Within the narrative of football history, the beautiful game has written chapters that have been rewritten or continued by a person very close to the player who preceded him. Sometimes surpassing the legacy left behind, sometimes matching it, sometimes making their own way. Chapters written and narrated by members of the same family who have perpetuated the family name and made history by wearing the same name on the shirt. One of these dynasties is the Italian dynasty of Mazzola, Valentino and Sandro. Sandro and Valentino. The Mazzola saga, a mythical footprint of Calcio.
A story that has as a common link and turning point the day when Sandro, at the age of six, promised himself to be a footballer like his father. It was a May 4, 2010 1949, his father would catch a plane in Lisbon, it would be the last time he would set foot on land in his life. Il Grande Torino, which had Valentino Mazzola as a reference, leader and captain traveled to Portuguese lands to play a friendly against Benfica in a tribute match to a great figure of the Lisbon club, Xico Ferreira. At that time Torino reigned supreme in Italy and would have reigned supreme in Europe had the European Cup not yet existed. Everyone wanted to play against them.
After the match, which ended in a 4-3 defeat by Benfica, the Tyrrhenian club flew back to Italy. That flight never landed. That event became known as the Tragedy of Superga. Most of the members of that legendary Italian club lost their lives there, including Sandro’s father, Valentino Mazzola. One of the greatest tragedies in the history of football. A chapter, that of Valentino, that was not closed… until his son picked up the baton, took responsibility for the legacy of his surname and raised it in golden letters to the altars of world football history.
The beginning of a dream
The history of the Mazzola family begins in Cassano d’Adda un January 26, 2010 1919, 30 km from Milan. Valentino was born into a large and humble family and soon began working as a baker in the region. Football became his only escape. Valentino, who was soon orphaned by his father, used to amuse himself going to and from work kicking all the objects that crossed his path and led the modest team of the village where he lived.
At the age of 19, an employee of the Alfa Romeo factory in Milan, saw the young Valentino play and fell in love with his game. The employee offered him a job as a mechanic in the company and a place in the eleven Alfa Romeo team that, at that time, played in the Italian Serie C. Valentino didn’t even think about it. He could only stay for a year because he got a call and had to leave everything. Military service, which was compulsory, took him to Venice. He left the team but never gave up football.
In Venice, while doing his military service, Valentino continued to be linked to the beautiful game and played matches in his spare time. In one of them a Venecia fan noticed this technical striker who dominated all facets of the game and decided that this boy had to be in the city club. A few days later Valentino surprised and perplexed all the Venecia coaches, especially his trainer Giuseppe Girani, by standing out in the trials playing barefoot, because, as he himself admitted, he did not want to wear out his only shoes. On 31 March 1940 Valentino Mazzola made his Serie A debut in Italy. He was 21 years old. It was the beginning of the first great all-round player in world football.
Even before Alfredo Di Stefano, Valentino Mazzola was the first forerunner of modern football. Left-footed inside player who moved all over the pitch. Technical but at the same time hard-working. He has a privileged vision and is aggressive without the ball. Goal scorer and defender. But first and foremost, captain. He was synonymous with commitment, leadership and above all, sacrifice. He was the first great all-round player. And those great qualities took him to Torino in 1942 being one of the most expensive signings of the time. And one of the most successful signings in history. At Torino he left an indelible mark in the club’s best period in its history. In Turin he led the best European club of the time for seven years.
They were seven seasons captaining that team that he was known as The Great Torino which won everything it contested and no team on the continent could be a rival. The only thing that slowed him down was the Great War, which brought Italian football to a standstill for two years. A break that did not affect Mazzola who returned with even greater superiority on the field. There were five Italian leagues and two Italian Cups. Top scorer in one of them. Leader and captain of the Turin club. Mazzola, Ezio Loik and Co. took Torino to the best stage in their history. So superior was that team that the Italian national team started everyone except the goalkeeper. A legendary team that beat everything and everyone… until that fateful 4th of May.
