup final which cost the Azzurri the greatest achievement in football.

Sandro Mazzola

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    He’s the son of the legendary Valentino Mazzola who sadly passed away in the Turin air disaster which wiped out the entire Torino team.

    Sandro Mazzola was a pillar on "La Grande Inter," easily the best side the Nerazzurri have fielded in the history which dates back more than 100 years.

    Think of him as a Kaka of the '60s, an attacking midfielder who blended speed with a knack for scoring goals.

Paolo Rossi

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    Although he didn’t have the scintillating technique or world-class skill of some of the other players on this list, Paolo Rossi will go down in history for his performance in the 1982 World Cup, when his six goals in the competition garnered him the golden boot and a more importantly—invincibility status after winning Italy the prestigious trophy.

    As a player, he had great positioning and was a true penalty-box predator.

Alessandro Del Piero

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    The little versatile attacker known as "Il Pinturricchio" is now the all-time Juventus top goalscorer. 

    Despite having moved to Australia to finish his career, Alessandro Del Piero leaves Turin as a true footballing icon, displaying his incredible technique and penchant for goal. His signature strike was from outside the box, where he'd put the ball on his famed right foot and curl them into the top corner, an area known in Italian as Il Sette.

    Interestingly enough, he was the main reason why Roberto Baggio lost his place at Juventus.

Dino Zoff

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    Widely regarded as the best Italian goalkeeper of all time, the former Juventus man was an octopus between the pipes.

    Dino Zoff had the international football record for most time without conceding a goal, when he went 1,142 minutes without conceding for the Azzurri.

Paolo Maldini

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    When you think about quality defenders, Paolo Maldini is the name everyone wants to be compared to, similar to how "fantasisti" are likened to the great Diego Maradona.

    Maldini is a Rossonero legend through and through, captaining the team and bleeding the colors for more than two decades. He played more than 900 competitive games with the Milanese outfit, going down in the record books for being part of, perhaps, the greatest defense in history with the Invincibili of the early '90s.

    As a player, Maldini was a superb left-back who could attack just as well as he defended to perfection. Later in his career, he switched to the middle of defense to negate his loss of pace.

Andrea Pirlo

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    Known as "the Architect," Andrea Pirlo is currently the world’s best pure deep-lying playmaker.

    His trophy collection is even more impressive, having been the midfield maestro to guide his teams to two Champions League trophies and one World Cup victory.

    Even though he’s approaching his mid-30s, Pirlo is coming off one of his best career seasons after joining Juventus when Milan deemed him as surplus.

Giampiero Boniperti

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    The legendary Giampiero Boniperti was Juventus’ all-time leading goalscorer until Alessandro Del Piero topped the list.

    He played with the Bianconeri for nearly 20 years in a period which spanned from 1946-1961. He formed a wonderful attack alongside Omar Sivori and John Charles.

Franco Baresi

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    Some purists believe that Franco Baresi was the greatest central defender the game ever saw.

    Playing alongside the likes of Mauro Tassotti and Paolo Maldini, the sweeper won three Champions League titles during the most successful spell in Milan’s history.  

    He goes down as one of the main players in the famed Invincibili group. He was so attached to his Rossoneri that he even played with them in Serie B, refusing to move away for greener pastures.

Francesco Totti

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    One of the last true icons in modern-day football who refused more lavish offers from big-spending clubs, Francesco Totti is Roma’s gladiator.

    Blessed with world-class vision and a powerful shot, "Er Pupone" has logged nearly 700 games with the Giallorossi. He’s adored by the fans, and it’s unfathomable to think of a Roma side missing the presence of their captain.

Gaetano Scirea

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    Here's another famous Italian defender on this list who was a pillar on the Italian national team under coach Enzo Bearzot.

    Gaetano Scirea was a technical defender who possessed a calmness in possession, leading his Juventus to seven Scudetti and the Italian national team to a World Cup trophy.

Christian 'Bobo' Vieri

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    An unstoppable freight train of a man in his prime, Christian "Bobo" Vieri was one of the most feared strikers in the early 2000s when he spearheaded the attacks of both Inter and the Italian national team.

    Blessed with an abundance of power, the hulking Vieri also had a soft finishing touch and was formidable in the air. Unfortunately, injuries and late-night frolicking contributed to the downward spiral of his storied career.

Giacinto Facchetti

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    Perhaps, Inter's answer to Milan fans raving about Paolo Maldini, Giacinto Facchetti was one of the first attacking full-backs in Calcio who, perhaps, helped revolutionize the position.

    In a time when players in that position stayed back to defend, Facchetti ventured forward and aided the attacking sector as well.

Silvio Piola

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    Simply put, Silvio Piola is the all-time leading goalscorer in Serie A.

    He netted 290 strikes during his famed career with the likes of Lazio, Juventus and Novara.

    Even though it'll be nearly impossible to find anyone on this list who saw the great Piola play in the flesh, we have the history books to give us tales about his brilliance and road to becoming an Italian icon spoken about by our elders.

Gianfranco Zola

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    The little artist known as Gianfranco Zola paved the way for Italians succeeding outside of the peninsula.

    He became an icon at Chelsea for his work-rate in attack, often dazzling crowds with unbelievable technique both in the goal-scoring department and in his creative ability.

    Zola continues to work outside of Italy and is the current coach of the Championship side Watford.

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