And a real retirement – Giacinto Facchetti. Low key, almost unnoticed. 1977-78 season ended, Inter won the Italian Cup and Facchetti retired. There was no fuss – but Facchetti was almost forgotten for years. The news were about others, yet he was not only playing, but on high level. His last match for Italy was in 1977 – months before he exited the game. A forgotten legend.
Born in 1942, Facchetti debuted for Inter (Milano) in 1960, only 18-years old. He played for no other club – one of the last 'old-fashioned' stars loyal to his club. For Inter he appeared in 476 championship matches, scoring 59 goals. His time was really the 1960s, when 'Grande Inter' ruled the football world: 4 Italian titles ( 1962-63, 1964-65, 1965-66, 1970-71), 2 European Champions Cups (1963-64, 1964-65), 2 Intercontinental Cups (1964 and 1965). Two lost European Champions Cup finals – 1966-67 and 1971-72. Impressive and successful to the end – he quit after Inter won the Italian Cup in 1977-78. Facchetti ended his illustrious club career as a winner. At 36, he was obviously not the same players as in the 1960s – he played only 18 matches during his last season – but still finished with a trophy.
No less impressive was his record with the Italian national team – he debuted for Italy in 1963, at 21 years of age, and his last match was almost coinciding with his retirement – in 1977. He played a total of 94 matches for Italy – an all-time record at the time, bested by very few in the following years (Zoff, Paolo Maldini, Cannavaro). He scored only 3 goals, but captained Italy in 70 matches!
Facchetti played at 3 World Cup finals (1966, 1970, 1974), ending with silver medal in 1970, but his greatest moment with the national team was in 1968, when Italy won the European championship.
Impressive statistics, but numbers don't tell the whole story – Facchetti was hailed for years as a revolutionary player, one of those changing the game and the roles. He is considered – especially in the 1960s – the first modern full back: still a model in the 1970s, more desired than achieved, but in the 1970s the heroes were those who followed in Facchetti's steps – Krol and Breitner, for instance – the full backs, who constantly participated in the attacks and scored goals. Back in the early 1960s this was unheard of. There were occasional forays on the wings, a rare goal scored by a defender, but most of the time defenders did not cross the middle line and watched their strikers from deep back. Facchetti changed that, although for the most of the decade he was pretty much the only full back consistently going into attacks. An unusual full back, though – Facchetti was 1.91 m and tall players were either centre-forwards or central defenders. As a junior Fachetti was exactly centre-forward - it was the great Helenio Herrera, who changed that, moving him back in defense and it was still strange move, for young Facchetti was placed as left full-back, a position not for tall players. But Herrera obviously saw the attacking skills of the youngster and made the right decision: catenaccio, also Herrera's invention, reduced the number of strikers to two and they were most likely to operate in the centre, not on the flanks. Hence, there was often vast empty zone on the sides to be explored – the new role for a full-back, doubling as a winger. Facchetti was, if not the first to do so, the most effective and impressive. He surprised the opposition, adding more strength to Inter's attack, and scored lots of goals.
A typical and familiar picture of Facchetti from the 1960s – another goal scored by the left full-back. But it was not only the novelty of striking back liner – Facchetti was impeccable defender, one of the very best in the world. A skilful player, who did not depend on rough tackles and intimidation, but on elegant outplaying the opposition. Italian defenders have a reputation for uncompromising, often brutal treatment. In 18 years of competitive football Facchetti was sent off only once – for sarcastically applauding the referee. No wonder he was loved and respected everywhere.
But the football changed in the early 1970s and the heroes suddenly were different. Facchetti was one of the revolutionaries in the 1960s, but still he was considered part of the dreadful defensive football introduced by Herrera and picked up by whole Italian football. With the introduction of total football, everything focused on those who practiced it. The new modern defender was no more Facchetti, but players who really just played like him – perhaps they went a step ahead, no longer restricted to the wings, but still Vogts, Suurbier, Krol, Breitner, and so on, did essentially what Facchetti did – helping the strikers, then quickly returning back to do their defensive job. A lot of running, excellent physical condition. Perhaps the end of Facchetti was in 1972, when Inter lost the European Champions Cup final to Ajax, the gods of total football: this day was the death of catenaccio – not as practice, but as a fashionable model. The final blow came in 1974, when Italy was clearly and hopelessly old-fashioned, ridiculous, and quickly eliminated. Facchetti, unfortunately, played in both 1972 and 1974... thus, immediately associated with catenaccio and no longer mentioned as a leading star. He was getting old, but it was not the age – it was the Italian style of football, which relegated him back to the gone 1960s, a historic fossil, mentioned in past tense. Perhaps this was one of the reasons his retirement went practically unnoticed – few thought he was still playing anyway. For most he was a 1960s icon, long gone... but he finished his career as a winner! Ending with a trophy and perhaps more importantly with a trophy he never won before – this was the only Italian Cup won by Inter during Facchetti's long career! Of course, he was never forgotten in Milano – a legend of Inter, a shiny example of loyalty and class, he continued to work for the club until his death from pancreatic cancer in 2006. The club honoured him by retiring his playing number 3 and the city named a square after him. One of the all-time greatest players.