A May 4th that changed the life of Italian football and changed the life of Valentino’s son Sandro Mazzola, who like his father was orphaned at a very young age. That legendary Torino had just played a friendly against Benfica in Lisbon and would take the Fiat G.212 Avio Linee Italiane plane the next morning. A plane that should never have flown due to the weather conditions that day in Turin. That flight ended up crashing into the retaining wall at the back of the Basilica of Superga, which is located on the hill of Turin near the runway of the Turin airport. Eighteen Torino players lost their lives, including the Azzurri’s ten first-choice players, including the captain of both teams and father of a six-year-old boy, Sandro Mazzola.
Sandro Mazzola: the heir to total football
Carrying the name of one of the most important players in Italian history was a huge responsibility for the young Sandro, but he never wavered in his determination and his promise: to be a footballer like his father, to continue the legacy that life had deprived him of. Sandro picked up the baton from the Mazzola surname and more than 100 km away and wearing the blue and black colours of Inter Milan, Sandro marked an epoch in Italian football. In honor of his father and in honor of the family name he represented.
Sandro was born in 1942 in Turin, his father having signed for Torino a few months earlier, a club where he would go on to make his mark. The youngster was six years old when his father lost his life in that plane, Benito Lorenzi, Inter striker and great friend of his father, asked Valentino’s ex-wife to allow him to bring and raise Sandro and his brother in Milan where Giuseppe Meazza (Inter’s legendary player and coach) was also waiting. Shocked by the catastrophe in Superga, he welcomed the two sons of the Italian star in his club and in the city. There, Sandro followed his footballing path, watching every game from the sidelines at the San Siro, learning from the best and beginning his professional career in the Nerazzurri shirtof Inter Milan.
It was a path that could have been cut short all too soon, as the weight of the Mazzola name began to cast doubt on the young Sandro. “When I was young it was very difficult for me because everyone expected to see a player as talented as my father. But I didn’t have the same qualities. I had a hard time dealing with the fans’ comments, sometimes negative ones, so much so that I came close to quitting football. At that time I wasn’t bad at basketball, so I tried out for the Milan team, which was called “Borletti” at the time. For two months I hesitated between the two, and I dedicated myself to both activities. In the end I chose football.“And even less that he chose football, because the beautiful game, and Italian football, won one of the most important symbols of the history of Inter Milan.
Sandro Mazzola made his debut for Inter Milan on 10 June 1961 against Juventus. A date for the history of Inter Milan, one of the most important players in its history had just made his debut. With Sandro, Inter became the best team in the world, snatching the crown from the team that at the time dominated football across the continent, the Real Madrid of the five Cups, the Madrid of Alfredo Di Stefano.
That Inter team was led on the pitch by Mazzola alongside the legendary Spaniard Luis Suarez, who arrived a year after Sandro’s debut alongside the coach who would change everything Helenio Herrera. A team tailor-made for the coach, who was the creator and champion of the football known as catenaccio, but which boasted two of the most talented players of the era: Sandro and Luis Suarez. He combined talent, work and system in one of the best teams in history.
Mazzola’s Inter Milan won four Serie A titles, two Intercontinental Cups and two European Cups. The first one beating the almighty Real Madrid of Di Stefano, Puskas, Amancio and Gento by 3 to 1 with a double of Sandro Mazzola, in an edition where he would be top scorer. With the Italian national team he won a European Championship and came within a whisker of winning the World Cup in Mexico in 1970. Only the Brazil of the five tens was able to beat them.
Sandro Mazzola, like his father, would go on to become the top scorer in the Italian league and end his career with over 100 goals scored in domestic competition. As a playerhis football shone in the perfect defensive system of Helenio Herrera, who defined him as “an all-round player“. He was a goal scorer, a stalwart and a willing player, a key player in that Inter Milan team. A shirt he never let go of and always defended. A club player. A footballer for life. One Club Men. Sandro Mazzola. Representing and continuing a family legacy.