Football has lost another World Cup hero. Paolo Rossi was no Maradona but the final ledger of the two departed superstars would certainly have some common lines. Rossi, like Maradona, ensured that Italy could always go back to his iconic goals while following the notoriously inconsistent Azzurri. Four years before Maradona single-handedly gifted the World Cup to Argentina, Rossi, in 1982, had six history-changing strikes in three Cup games. This was the reason, Rossi, despite his flaws, enjoyed uncritical reverence in his country.
Two years prior to his World Cup high, Rossi was embroiled in a match-fixing scandal. Repeated pleas of innocence, brought down the three-year ban to two — just in time to be eligible for the World Cup. He faced relentless pressure to not only redeem his name but also justify the shortened ban. Like most greats, he rose from the ashes. During that magical summer of ’82, the fall guy would turn into a national treasure. He won the Golden Boot, the Golden Ball and later even the Ballon d’Or.
While Italy will continue to relish each of his goals, the world will always remember him for his hat-trick against that captivating Brazilian Dream Team at the ’82 World Cup. For football fans of a certain vintage that result still raises a lump from within. The Tele Santana coached team of ball-players with twinkling feet — remember Socrates, Zico, Eber, Junior, Falcao, Cerezo — would regale the fans with their graceful feints and daring flicks. They were easily the people’s choice to win the Cup. But Rossi killed the joga bonito dream. As Socrates would later lament, the result hastened the Europeanisation of Brazilian football. Making Brazil more organised happens to be Rossi’s less-celebrated achievement.