Il Grande Torino

10 08 2010

The men pictured above are arguably the greatest club side in the history of the Italian game. Either side of the Second World War, Il Grande Torino won 5 consecutive Serie A titles, setting a whole host of records, many of which still stand today. Between 1943 and 1949 they went a Mourinho-esque 93 games unbeaten at home, winning 19 of their 20 home games in 1947-48, a season in which they scored 125 goals and conceded just 33.

Their greatest player of all was captain, Valentino Mazzola. Indeed, Italy’s World Cup winning Coach of 1982, Enzo Bearzot labelled him “The greatest Italian player of all time, he was a man who could carry his whole team”. An attacking midfielder, Mazzola appears to have been a player who had it all. He certainly won it all, claiming 5 championship titles in his 5 seasons with the club. Revered Italian sports journalist Gianni Brera neatly sums it up: “He could take off like a sprinter, run like a middle-distance racer and shoot with either foot like a striker. He could leap like an acrobat, win the ball back for the defence and then set up attacks which he often finished off himself. He was both a playmaker and a match-winner.”

Aside from Mazzola, the team was littered with great players. For a friendly against Hungary in 1947, the Italian national team’s starting XI included a staggering 10 Torino players, only the goalkeeper not coming from the Il Granata ranks. Other notable players from the team were midfield presence Eusebio Castigliano, acrobatic striker Guglielmo Gabetto and the defender Aldo Ballarin. Together they regularly infilicted devastating defeats on their famous rivals. Perhaps the most notable was the April 1946 defeat of Roma in the capital – 6-0 up after just 19 minutes, the Torino stars were advised by manager Luigi Ferrero that there was no need to humiliate their opponents and the match ended 7-0 with the Roma fans applauding Torino from the pitch.

Tragically, of course, we will never know what Mazzola and his team mates could have gone on to achieve following their dominance of the 1940s. On the 4th May 1949, the plane carrying the entire Torino first team back from a friendly in Lisbon, crashed on approach to Turin, killing all 31 on board. The disaster was seemingly the result of pilot error. The city of Turin was in mourning and the small town of Superga on the outskirts of Turin, where the accident occurred, serves as an ongoing reminder of the tragic loss. The genius of the players remains an unfinished symphony.

Obviously, it is impossible to say how much more this team could have won, but with most of the victims under the age of 30, it is tempting to say they would have dominated the early 1950s at least.  This era would also see the advent of the infamous ‘floodlit friendlies’, where the behemoths of European football regulars locked horns. One English newspaper labelled Wolverhampton Wanderers the best team in the world following their victory over Honved at Molineux in 1954, leading to the development of a more organised European Cup inspired by Frenchman, Gabriel Hanot. The label was soon to be proven erroneous as Real Madrid came to dominate European football but it would have been fascinating to see how Torino’s attacking 4-2-4 formation, that would later be used so brilliantly by Brazil a decade on, would have fared against the giants of the game at that time.

Unsurprisingly, the Superga Air Disaster would also have massive ramifications on the Italian national team. A heavily depleted Italy, who were reigning World Champions, failed to progress past the second round of the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. The loss of the back bone of their team and the economic conditions following the Second World War made Italy reluctant to attend at all, only being persuaded weeks before. The poor performance of the holders can be put down to the loss of the Torino players, but also to the fact that in fear of another disaster, the team travelled to Brazil by boat, a two week journey, which needless to say was far from ideal preparation. Bizarrely, following their early exit, the team flew back to Italy.

Torino would never relive the glory days of the 1940s, with only one Serie A title since, in 1975-76. One of the poignant legacies of Il Grande Torino was the success of Alessandro Mazzola, son of Valentino. Sandro spent his entire career at Inter Milan, winning a mass of titles and accolades, including back to back European Cup wins, in what was Inter’s greatest era in the 1960’s. He made 70 appearances for Italy, taking part in the 1966, 1970 and 1974 World Cups. Despite his success, Sandro Mazzola found it hard living up to his father’s legacy..

“It was tough for me as a boy because everyone who came to see me play thought I was going to be as good as my dad – and I wasn’t that talented.” – Sandro Mazzola (4 Serie A titles, 2 European Cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups, 1 European Championships & World Cup Final runner-up)




One response

10 08 2010
Wolfgang Wolf

Great post about an obviously great team, thanks. You have to say that their kit in that first picture is just superb as well.

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