Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Giuseppe Meazza… and my avatar on Football Manager. What do these four men – albeit one virtual – all have in common?
Sorry, I’ll have to rush you teams…. Give up? Fine.
All four had their legacies cemented by having a stadium named after them.
Ajax’s Johan Cruijff ArenA, Argentinos Juniors’ Estadio Diego Armando Maradona and Gosport Borough’s mythical Matt O’Connor-Simpson Park, ensure that the triumphs and romanticism of the legends that inspired them will live long in the memory.
There is of course one name missing from this list. So, what club was it that elected to coin their home after Italy’s first footballing superstar?
Trick question, it was actually two clubs. Yes, the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium houses both Milan and Inter though it is more commonly known as San Siro. Meazza is perhaps not as revered around the world as some of the other players included on the list but in Italy he is a household name.
Born in 1910 in his beloved Milan, his father died fighting in World War One and he was raised by his mother. Suffering from respiratory problems and lumbered with a slight physique, Meazza was rejected by the Rossoneri as a teenager – a decision that would prove to be a monumental error.
The prodigious youngster was picked up by Milan’s city rivals Inter and would go on to carve out a legendary career. Meazza would bag a brace on his Nerrazurri debut in 1927 which set the tone for his prolific goal scoring over the next three seasons. He would hit the 30 goal mark in each of those campaigns.
During a triumphant 13-year spell at Inter, Meazza would net 242 times in 265 appearances, scooping two league titles and a Coppa Italia – while also finishing as Serie A top scorer on three occasions.
This incredible record is certainly impressive, but the forward’s place in footballing history has been aided by his off-field mystique. Frequenter of northern Italy’s dance halls and a prolific womaniser, Meazza’s exploits filled gossip columns and travelled by word of mouth on the streets on Milan.
There was also a darker side to his celebrity with the player’s unique talent being exploited by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Meazza was frequently deployed for photo opportunities and other propaganda. This was no more apparent than during Italy’s back-to-back World Cup wins in 1934 and 1938.
Much has been written about the country’s hosting of the tournament in 1934 – both by journalists and academics – and the general consensus is that Mussolini’s selection of match officials bordered on straight-up match fixing.
Vitorrio Pozzo’s Italy side were also far from innocent. The football team was modelled on the Fascist ideology’s advocacy of physicality and violence amongst its youthful, male population. In a tie against Spain, legend has it that four opposition players were forced to withdraw with injuries caused by Pozzo’s ruthless physical approach.
In the midst of this unpleasant and historical complexity, Meazza was a shining beacon that proved football’s ability to bring beauty and joy into the a bleak world.
Deployed as a withdrawn forward – most similar to today’s number 10 role – he represented the antithesis of his teammates unforgiving style of play. Sporting a shining head of slick back hair, Meazza was one of football’s earliest technicians.
Competent with both feet, likely to place rather than power his shots and blessed with a wealth of vision and intelligence, he operated in a sphere of his own amid his teammates aggression and gamesmanship.
After dispatching the Unites States, Spain and Austria, Italy beat Czechoslovakia in the final in front of a capacity crowd at the Stadio Nazionale PNF. Meazza deservedly scooped the tournament’s best player award.
The celebrations would be repeated four years later when Pozzo masterminded another World Cup win – this time with Meazza as his inspirational captain. These two World Cup triumphs confirmed his place in history as an immortal symbol of Italian football. It was just as well, as after the 1938 tournament he suffered a blood clot. It affected him physically and he would never be the same player again.
The tail end of Meazza’s career saw him take in spells at Milan – the club who rejected him as a youngster – as well as Juventus, Varese and Atalanta. He would return for final final swansong with Inter before retiring in 1947.
He remains Italy’s second top scorer of all time and is also fourth in Serie A’s goalscoring charts.
After his passing in 1979, tributes came flooding in with many coining Meazza as Italy’s greatest ever footballer and perhaps even the best player of all time.
That is a debate for another time, but the elegant baller’s passionate relationship with the city of Milan was fittingly commemorated with San Siro’s renaming one year later.
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