Rome: Enzo Bearzot, the coach who led Italy to victory in the final of the 1982 World Cup against the odds, has died at the age of 83.
“Goodbye ‘old man’, we will miss your wisdom,” Serie A said in a statement without giving a cause of death.
Tributes quickly poured in for one of Italian sport’s most respected figures, who worked his way up the Italian federation pyramid to become coach of the national team despite never having been a manager in the top-flight Serie A.
Paolo Rossi, whose six goals helped Italy to triumph in 1982 despite three draws in the first group stage, was tearful.
“Enzo Bearzot has been one of the greatest Italians of the 20th century, of this there is no doubt,” Rossi, who returned from a betting ban just in time for the tournament, told news agency ANSA.
“For me he was like a father. I owe him everything, without him I would not have done what I did. He was an incredibly honest person.”
Given Rossi’s troubled build-up to the finals and the three opening draws, Italy’s third of four World Cup triumphs looked highly unlikely in Spain but they burst into life in the second group phase.
A 2-1 win over Argentina and 3-2 success against Brazil, where Rossi scored a hat-trick, set the tone for the semi-final victory over Poland and the memorable 3-1 triumph over West Germany in the final.
Marco Tardelli’s crazed celebration after scoring the second goal in the final has gone down in World Cup folklore but the photographs of Bearzot cradling the trophy also resonate with all Italians.
“Bearzot knew how to represent and transmit the great values of mankind and of sport,” the Italian soccer federation president Giancarlo Abete said in a statement.
Born in Aiello in north-eastern Italy in 1927, Bearzot played centre back for clubs such as Inter Milan and Torino and picked up one Italy cap.
He later became coach of third-tier Prato but his club management career ended there and he entered the Italian federation system as an Italy under-23 coach before working his way up to national boss.
Bearzot led the Azzurri to fourth spot in the 1978 World Cup and Euro 1980, hosted by Italy, before his finest moment two years later.
A last-16 defeat by France at the 1986 World Cup prompted Bearzot’s resignation and he never coached again, returning to the federation in the last decade as a technical director.