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Marco Tardelli

The expression on Marco Tardelli’s face, just after scoring Italy’s second goal in the 3-1 World Cup final triumph over West Germany in 1982, is one of the competition’s most enduring images - like 17-year-old Pele crying after winning the trophy in 1958, or the Cruyff turn in 1974. It illustrates the ecstasy, the unmatchable joy of scoring in the biggest football match of all.

Seconds after seeing his ferocious 20-yard drive beat Harold Schumacher, Tardelli picked himself off the floor, began shaking his head and waving his fists before bursting into tears as he rushed to embrace his compatriots on the substitutes’ bench. It was fitting that the hard-tackling Juventus midfielder should score in the final. He was Italy’s man of the match that balmy July night in Madrid.

His goal against the Germans - one of six he scored for the Azzurri - rounded off a marvellous tournament for Tardelli who emerged as one of the stars of Espana’82. There, on the hard, sun-soaked pitches of Spain, he demonstrated the qualities that would earn him 81 appearances for Italy and make him a lynchpin of the Juventus midfield for a decade.

Born in Capanne di Careggine, near the Tuscan town of Lucca, Tardelli began his career in 1972, as a full-back with Serie C club Pisa before moving to Como in Serie B two years later. After just one year in Lombardy, Juventus took him to Turin and during his time with the Bianconeri he won all three European trophies - the UEFA Cup in 1977, the Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1984 and the European Cup in 1985. As well as those triumphs in Europe he won five League titles and two Italian Cups - all with Juve.

Many believe Italy has never properly replaced Tardelli, whose last appearance for the Azzurri came in September 1985, in a 2-1 home defeat against Norway. It was a sad way to end his international career. He was a complete midfield player, Italy’s answer to Johannes Neeskens, the midfielder who epitomised Holland’s ‘Total Football’ during the 1970s.

Tardelli - at his peak one of the hardest men in European football - was a midfield workhouse renowned for his ferocious tackling. His commitment could not be questioned and he boasted a competitive streak second to none. But the man from Lucca frequently lent himself to the attack and had an uncanny knack of steaming into the opponent’s penalty area from midfield to score, as England found to their cost in a European Championship match in 1980 which Italy won 1-0.

Another important Tardelli strike came three years earlier in the UEFA Cup final of 1977 where Juve met Athletico Bilbao. It ended 2-2 with Juve winning on away goals, Tardelli scoring the first-leg winner in Turin. His sudden bursts forward earned him the nickname ‘Schizzo’ - which means spurt. He was also a tremendously versatile player and Juventus Coach Giovanni Trapattoni, who converted him to a midfielder, used him in various positions.

Tardelli’s rise was nothing short of meteoric. One year after leaving Pisa in the Third Division he was playing for the reigning champions of Italy and in his very first season with the Bianconeri he made the national team. Azzurri Coach Enzo Bearzot, rebuilding after the disaster of the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, was looking for new blood and was impressed by the 21-year-old’s displays in the Stadio Comunale. So on April 7, 1976 Tardelli played in the friendly against Portugal, fittingly in Turin. The Azzurri won 3-1 and since that day ‘Schizzo’ became one of Bearzot’s figli prediletti - favourite sons. He travelled to Argentina for the 1978 World Cup and played in six of Italy’s seven matches as the inexperienced Azzurri defied the pessimists to finish fourth.

The midfield hard-man, with his cold, brown eyes and wiry frame, was one of Italy’s best performers and in the first match, against France in Mar del Plata, he marked French midfield maestro Michel Platini out of the game. After the promise shown in South America, Tardelli and his teammates were expected to win the European Championships of 1980 which were staged in Italy. Tardelli was one of the few Italian players to perform as they finished a disappointing fourth.

But it was in Spain where Tardelli confirmed his greatness. Italy’s emergence in the second round coincided with his growing influence. In the 2-1 victory over Argentina in Barcelona, the game that really launched the Azzurri’s challenge for the trophy, Tardelli scored Italy’s brilliant second goal. Breaking through the middle of the pitch, he overlapped Paolo Rossi who slipped him the ball. Tardelli then beat Fillol with a low, hard shot with his right foot from the edge of the area.

Along with Franco Baresi and Giuseppe Bergomi, who also played 81 times for the Azzurri, Tardelli is the fourth most-capped Italian player of all time. Only Paolo Maldini, Dino Zoff and Giacinto Facchetti have played more games. After 10 years at Juventus and after the tragic Heysel Stadium disaster where 39 people lost their lives, he joined Inter in 1985.

Approaching his 31st birthday ‘Schizzo’ was past his best. In his two years at the San Siro he notched up 43 appearances but could not help the Nerazzurri win a trophy. He ended his playing career in Switzerland, with San Gallo, where he spent one season. In 1988 he finally hung up his boots before turning his hand to management.

He took his coaching badge at Coverciano in 1988-89 and was appointed assistant to Italian Under-21 Coach Cesare Maldini. He had an indifferent time at club level with Cesena and Como and returned to the Under-21 set-up with Maldini. In 1998 he was appointed Coach of the Azzurrini and masterminded the 2000 European Championship triumph. It came as no surprise to see Tardelli mentioned as a likely successor to Dino Zoff when he quit as Coach of the Azzurri after Euro 2000. But his time should come when Giovanni Trapattoni eventually retires at the end of the current World Cup campaign.

