Gigi Riva dies, 79: Who was he, what is his legacy, and what does he mean to Italian football?

Gigi Riva will be remembered as a legend of Italian football, both by fans of Cagliari and the Italy Men's National Team. Who was he, what is his legacy and how will he be remembered?

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Italian football legend Luigi ‘Gigi’ Riva passed away on January 22, 2024, at the age of 79 after suffering a heart attack, and various clubs and Italian football identities have paid tribute to the former striker.

Born in Leggiuno, in the region of Lombardy, Italy, on 7 November 1944, he inspired Cagliari to their first and only Serie A title to date in the 1969/70 season. He was Serie A capocannoniere three times, and became the all-time goalscorer of the Isolani with 208 goals in 378 competitive matches.

Riva remains the leading goalscorer for the Italy Men’s National Team with 35 goals in 42 matches, and he played in the 1968 European Championship triumph, scoring in the final replay against Yugoslavia. He was also the Azzurri Team Manager – not a coaching role – from 1990 until 2013.  

Known as Il Rombo di Tuono or Roar of Thunder, a nickname given to him by Italian football journalist Gianni Brera, he was a prolific scorer and possessed a powerful shot with his left foot, even breaking a child’s arm during one match with one of his efforts.

Clubs pay tribute to Il Rombo di Tuono

After his passing, several Italian clubs posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, to pay their respects to the legend that was Gigi Riva.

His former club Cagliari in one post simply said, “Forever Gigi Riva.” A more poignant and poetic post said, “From today we are all more alone. With our roots torn out. As if a piece of ourselves was also gone. As if we have awoken from a long, intense, wonderful dream. From which we never wanted to wake.”

The official Italy account posted, “Goodbye, Roar of Thunder. Forever an Azzurri legend.”

Napoli said on X, “President Aurelio De Laurentiis, the management, the coaching staff, the team and the whole of SSC Napoli express deep sorrow and emotion for the passing of Gigi Riva, an unforgettable legend of Italian football.”

Lazio posted, “President Claudio Lotito and S.S. Lazio have learned of, with extreme sorrow and deep emotion, the news of the passing of Luigi Riva, legend of Italian football and architect of Cagliari‘s scudetto. The club sends its sincerest condolences to his family and loved ones.”

Zola, Tardelli, Zoff, and Baggio among many to pay homage to Riva

Native Sardinian, and former Chelsea, Cagliari, and Italy player Gianfranco Zola praised Riva and the way the Lombard stood up for Sardinians.

“At Cagliari, he helped me a lot, helping me to understand what it means to play in there,” he told Sky Sport Italia, via TMW.

“He was a person who did so much good for so many Sardinians, including me. Gigi always used his voice in the right way, I even hear him speak up on behalf of the coal miners and for the Sardinian shepherds, which is something to admire.”

Juventus and Italy legend Marco Tardelli said that Riva was his inspiration, and his goal in the 1982 World Cup final was his way of trying to imitate the former Cagliari striker.

“I was born a left winger, but I only had the right foot,” he said to TuttoMercatoWeb.

“My idol was Riva and I started playing only left wing to resemble him. And by chance in the World Cup final, I scored with my left. I did not manage to resemble him but I scored that goal with my left and I owe it to him.”

Legendary goalkeeper Dino Zoff reflected on their time with the Italy Men’s National Team, winning Euro ’68 as players, and finishing as runners-up at Euro 2000 as coach and team manager respectively.

“Not many words are needed to talk about Gigi, there are none to describe the pain of this loss,” he said in La Gazzetta dello Sport via TMW.

“Together we did our military service, [and] together we won and lost a European Championship. Ours was a tough friendship, just like he was.”

Roberto Baggio worked with Riva when The Divine Ponytail played for Italy and the Azzurri legend paid his respects to another one.

“Life had united us on your journey, experienced by us with so much love and infinite passion for the most beautiful game in the world,” he wrote in a letter posted by ANSA via TMW.

“You were a wise and precious travelling companion; you were always yourself on and off the field. I love you, Roberto Baggio.”

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