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Giacinto Facchetti - a class act

Published: Friday 8 September 2006, 8.00CET
Paolo Menicucci looks back at the life of a man who was innovative on the pitch and a true gentleman off it.
by Paolo Menicucci
from Milan
Giacinto Facchetti - a class act
Italian captain Giacinto Facchetti with the trophy on 13th June 1968 ©Getty Images
Published: Friday 8 September 2006, 8.00CET

Giacinto Facchetti - a class act

Paolo Menicucci looks back at the life of a man who was innovative on the pitch and a true gentleman off it.

On 21 May 1961 Helenio Herrera, the coach of the greatest FC Internazionale Milano side, had this to say on the debut of a young left-back: "Cipelletti will surely become a crucial player for this side." Herrera, with famously strong Spanish accent, had mispronounced the name of the tall, blonde 18-year-old but he was certainly prophetic. His real name was Giacinto Facchetti and since then his close friends and former team-mates have dubbed him 'Cipe'. He died this week of cancer but his legend will live forever.

Inter captain Javier Zanetti spoke for many. "There is immense pain among the whole Nerazzurri family," Zanetti said of the man who became club president in 2004. "We will miss Giacinto very much because he was an extraordinary human being. He will always have a special part in Inter's history. He was always very close to us, close to everybody. It is a very sad day for everybody who had the good fortune to know him." As a tribute, Inter have put in a request to the Italian league to be allowed to 'retire' their No3 shirt.

Herrera reinvented the role of left-back thanks to Facchetti, with both the speed that had made him a track-and-field prospect and his eye for goal, having once been a forward. A role model for the modern wing-back, his 59 Serie A goals are still a league record for a defender. But Facchetti was not just about attack. Along with Tarcisio Burgnich, Aristide Guarneri and Armando Picchi, he formed one of the best back lines ever seen in European football.

It was from this base that Inter went on to win the 1964 and 1965 European Champion Clubs' Cups and four Scudettos. A one-club player, Facchetti was also capped 94 times by Italy - 70 as captain - leading the Azzurri to the 1968 UEFA European Championship title and the 1970 FIFA World Cup final. Facchetti, however, was not just a great football player. He will always be remembered as a gentleman on the pitch - he was sent off only once - for his personality and the leadership skills which made him a natural-born captain both for Inter and the national team.

Those same qualities made Facchetti one of the most respected personalities in the world of football after he hung up his boots, indeed he became Inter president in 2004. There was an air of nobility, of class about him. "The elder brother of every football player," was the headline of the Corriere della Sera the day after his death. "He was aware of the importance of a good reputation," the Italian newspaper wrote. "A good man in a country in which 'good' often means naïve or weak."

Appropriately Facchetti had been a member of UEFA's Fair Play Committee, and was due to start his second spell on UEFA's Technical Development Committee. In 2004 he was presented with the UEFA Charity Award by UEFA Chief Executive Lars-Christer Olsson on behalf of the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability, who had received the annual UEFA charity cheque for CHF1m. Inter themselves have now announced that a donation will be made to cancer research in Facchetti's memory.

But it is his legacy on the pitch that will be most fondly remembered. In paying tribute to Facchetti, UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh said: "Celtic FC coach Jock Stein modelled the left-back of his great [1960s] team, Tommy Gemmell, on him - it was therefore ironic that Gemmell scored one of Celtic's goals against Giacinto and Inter in the 1967 European Cup final in Lisbon. It's the greatest form of praise when people follow you."

Billy McNeill, the Celtic captain that day, added: "He was a great player and a great man. I regarded him as a true football giant. I last saw him at the [2002 UEFA] Champions League final at Hampden. I was there with a few of the other Celtic boys, but I didn't know Giacinto was also at the game. He made a point of asking if we were around and then went to the trouble of finding us. It was fantastic to speak to him again. It said a lot for Giacinto - he was unquestionably a class act."

Facchetti was a real model for footballers around the world. Paolo Maldini, who brought so much success to AC Milan, admits he owns a lot of his success to the former Inter captain. "It feels like I took inspiration from him even though I never saw him playing, I used him as a model throughout my career. Moreover I have always appreciated his sympathy and courtesy. He honoured football in the best possible way. I will miss him and the whole world of football will miss him."

Last updated: 27/06/12 12.23CET

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