No.2 Paolo Rossi’s Remarkable Renaissance (Spain, 1982)
Of all the unlikely heroes that we’ve covered in this feature so far, the story Paolo Rossi is perhaps the most astounding and unpredictable of them all.
Rossi had initially impressed at Vicenza early in his career, and the Italian national team boss Enzo Bearzot called him up to the Italy squad for the World Cup in 1978, a tournament in which he would score three goals.
After continuing to blossom during his time with Vincenza, Rossi moved to Juventus. But the delight of moving to one of the biggest clubs in Italy would soon turn to despair, as Rossi was handed a three-year ban from football after his role in the Totonero betting scandal.
His ban was reduced to two years, conveniently allowing him to feature for Italy at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. He was called up for the tournament despite being obviously well short of match fitness; Bearzot, as you might expect, came in for plenty of criticism.
The scrutiny on the Italy boss intensified further when Rossi ambled through Italy’s first three games. The Bianconeri man was truly abysmal. He looked tired, out of form and completely disinterested. Naturally, there were calls to drop him from the side, but Bearzot trusted his judgement and persisted with Rossi.
In the second round group phase, Italy needed a win against Brazil to progress. And they weren’t just up against any side, they were facing the great Brazil side of Zico and Socrates. And in one of the greatest encounters the game has ever seen (you can watch the full match here) Rossi burst into life for the Azzurri:
What happened next?
Italy won the match 3-2, with the much maligned Rossi helping himself to a hat-trick. Bearzot was vindicated and suddenly, the mood around the Italy camp had transformed. The Italians faced Poland in the semi-finals and Rossi netted a brace to send his team to the final against West Germany. Rossi had gone from villain to hero.
In the final, Rossi went from hero to legend. His opening goal in the final helped the Azzurri to a 3-1 win and their third ever World Cup triumph, 44 years on from when they won their second one:
The Juventus man won both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball at the end of the tournament, and his ascension from unconcerned to unplayable represents one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the World Cup has ever seen.