From an early age, the Italian media dubbed Milan’s attacking midfielder Gianni Rivera their nation’s “Golden Boy.”
He joined Milan in 1960 as a 17-year-old and would go on to serve as the team’s captain for twelve seasons. Rivera enjoyed a highly successful career both domestically and in Europe, winning three Serie A titles and two European Cups.
Rivera became only the second Italian to win a Ballon d’Or following Juventus forward Omar Sívori in 1961 and also the first Milan player to ever lift the trophy.
Italy’s Golden Boy was the toast of Europe.
The 1969 Ballon d’Or was a closely fought contest with Rivera beating fellow Milan and international teammate Giga Riva to the honour by just four points.
Riva had enjoyed a stellar campaign of his own alongside Rivera. The forward scored an impressive 28 goals in 37 games across all competitions and finished as Serie A’s top scorer with 21 strikes.
He was a truly elegant attacking midfielder whose skill as a creative offensive playmaker was outstanding.
The Italian had an eye for goal, possessing excellent vision and technical ability. Rivera was widely considered to be one of the best passers of his time and expert at providing assists.
He scored six goals in 39 games during the 1968/69 campaign and delivered epic performances throughout. However, Milan finished the season in third behind Cagliari and Fiorentina with domestic cups also alluding to the Italian side.
But what set Rivera apart from his Ballon d’Or rivals was AC Milan’s triumph on the continent.
He would excel in the European Cup and ultimately lay claim to football’s most desired individual honour.
Rivera was a crucial component of AC Milan’s European Cup-winning side of 1969.
The midfielder was typically instrumental throughout the tournament as a whole and drove the Italian side on to glory. He even contributed two goals in the first round.
In the first leg, Rivera struck during the away defeat to Swedish side Malmo and then again in the return clash, Milan won 4-1 at the San Siro and 5-3 on aggregate to progress.
He provided the ammunition for striker Gigi Riva and his other teammates to thrive on the club game’s greatest stage.
The Italian giants progressed all the way through to the 1969 European Cup final in Madrid to play Ajax who they comfortably beat 4-1.
Rivera also helped Milan lift the Intercontinental Cup against South American side Estudiantes and even scored a goal in their two-legged 4-2 aggregate win.
He finished an illustrious 19-year career with Milan having played 501 games and found the net 122 times.
At international level, he represented Italy on no less than 60 occasions between 1962 and 1974, taking part in four consecutive World Cups from 1962 to 1974.
Rivera remains amongst the most understated Ballon d’Or winners in the award’s history but ultimately stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the greatest.
1969 Ballon d’Or Top 20
|3||Gerd Müller||Bayern Munich||West Germany||38|
|6||George Best||Manchester United||Northern Ireland||21|
|7||Franz Beckenbauer||Bayern Munich||West Germany||18|
|9||Petar Zhekov||CSKA Sofia||Bulgaria||14|
|10||Jack Charlton||Leeds United||England||10|
|11||Albert Shesternyov||CSKA Moscow||Soviet Union||8|
|12||Dragan Džajić||Red Star Belgrade||Yugoslavia||6|
|13||Francis Lee||Manchester City||England||4|
|Martin Peters||West Ham United||England|
|Andrej Kvašňák||KRC Mechelen||Czechoslovakia|
|Louis Pilot||Standard Liège||Luxembourg|
|Manuel Velázquez||Real Madrid||Spain|
- The year 1969 represents Gianni Rivera’s second European Cup title after also winning it during the 1962/63 season.
- Gigi Riva was part of a Cagliari side that won just one top flight title throughout its entire history in 1969/70.
- Gerd Muller scored 37 goals for Bayern Munich during the 1969/70 campaign to hand the German club their first ever Bundesliga title!