Scirea remembered as Juve moves on
As the Juventus players walk out on to the pitch on Thursday night to inaugurate their magnificent new stadium in a friendly against Notts County – the club from whom they took the inspiration for their black and white shirts in 1903 – another equally poignant moment from the Old Lady’s illustrious history will be remembered.
Gaetano Scirea won 78 Italy caps and was part of the World Cup-winning team of 1982. (Getty Images)
Last Saturday was the 22nd anniversary of the untimely and tragic death of the great Gaetano Scirea, a date that never passes without commemoration in the Juventus calendar. His name is honored with a star at the new ground and the Curva in which the club’s supporters sit will take it again too. He will never be forgotten.
Scirea had gone on a routine scouting trip to Poland to watch Górnik Zabrze, Juventus’ opponents in the first round of the 1989 UEFA Cup, a competition they would go on to win in his honor. The 36-year-old, who was then Dino Zoff’s assistant, had already been to see them play. He didn’t need to go again. But such was Scirea’s commitment to the club, he got in his car, waved goodbye to his wife Mariella and left for the airport in search of that something, which could give his beloved Juventus an edge.
Scirea would be involved in a road accident in the early hours of the Polish morning between Warsaw and Katowice. The news didn’t reach Italy until the afternoon. Juventus were on their way back from Verona where they had beaten Hellas 4-1. Sandro Ciotti, one of Italy’s great commentators, interrupted la Domenica Sportiva to break the story, his famous gravel-toned voice faltering over the words. The emotion was plain for everyone to hear and see.
Scirea’s death moved all Italians, not just Juventus supporters. He was a champion on the pitch - of that there was never any doubt. He was one of the finest liberos ever to play the game and would lift the World Cup in 1982, winning everything at club level, including seven Scudetti, and all four major European trophies in a glittering 14-year career in Turin.
But it was the example Scirea set as a role model that would render him truly immortal. When he was in the academy at Atalanta, the coaches cheekily promised him a bonus if he got a yellow card. Scirea responded by never being sent off in his entire career, the 148 games he played consecutively for Juventus over four years only coming to an end on account of an injury.
His class really knew no bounds. One of the most remarkable sights in the history of Italian football came when Scirea waded into a fight that had broken out during a match between Juventus and Fiorentina. Unlike some of his teammates, he didn’t join in and start swinging punches himself - far from it. Scirea merely separated the offending players and pointed to the stands. “Your wives are watching,” he shouted.
It’s no exaggeration to suggest that, more than anyone else before or since, Scirea epitomixed what was known as lo stile Juve, a philosophy outlined by the club’s great patron Edoardo Agnelli, which exalted “simplicity, professionalism and sobriety.” He consciously eschewed the limelight. So much so that Dino Zoff would tell reporters: “Leave him be, if you have something to say to him, say it to me.”
Giovanni Trapattoni even called him “a leader in a monk’s habit” and of course Trap wasn’t wrong. When Scirea signed for Juventus, he shared an apartment for four months with Luciano Spinosi, one of the team’s veteran players whose place he would eventually take.
Spinosi would come back from one of his many nights out on the town to find the same scene - Scirea still up watching TV alone.
“Gaetano never went out,” Spinosi said awestruck. “I’d return and find him in front of the TV. I’d change the channel and he wouldn’t breathe a word.”
Legend also has it that Scirea would go so far as to ask Zoff for “permission to unwind.” The room the two old friends shared together at training camp or on the road was jokingly known as “Switzerland” because it was always so quiet.
Indeed, what made Scirea remarkable wasn’t just his professionalism, or his sense of loyalty, which stretched to him leaving a brand new BMW that his in-laws had given him in the garage because “Juventus is Fiat.” It was the privilege he felt at being a footballer. He never lost that feeling.
Scirea #6 never received a red card in his 16-year professional career and is remembered for his sportmanship and sense of fair play. (Getty Images)
When Juventus won the Scudetto in 1975, Scirea made a rare exception by going out all night with the lads. He got home at 6 a.m. and - still giddy with excitement - he popped out to get a paper commemorating the Bianconeri’s victory. But as he walked out the door, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. The newsagent was next to a tram stop, which took workers to Fiat’s factories.
“I was ashamed of being seen dressed up for a night out at that time in the morning when people were going to work,” he said. Scirea turned around and decided to go without the paper.
Such a gesture is rare in the modern game – nowadays a misguided sense of entitlement is more common among footballers than empathy, let alone humility. Asked to reveal what he missed most about his former team-mate, Zoff would reply: “The silence in this world full of noise.”
If that’s the case then there’s surely no better time than now to hear of Scirea’s gentlemanly example, for it doubtlessly speaks volumes even when falling on deaf ears.