Monday 28 February 2022, 07:00

Dino Zoff: An icon turns 80

  • Dino Zoff celebrates his 80th birthday today

  • The Italy legend remains the oldest man to win the World Cup

  • We pay tribute by reflecting on his remarkable achievements

Isolated and always in the line of fire, goalkeepers are widely accepted to hold the beautiful game’s most pressurised position.

Dino Zoff, however, described the role as “making me feel safe”. “I felt like I was in charge of a place in particular, a place that I had to protect and, in turn, protected me,” he explained in his autobiography. “It was my place in the world.”

If Zoff – who turns 80 today - felt safe and protected standing in goal, fans, team-mates and coaches experienced the same sensations simply by seeing him there. For over two decades, he was one of the most consistent, reliable and unflappable keepers on the planet; a man who, in the words of Enzo Bearzot, “stayed calm during the toughest and the most exhilarating moments”.

That Zoff remains the only Italian to win both the UEFA European Championship and the FIFA World Cup™ is impressive enough. But even more remarkable is that those conquests were 14 years apart, and that he was 40 – making him the oldest World Cup winner in history – by the time that second winner’s medal was secured.

Dino Zoff lifts the FIFA World Cup trophy in 1982.

The man himself would also tell you that he was a better goalkeeper in 1982 than he had been, aged 26, in 1968 – the ultimate reflection of his humble, unquenchable desire for self-improvement. And while the late Paolo Rossi is the man normally identified as the hero of that World Cup-winning Azzurri side, ‘Pablito’ readily identified his keeper and captain as the team’s key player.

Later, as a coach, Zoff came within a David Trezeguet golden goal of leading his nation to their first major title since ‘82. But it is as a goalkeeper – one of the greatest of all time – that Italy’s Mr Dependable will forever be remembered, celebrated and revered.

Did you know?

When Zoff was rejected by Inter Milan and Juventus as a 14-year-old for being too small, his father told him to focus on becoming a mechanic. His grandmother, though, had a different solution and took to feeding the crestfallen youngster eight raw eggs-a-day from her farm in an attempt to boost his height.

That unusual diet seemed to work as Dino enjoyed a growth spurt that led to Udinese handing him a shot at Serie A stardom. He would be 30 by Juve came calling again, but that proved time enough to win no fewer than six Serie A titles.

Zoff in numbers

1142 - Between 1972 and 1974, the Azzurri keeper set a new record for the longest period of time without conceding a goal in international matches, surviving 1,142 minutes before his goal was breached.

112 – He retired as the most-capped player in Italy’s history, having made 112 appearances, but has since been surpassed by Leonard Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini (both 114), Andrea Pirlo (116), Daniele De Rossi (117), Paolo Maldini (126), Fabio Cannavaro (136) and fellow goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon (176).

41 – By the time he hung up his gloves, he had also set a number of Serie A records, including oldest player (41), most appearances (570), most consecutive appearances (332) and longest run without conceding a goal in Serie A (903 mins).

Italy legend Dino Zoff in action for Juventus.

Zoff in quotes

"Dino was Italy's most important player in 1982. He was the one who truly represented the team. He was an example to all of us, myself more than anyone." Paolo Rossi

"He was a level-headed goalkeeper, capable of staying calm during the toughest and the most exhilarating moments. He always held back both out of modesty and respect for his opponents." Enzo Bearzot, Italy’s coach at Spain '82

"Zoff protected his goal with absolute rigour. He is a real legend.” Gianluigi Buffon

"All that I have, I have earned through hard work. I played until the age of 41 just because I believe that it's always possible to make improvements." Dino Zoff

Dino Zoff lifts the FIFA World Cup trophy in 1982.