“Goodbye Gigi. The son of Sardinia. The front page of the local daily L'Unione Sarda is today dedicated to the man who, on Monday, could not resist a new heart attack, while the doctors seemed rather optimistic and were considering an intervention in the coming days.
For thirteen years (1963-1976), Luigi Riva managed to make every tifoso in Cagliari shudder and roar, according to his achievements. The capital and the flagship club of an island where we are particularly proud to remember the Italian champion scudetto gleaned during the 1969-1970 season - one of the few not won by a team from the Rome trio - Turin-Milan - thanks to its talented striker, author of 21 goals in 30 matches. “Gigi”, then. An affectionate way of nicknamed a footballer, certainly, but above all a man to whom the Sardinians are deeply attached... The opposite being just as true.
Riva le Lombard, born in November 1944 into a modest family, lost his father at 9 years old following a sordid accident at the factory, then his mother from a long illness at 18 years old. Tormented destiny. In 1963, he made the island his adopted home and arrived in Cagliari at the age of 19, then in Serie B, with only one professional season under his belt, at Legnano, at the lower level, for a record of 6 goals in 23 matches. It will be his only one, in his entire career, outside Sardinia.
However, there, Riva and his teammates feel discriminated against. As foreigners from their own championship. “Throughout Italy they called us sheep and bandits. This made me angry. The bandits were bandits because of hunger, because at the time there was such a crisis... But Cagliari was one for all, all for one, he affirmed in comments released by the club on Instagram. It would have been a mistake to leave. I never had the slightest doubt. And I’ve never regretted it.”
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Not even the great Juventus Turin, led by the powerful Agnelli family, was able to convince him to leave. Neither the two Milanese clubs, AC and Inter, who will blame themselves for missing out on the phenomenon in their region. A nice snub against the North therefore, “its coldness and its money”, which editorialists and followers of Cagliari still delight in today.
Riva’s technical strengths? His composure in front of goal, his aerial play and his exceptional striking power, especially on free kicks. But only from the left. “His right foot is only used to get on the tram,” joked his trainer Manlio Scopigno, alias “il Filosofo”. Top scorer in calcio in 1967, 1969 and 1970, Riva then enjoyed a great club romance... But not only that. It was in the Italian selection that “Rombo di Tuono” (thunderclap), his lifelong nickname, wrote his legend.
In 1968, he scored the most important of his 35 goals in 42 caps in the azzurro jersey, opening the score in the Euro final, at the Olympic stadium in Rome against Yugoslavia (2-0). Yes yes: 35 goals in 42 caps. There is no error in the numbers. A real feat in the ultra-defensive era of triumphant catenaccio. In 1970, at the legendary Mexican World Cup, Riva was still one of the players in what some call "the match of the century": the semi-final won 4-3 against Germany, where he scored in the crazy overtime . Italy wins but will have to lose in the final against Pelé's Brazil (4-1). The dream of a world title has passed...
Just like winning the Golden Ball: Riva finished third the same year behind the German Gerd Müller and the Englishman Bobby Moore, after already a second place in 1969 where he saw his compatriot Gianni Rivera win. But ultimately, what does it matter. Riva’s legacy goes beyond any material aspect. The famous writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini thus painted the portrait, according to him, of a “realistic poet”.
“Football has sub-codes from the moment when, by being purely instrumental, it becomes expressive,” he explained in a text published on January 3, 1971. “There can be football as a fundamentally prosaic language and football as a language fundamentally poetic. Riva belongs to this second category.
In 1976, at just 31 years old, the native of Leggiuno, undermined by injuries, had to hang up his crampons. He nevertheless continued to live in Cagliari and founded a football school in his name which would produce, among others, in the 2000s, a certain Nicolo Barella. After a short-lived stint as president of Cagliari, Riva became a member of the management of the Nazionale. Faithful among the faithful. In love with his country and a Sardinia that will never have left it. And will never leave him.
The Moor's head, symbol of the island, like Corsica, cries. The flags are at half mast. “Thank you for reminding us every day how beautiful it is to be Sardinian. You did it by your gestures, by your choices, by your silences, writes the official Cagliari Calcio account on Instagram. With your wonderful and unforgettable goals. It’s the longest night in our history.”