There are footballers who are born with an innate gift and develop their careers based on it. Others don’t have that advantage and build their legacy based on the tangible principles of hard work and consistency. The boy who was rejected by a multitude of teams because of his small stature in his childhood would end up lifting the World Cup in 1982 at the age of 40. The one who won all the titles he played except the Champions League and who never stopped working, fighting and improving would end up becoming the best goalkeeper in the history of Italy, Dino Zoff the immortal goalkeeper.
Dino Zoff was born on 28 February 1942 in Mariano del Friuli, a few kilometres from the Slovenian border and 50 km from the birthplace of another Italian legend we have already mentioned, Cesare Maldini. In that area of eastern Italy, a legend is beginning to be forged which, like all footballing history, was not an easy one. Dino tried out for several top clubs such as Inter Milan and Juventus, where he would later become their standard-bearer, but was rejected due to his height. Zoff was only 1.60m tall at the age of 14 and, for a goalkeeper, that was a difficult handicap to overcome. The goalkeeper had only one option left: to start out with his hometown team Marianese, where he proved that his reflexes were well above average. In the meantime, he also began his career as a mechanic.
Adélaïde, the nonna who made Zoff great
But the Zoff family, or rather his grandmother Adélaïde, had a plan. Seeing the frustration of a grandson who lived for football and saw the doors closing on him, he dusted off an old traditional recipe to help Dino fulfil his dream. The recipe was to eat eight eggs a day. Yes, no more and no less than eight. We don’t know how, and I’m sure good old Dino doesn’t either, but it worked. And Zoff grew in a few years more than 20 centimeters in height to 6’6″. At the age of 19, Dino tried out for Udinese, the team from the biggest city in the region, and was snapped up. He began his career in the Italian league.
A journey that did not start in the best way. The first game he played Zoff conceded an embarrassing 5-2 against Fiorentina. No one could have foreseen, not even he himself, that the 19-year-old, who had just conceded five goals on his debut, would go on to become one of the most celebrated and celebrated goalkeepers in Italian history.
Udinese were relegated to Serie B that year. A season where Dino was unpublished playing three more games in addition to his debut. In his next year, the 62-63 season, he took the starting spot at Udinese and was one of the club’s most outstanding players, which led the boy from Mariano del Friuli to the Mantova, a team that at the time was in the lower-middle of the Italian league table.
It was there that he forged his career as a goalkeeper. They were four seasons, with a relegation and a promotion in between, where Dino Zoff accumulated more than 100 games as a starter. The youngster was already 24 years old and making a name for himself in Italy’s Serie A. Several emissaries of AC Milan contacted in order to sign him but the one who took him was Napoli, who paid for the excellent goalkeeper from Friuli 130 million lire (68,000 euros).
At Napoli he made another quantitative and qualitative leap in his career. That was 140 games in five seasons with the southern Italian club. He did not win any titles, but his good work eventually led him to make his debut with the Italian national team. And to be part of the first great Italian success in Europe, the European Championship in 1968. With only four caps, he was the starting goalkeeper in both games, the second of the play-off, in the final of the European Championship against Yugoslavia.
In 1970, already as Napoli’s undisputed leader, he made Italy’s squad for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Ferruccio Valcareggi, the coach, preferred to field Enrico Albertosi rather than Zoff and he was a spectator of luxury in the last great ball of Pelé with the canarinha in a final where Brazil swept aside a depleted Italy side coming off the back of that mythical semi-final against Germany that ended up being called the match of the century. It was his first World Cup at the age of 28. He would add three more participations and all of them as a starter.
At the age of 30, he signed for Juventus. All his hard work, perseverance and desire to succeed were finally rewarded. In Turin Zoff became a legend. He went from being a good goalkeeper to the best. And he went from not winning a single title with his club to winning them all. Six Scudettos, two Italian Cups, one Uefa Cup in a team made for history: the entire squad was Italian. Dino was missing the icing on the cake: the European Cup. He had two chances: against Cruyff’s Ajax in 1973 and against Hamburg in his last season at the age of 41, but Juventus lost both finals.
Zoff, the unbeatable and infinite goalkeeper
In his first season with Juventus, the Italian goalkeeper went 903 consecutive minutes for his club between 3 December 1972 and 18 February 1973 without conceding a goal. But he didn’t stop there and he surpassed that with his national team. He was from 1972 to 1974 without conceding a single goal guarding the goal of the“azzurra”. In total Zoff went 1143 minutes, almost 13 games without picking up the ball from inside the goal in an Italy shirt. A record that still stands today in European football.
Zoff completed his long career with the greatest success of his career. The 1982 World Cup in Spain. Already as captain of the national team, with more than 100 games defending his colours, and at the age of 40 Zoff lifted the World Cup at the Santiago Bernabeu on July 11, 1982, becoming the oldest player to win a World Cup.
“There is only one thing I can’t fight against, age“, said an emotional Dino Zoff when he announced his retirement in 1983. It was time for him to rest. He had achieved everything.
Last great adventure: Euro 2000 final as coach
Zoff retired as a player but remained involved in football. First as goalkeeping coach and then as coach and national team coach. Many of the Italian names themselves doubted that a goalkeeper could take on the responsibility of being not only coach, but also Italy’s national team coach. Dino Zoff proved them wrong. He won a Cup and a UEFA Cup with the team that gave him everything, Juventus, as well as coaching several Italian clubs such as Lazio and Fiorentina. But his crowning achievement was leading Italy to their first European Championship final in 38 years. A team with some of the biggest names in the game, including Del Piero, Maldini and Francesco Totti, who missed out on the title thanks to David Trezeguet’s golden goal.