Giuseppe Meazza scored 216 goals in Serie A and netted 33 times for Italy. Photo: Daily Star Archive
For those who saw him in his pomp, Giuseppe Meazza was the greatest player the football world had seen.
The leading star in the Italy side that won the World Cup in the 1934 and 1938, coach Vittorio Pozzo suggested his presence was akin to starting 'every game 1-0 up'. “Opposing teams often assign two or three people to mark me," Meazza said. "I never yearn for solitude more than in these matches, so I act like I'm not interested in the game. And then I pounce."
A lively playmaker with an eye for goal, Meazza's career spanned nearly 20 years and he scored 216 league goals. Arguably described as Italy's most successful international ever, he was top scorer in Italy on three occasions in 1930, 1936 and 1938.
He had several signature techniques, not least la foglia morta -- the dead leaf -- in which a shot would appear destined to sail over the crossbar before suddenly dropping down, like a leaf from a tree, into the goal.
With his slick, Brylcreemed hair and designer suits, he was a legendary womaniser with a champagne lifestyle yet, during an era in which Benito Mussolini would spend vast sums encouraging Italians to settle down and procreate, he was still able to establish himself as a national hero for the propaganda machine.
Though enjoying great success as an orthodox centre-forward, it was as an old-fashioned inside forward that Meazza was to enjoy his greatest successes as a player, both scoring goals and creating opportunities for others.
The decision by Italy's master coach Vittorio Pozzo to move the Inter striker into a slightly deeper role for the 1934 World Cup proved inspired. That time, Meazza's contribution was also decisive and he scored the winner that beat Spain in a quarterfinal replay before setting up the crucial goal by Schiavo that beat Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the final.
Soon after guiding Italy to their second World Cup in 1938, Meazza suffered a serious knee injury which effectively ended his career. He made the cross-city switch to Inter's rivals AC Milan in 1939, but the outbreak of war and his waning fitness limited him to only a handful of appearances.
The Italian went on to make 53 appearances for his country, scoring what was then a record 33 goals, a total unbeaten until Gigi Riva came along 30 years later to set a new mark.
Meazza also played for Juventus, Varese and Atalanta before returning to Inter in a player-coaching role, helping the club to avoid relegation. He had a brief spell as Italian coach, with moderate success, between February 1952 and May 1953.
He died two days short of his 69th birthday on August 21, 1979.
"I was Meazza," he had said the year before his death. "Everyone knows me. In 10, 20 years, people attending football matches will still talk about Meazza, will know who Meazza was."
In March 1980, this legendary temple of football in Milan was officially renamed the 'Stadio Giuseppe Meazza'.