Remembering Paolo Rossi: “1982 was definitely my year.”

Paolo Rossi at the final of the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain against West Germany © Ferdinando Mezzelani - GMT Sport Collection/Pier Giorgio Giavelli/FIFA Museum
Paolo Rossi at the final of the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain against West Germany © Ferdinando Mezzelani - GMT Sport Collection/Pier Giorgio Giavelli/FIFA Museum

Paolo Rossi, who inspired Italy to their World Cup triumph of 1982 has died at the age of 64. He is the only player after the introduction of the Golden Ball award in 1982 to have won the World Cup, finished as top scorer and taken the Golden Ball award as the best player, all at the same World Cup.

“I think the most beautiful thing is the knowledge that you did something not only for yourself but knowing that in that moment you made millions of people happy” he later recalled.

Italy’s 1982 World Cup triumph had at times seemed like a one man Rossi show. They had started the tournament poorly with three draws and only just squeezed through to the second group stage. But then the team sprang into life. Coach Enzo Bearzot banned any contact with the press and the outside world and it paid dividends, bringing the group closer together.

In the second round they beat defending champions Argentina 2-1, but needed to beat Brazil to qualify for the semi-finals. “We weren’t afraid of Argentina or Brazil,” Rossi stated, “although I think that the Brazilian team of 1982 was one of the best in the history of football.” That match against Brazil has gone down as perhaps one of the greatest in the history of the World Cup.

Rossi opened the scoring. “To me the first goal was the most important one, the one that let me open up. I had not scored in that World Cup before, and to me the first one was the one that broke the ice. I felt liberated.” Brazil equalised. Rossi put Italy back in front again. Brazil equalised again, only for Rossi to score the winner and complete his hat trick. “After the match with Brazil we felt really strong. We believed that we would beat any team we faced, because that was a magic period… extraordinary.” And he was right.

With his performance, Rossi even impressed the referee of the game, Abraham Klein from Israel. Klein stated: “On the field I met a humble player, who never argued with the referees. His abilities were manifested in the marvellous 90 minutes on the grass field. In my judgement Paolo was one of the greatest football players ever.” Klein himself took away a very special souvenir from the match: The original matchball. This ball is now on display at the FIFA Museum after Klein donated it to the FIFA Museum in 2017 together with several other objects from his personal collection.

The Italians beat Poland 2-0 in the semi-final with Rossi scoring both goals. They then beat West Germany 3-1 in the Final, with Rossi scoring the all-important opener ten minutes into the second half. “We started well against West Germany” Rossi remembered. “Cabrini even missed a penalty in the first half. But we didn’t stop to think about the mistakes. We carried on, to play, to create chances. I have to say we dominated the match.”

Winning the World Cup was the pinnacle of Rossi’s career, made all the more special coming off the back of the low point of his career - the two-year suspension following a betting scandal in Italy in which he maintained his innocence. “On the one hand I thought I did something really beautiful, extraordinary. I won the World Cup. On the other side, I was sad the World Cup was over, because I could no longer live those feelings, those emotions. 1982 was an extraordinary year for me. I also won Serie A with Juventus, I scored lots of goals, I won the Ballon d’Or… and I had a son! 1982 was definitely my year.”