Tuesday, June 16, 2009

From Pablito to Peppino

It was a long, hot Italian summer when a frail-looking striker burst into life in Spain to capture the heart of a nation. About 27 years ago, give or take a few days, we were living through the birth of a legend. Paolo "Pablito" Rossi has never been forgotten.

It was a magical story, one of rebirth for a player who had been beaten down and banned from the game for his part in a match-rigging scandal. With six stunning goals he catapulted Italy to winning the World Cup for the first time in 44 years. The little lad from Tuscany done good.

Nearly three decades on the Azzurri have another Rossi. Another kid who looks like his strip is a bit too big and clings onto the ends of his sleeves to hold them in place. And he might just help us turn back the clock.

This time our good fortune comes from the USA, not Prato. Giuseppe "Peppino" Rossi transformed a drab Italian display against the States with a performance full of verve, guts and character. The way he won the ball, strode forward and thundered his first goal past Tim Howard was a breath of fresh air in a side which was starting to smell a bit stale.

Different times, different styles, of course. Pablito was more the goal poacher, the Pippo Inzaghi of his day with a splash of Alberto Gilardino. His namesake likes to buzz about behind the strikers like a firefly. It is a position which can - when used effectively - throw the opposition into chaos. Finding the space between defence and midfield is a special gift.

For us old timers, it is great to see the name back on the scoresheet for Italy. The very thought of John Motson shouting: "It's that man Rossi again!" as he bagged his third against Brazil back in 1982 still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. For one brief moment, on Monday night thanks to Giuseppe Rossi, I was 12 years old again.

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