It should not be surprising that the greatest defender in the world, comes from the land of the greatest defense, Italy. And thus, the greatest defender naturally would come from the dominant team, our beloved Vecchia Signora. Like many of Juventus Legends, Gaetano Scirea was plucked from his youth side, Atalanta at the young age of 21. He made an immediate impact on the side, and alongside one of the meanest stoppers of all time, Claudio Gentile, the duo would form one of the world’s greatest defenses in front of Dino Zoff. With the other defenders, Cabrini, Cuccureddu, and Brio, the group dominated Italy for much of the 1970s. It was in this time that the Bianconeri added the first star to the Juventus jersey, and accumulated Scudetto after Scudetto under the management of il Trap. The team would also form the backbone of the 1982 World Cup winning side.
Scirea was a special kind of player. I would not seek to dismiss the prowress of Gentile, or the brilliance of left-back Cabrini, or the intelligence required for the defensive midfielder Beppe Furino. But his position required a special kind of genius. Scirea played as a sweeper, a libero in Italian, during the position’s transition from its’ catenaccio origins to one of a fulcrum of the squad. As a sweeper, he naturally would roam the defense and anticipate plays, breaking them up and distributing the ball, sort of as a deeper defensive midfielder. But this was only part of his responsibility. A sweeper had evolved from a defender to a playmaker. Often Scirea had the directive to build up play from the back, as well as pushing forward in attack. That explains, as a central-defender, his excellent goalscoring record over his 14-year career at Juventus. Scirea had a very intelligent role to play with the Bianconeri, especially given the fact that he was neither particularly pacey nor physically strong, and he played the Bianconeri tune beautifully. Gaetano was an elegant defender, blessed by his god-given ability to intelligently read the offense, anticipate play, and then quickly start a counter-attack by pushing forward whether dribbling like a striker or passing out wide to a midfielder. He was, in many ways, the opposite of his partner Claudio Gentile, he was a “gentleman sweeper” who rarely committed fouls due to his calm temperament and innate technical ability, never receiving a red-card his entire career, despite often playing as the last man in defense. His performances on the pitch mirrored his personality; never one to seek the limelight, he shied away from the media for much of his career.
It was this personality that won him so many Juventus fans and earned him general indifference from much of the football-fan populace during his career. It was this calmness and personality that won him many accolades for his conduct, to this day, many tournaments in Italy give out trophies for fair play and sportsmanship with the Scirea name. His greatest moments perhaps were defending the Azzurri name in Spain in 1982. Playing alongside his Juventus teammates Gentile, Cabrini, Zoff, Tardelli, Rossi, etc, the team went all the way to the final, triumphing against West Germany 3-1. As his career dwindled, Scirea made less forward runs and stayed deeper in defense. Juve’s all-conquering side began to age, and the results followed. Il Trap left in 1986, and Juve started trailing behind Napoli and then became shadowed by the all-conquering Milan of the late 80s and early 90s. Scirea decided to retire in 1988 after Juve struggled to finish in 6th place. He finished his career with 7 Scudetti, 2 Coppa Italias, 1 Uefa Cup, 1 Cup Winners Cup, 1 European Supercup, 1 European Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup, and of course, a Fifa World Cup winners medal. As a life-long Juventino, and the Bandiera of the squad, as the all-time caps record holder of Juve (until Del Piero in 2008) he was hired by his ex-teammate Dino Zoff to be assistant coach of the Bianconero. He was scouting the next team for Juve in the Uefa Cup, a team in Poland in 1989, when he died in a tragic and horrible accident on the highway after colliding with a gas tanker, 20 years ago to this day. In his memory, the Juve fans have named their Curva after him. It continues to be named so to this day, and when the new stadium is finished, it will still be called the Curva Scirea.
Scirea is a symbol of Juve. He embodies the Juve that the great Gianni Agnelli always wanted; determined with plenty of grinta, motivated, graceful, classy- on and off the pitch. Until April 6th, 2008, Scirea held the all-time presence record with Juve, until he was passed by our beloved captain Alessandro Del Piero. He had this to say about Scirea. “When I broke the record attendance mark for Juventus, it was only important for me because it was his record. “Being able to achieve such feats with this club is an honour that I am very proud of, however it’s an incentive as well, because of the players who have been here before me, such as Gaetano. Last season the club had some significant objectives that we knew would be difficult to achieve. When it comes to people like Scirea though, he provides me with the inspiration I need to succeed, as we all know how he achieved things in his career.” (juventus.theoffside)
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