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Football was imported to Italy near the end of the century and, in the time between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, many football (and cricket) clubs were founded in the north of Italy.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the ‘best Italian football player of all time’, (as said by anyone who was lucky enough to watch him play), was born in Milan: Giuseppe ‘Peppìn’ Meazza. Gianni Brera said:
“The world is full of great football players, some even stronger and more consistent than Meazza. But we can’t get beyond his unexpected inventions, his sudden saves, his dribbling, and his solo sprints toward his favourite victim: the opponent goalkeeper.”
Peppìn, as he was called in Milanese dialect, was the first star of Italian football. His abilities in dribbling were unbelievable and left opponents astonished, wondering how his talent was so limitless.
His career began early – he debuted at 17 – with Ambrosiana Inter’s first team. Legend says Fulvio Bernardini, one of Meazza’s teammates, was that the one who convinced the Ambrosiana’s coach, Árpád Weisz, to choose Meazza – even though he usually would have been was considered too young. Fulvio Bernardini also had to change his position on the field in favor of Peppìn.
In addition to being a great forward on the field, Meazza was the first Football Star and was a pioneer of the binomial football player/advertising star.
He was always well-groomed, always well-dressed, always in a brand new car and always with a brand new beautiful woman; Meazza was a gambler and a Casanova.
“There’s nothing more humiliating than missing a penalty because the goalkeeper failed to understand the feint.”
Meazza is in the Pantheon of Italian sportsmen. So brilliant was his star that his hometown, Milan, dedicated the city’s stadium to him when he passed away in 1979.
He was one of the stars of the first two World Cups won by Vittorio Pozzo’s Italy, and he was the leader and the keystone of both teams. In fact, there is a very famous a picture of Meazza taking a penalty against Brazil in the WC’s semifinal. That was a different football, a different era: the era of Peppìn.