We’ve met Marco Tardelli the player, we’ve met Tardelli the Coach. Now Bettina Sabatini meets Tardelli the man

The Marco of a champion

It’s murder trying to negotiate the one-way system that circumnavigates Lake Como. The 35 degrees outside only makes matters worse, although it doesn’t seem to bother the lad on the Vespa who whizzes up alongside me at the traffic lights. "To get to the Circolo make a sharp left at the level crossing or you’ll end up having to go round the Lake again," he shouts, revving the engine on his moped while I beg for directions. I am grateful to have been spared a third lap and the lights change before I can tell him that I have been round once already.

The Circolo Canottieri Lario is a very picturesque and extremely exclusive boat club, attracting mainly very middle-aged, bordering on elderly, businessmen. Marco Tardelli is neither. At 46, there is no hint of grey in his brown, cropped hair and his naughty expression and podgy, freshly shaven cheeks, make him look like an overgrown schoolboy.

"How are you?" I ask, presumptuous enough to think he remembers me from a few years back. "My life is wonderful," is his emphatic reply. "Who could be happier than me? I haven’t played for years but I lead almost exactly the same life I led as a footballer. I train with the boys, I relax with the boys, I travel with them, I even eat with them.

"How do I look?" he asks, turning to me for reassurance with both hands on his belly, gently caressing the rotund protrusion on which he proceeds to rest his folded arms. He doesn’t remember me, I think to myself, as I try not to laugh too heartily. "You look great, especially without the beard, although, a few extra miles on your bike wouldn’t do you any harm," I reply cheekily, remembering not only that he loves cycling but that diplomacy is, in fact, an art. I am not sure whether my answer satisfies him or whether his typically Tuscan, couldn’t-care-less attitude prevents him from taking offence. What becomes blatantly obvious, however, is that a man like Tardelli does not belong in a place like the Circolo.

"I’m honorary vice-president," he says shrugging his shoulders. "No one bothers me here." Then with a frown he adopts the exhausted, lordotic stance of a mother-to-be towards the end of pregnancy and continues: "Anyway, I’ve got back problems so I can’t overdo it. I’m being treated for it but it’s just taking ages," he moans.

"How about Luca Carretta?" I suggest. "Wasn’t he the team osteopath in France last year? He’s the best. He certainly put me right."

"Barcelona! That’s it, we met in Barcelona didn’t we?" he exclaims. YES, he remembers, I think to myself happily. "But what were you doing in Barcelona?" he asks, looking more puzzled than I consider necessary. "I ran in the marathon," I reply humbled once again.

"Of course. I do love athletics," is his enthusiastic reply. "You know, as a youngster I played football as well as running the 800m. I carried on both sports for years and I really did dream of becoming a middle-distance runner. One year I took part in the Giochi della Gioventu, a national youth competition where I made it to the final. It was to be held on the same day as a football final I was also supposed to play in, the Torneo Berretti, a really important Under-19s tournament. My club, Como, were furious because I decided to run. I eventually had to choose between the two sports though and here I am."

Now, I’m not often one to be left speechless but Tardelli’s excited monologue leaves me gob-smacked. Who knows whether middle-distance running lost what football undoubtedly gained but his background does shed a little light on his overall sporting prowess. A true all-rounder on the pitch and one of the fastest players around, it is now easier to understand why he was nicknamed ‘Schizzo.’

He continues unperturbed: "I suppose not but it’s funny to think that although I’ve always loved football, what really made my mind up was the fact that I could kick a ball in more places than I could run repeats. You need a proper running track to do athletics and there have never been many of those in Italy, but we didn’t need anywhere special to kick a ball around. The streets, courtyards and garage doors were good enough for that. For years though my idols were athletes, not footballers - Pietro Mennea, Sara Simeoni, Carl Lewis – I remember them all. The marathon, that’s fantastic!"

It isn’t difficult to understand why Tardelli’s ragazzi have formed such a close-knit group. Warm and open, passionate about life and unrestrained in his enjoyment of it, he insists there are no secrets behind his success. "There are lots of good Coaches around and we all have our own ideas on how to create a good team but if you’re asking me what I think I give the lads that makes the difference, I have to say – my character. You have got to have character as well as talent to perform at certain levels. I’ve already been through what they are going through now and I can offer them an example of how to cope with various situations. And I choose my boys using the same criteria. If they’ve got it, I can help them develop it, but I cannot give them what they just haven’t got. It’s really quite simple," he says earnestly.

There are no hidden agendas with Tardelli and his rather brazen self-confidence and I-am-what-I-am motto has taken his popularity to new heights all around the country. I wonder whether he is at all anxious at the possibility of becoming the most criticised man in the country, when he takes over from Trapattoni in two years time. "Not in the slightest," he says clasping his hands together on his lap. "All I can do is prepare myself psychologically in the time that’s left, continue in my role as Coach of the Under-21s and gain as much experience as I can from it. The rest boils down to common sense."

"You make it sound like the easiest job in the world," I joke, as we make our way to the gate. "Compared to understanding women, it is," he chuckles with a
glint in his eyes. But that’s another story.

Marco Tardelli
Born: Capanne di Careggine, 24/9/54
Position: Midfield
Serie A debut: Juventus 2-1 Verona, 5/10/75
Last Serie A game: Inter 1-0 Fiorentina, 26/4/87
Club: Pisa, Como, Juventus, Inter, San Gallo
International debut: Italy 3-1 Portugal, 7/4/76
Last cap: Italy 1-2 Norway, 25/9/85
International caps: 81
International goals: 6

World Cup (1982)
Lo Scudetto (1977, 78, 81, 82, 84)
Coppa Italia (1979, 83)
European Cup (1985)
Cup-Winners’ Cup (1984)
UEFA Cup (1977)
European Super Cup (1984)