Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kaiafas came, however briefly, to fame when another player, a big star, stepped down. Luigi Riva retired in 1976.

It was not grand retirement…it was not in ‘good style’, it was not even official. Gigi Riva was 32 years old and heavily injured. His Cagliari suffered as well and was relegated. And that was the end of one of the biggest stars of the late 1960s and much loved player. Riva was nicknamed ‘Rombo di Tuono’ (Roar of Thunder) for a good reason: he was powerful, fearless striker, equally at home in the air, literally fighting burly defenders in the penalty area, or running from the wing. His shot was murderous.

Number 11 forever and looking like British striker against Juventus.

Riva was very skilful for a ‘physical’ player – the ball had no secrets for him.

And all ended with roaring stands and Riva triumphal after another goal.

He knew scoring allright… 3 times Italian goalscorer was quite something in the catenaccio land. Between 1961 and 1976 Gigi played 337 matches in which he scored 169 goals. The numbers would have been higher, if not for his many injuries keeping him out of the field quite too often. And at the end it was an injury retiring him. With Riva a whole era ended, whole set of attitudes – loyalty was getting increasingly thing of the past by mid-70s: players increasingly were changing clubs, following better pay. Riva was representative of the old ways: he played for only two clubs – Legnano (1961-62: 22 matches and 6 goals) and from there he moved to Cagliari, where he stayed to the end, eventually becoming Italian champion, his only title. That is, for a so big star, Riva played for relatively small club, having no real opportunity to win trophies. But he stayed and more than that – he declined an offer from Juventus in 1973. Can you imagine present day player declining an offer from Juventus? Declining more money and more titles, and possible bigger transfers after that? But Gigi Riva was from another time, although it should be mentioned that Cagliari paid him handsomely for the times, so money was not big temptation – loyalty is loyalty, but Riva was the big fish in Caglairi; in Juventus he had to fight for a place in the team with other – and younger – big names.

Of course, Riva was national team player – for almost 10 years. Between 1965 and 1974 he appeared in 42 matches and scored 35 goals. Perhaps his best year was 1970 – he was on top of his form and Italy played very good at the World Cup, finishing second to fantastic Brazil.

In Mexico, 1970 – Riva tackled by Bertie Fogts. Riva and Italy won a very tough game and eliminated the Germans. Alas, Vogts was denied only temporary – he became World champion in 1974; Riva never reached the very top of the world… 1974 was more than anticlimactic: it was disgrace. Italy played terribly, Riva was a pale shadow of himself, as everybody else in the team, and was never invited to the national team again. His national team career ended badly and his club career followed the same unlucky pattern… Cagliari was relegated in 1976. Bad luck continued… for the next two years Riva tried to comeback unsuccessfully. Age and chronic injuries worked against his will and he officially retired in 1978. But his last match was played in 1976 and for all practical purposes his game finished exactly then. Bad luck, but it was not to condemn Gigi Riva to oblivion. He is remembered fondly and rightly so – what a player he was!