• 01 Dec 2014
  • Legendary goalkeeper Zoff’s autobiography depicts a working class hero who put dignity above everything else

    Maria Luisa Colledani

  • Dino Zoff was Italy’s goalkeeper and the team’s captain when the Azzurri, Italy’s national soccer team, won the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

    He grew up, with dignity, in Mariano, a town in Italy’s Friuli region. His dream was to become a goalkeeper one day. He indeed managed to achieve that dream, and to train tens of football players in the meantime –all of it with his distinctive dignity.

    And it his dignity that really comes alive trough the pages of “Glory Only Lasts For a Brief Moment,” an autobiography that Zoff has written so that “my grandchildren Pietro and Clara get a better sense of their strange grandfather that sometimes gets stopped by people when he is walking down the street.”

    Dino Zoff, son of Mario, a farmer, and his wife Anna, was a young boy that fell in love with football so deeply that he decided to become a goalkeeper as “that role made me feel safe, I could feel like I was in charge of a place in particular, a place that I had to protect and in turn, it protected me. It was my place in the world.”

    Young Zoff kept on playing football and having fun. He eventually became known as the “talented boy from Mariano,” and Dino Zoff legend officially begins. First on suburban football fields, then as part of Udinese football team. In his first Serie A season –where he debuts at age nineteen--only five goals get through his defence.

    He earns a thirty thousand lire salary. Zoff then moved on to play for Mantova’s football team. No parties, no nightlife for this determined young star. In 1967 he is hired by the Naples football club: the shy goalkeeper becomes a celebrity. Fans call him “Nembo Kid” (the Italian name for Superman) and create the slogan: “No miracles here, just saves.”

    He then arrives at Juventus, Italy’s leading team, where he had a 11-year long career marked by the unbeaten record of 1,143 total game minutes where the goalkeeper did not let any shots into his goal.

    To quote the words of his beloved singer-songwriter Francesco Guccini, Zoff's hands could “draw dreams and certainties.” Like those of that unforgettable Spanish summer night that also featured Enzo Bearzot, the coach of the Italian national football team back in 1982.

    Zoff and Bearzot both come from Friuli. They both like silence and believe that “we must keep the joy in our hearts, being aware of how fragile it is and how valuable, if we want to make that joy last forever.

    As manager of Juventus and Lazio first and of the national football team later, Zoff modelled his coaching style after Bearzot.

    His career ended with the Euro 2000 European Championship final, which France won against Italy thanks to a goal scored by French striker David Trezeguet. It was also the end of Zoff’s brand of football, “a sport made up of indisputable values: good manners, personal growth both as an individual and as part of a team, loyalty, honesty, self-discipline. Being able to recognize one's own limits while finding the will and effort to try to overcome them. Frantically trying to strike a balance between the man and the athlete,” he said.

    In light of Zoff’s values, Milan soccer team owner Silvio Berlusconi's statement, made when he was still Italy's prime minister, it is simply not acceptable.

    “Zoff lacked any sense of dignity,” he said after Italy lost to France in the Euro 2000 final.

    Zoff went on to resign: “If I ever was a legend, as some have said, I consider my legend as being a tribute to workers. This is my minuscule greatness, my own dignity, my life.”

    But the football world did not forgive him. Instead, it excluded him: “As soon as someone breaks away from the beaten path and rebels, perhaps to defend his own dignity, he gets brutally kicked out of the system. This is the stupid and accidental violence of zombies.” The Italian football association did not call him back.

    It worked out better that way for Zoff, a man convinced of the fact that “sport improves people, while entertainment only serves to amuse them.”

    “The truth is that I have won some trophies, beaten many records, but I did not leave my mark on this world. At the end of the day, time will take it all away,” he said.