It is best to describe Giacinto Facchetti as the Pele of defensive arts. While playing under the great architect of catenaccio Helenio Herrera, he became the first attacking European of his position in the modern era, bringing soccer fullbacks out of their shells.
In addition to being elegant on and off the pitch, Facchetti was also a one-club man, rising from player to president at Inter Milan and performing every role with the same degree of modesty and dignity.
Giacinto Facchetti was born in Treviglio, in the province of Bergamo, on 18 July 1942. The son of a railway worker, he spent his childhood kicking a ball in the oratory of his hometown.
A boy of commendable kindness, he perfectly embodies the values of an entire generation, the one that grew up in the aftermath of the Second World War, which finds the push to ‘get there’ in humility and the small sacrifices of everyday life.
He played as a striker and made the gap between his crystalline talent and the mediocre qualities of provincial players too evident in a short time.
Standing 1.88m tall and weighing 85kg at 18, he was built for a career on the track and showed particular aptitude in the sprint disciplines while dreaming of becoming Olympic champion in the 100m.
The call of the beautiful game proved even more alluring, however, and in 1960 his life was transformed when he was spotted and recruited by Herrera while playing as a center-forward for his hometown club Trevigliese.
The Pioneering ‘First Forward’
Giacinto Facchetti went on to make him the keystone in his catenaccio system, building upon Facchetti’s natural speed and refined technique, which was uncommonly good for a player his size.
At the time, defenders were confined to their zones and forbidden from venturing past the halfway line, with their role on the pitch limited to foiling opposition advances. The pacy counter-attack and use of fast-breaking defenders as the ‘first forwards’ were unheard of.
Herrera was not nicknamed Il Mago (the Magician) for nothing, and the Nerazzuri coach immediately saw how Facchetti could fit into his plans. He put the newcomer straight into his first team as a left-back and handed him his debut in a 2-0 win over Roma at the Stadio Olimpico on 21 May 1961.
The 19-year-old quickly made the No.3 shirt his own and scored his maiden Serie A goal in his second outing against Napoli. Over the next 18 years, he would make his name as an elegant defender with a keen eye for attacking openings.
Whenever members of the opposition’s rearguard attempted to block his runs, he unleashed pinpoint crosses for Mario Corso, Luis Suarez Miramontes, Sandro Mazzola, and Jair. And should his teammates find themselves marked out of contention, he never hesitated to take his chance.
Serie A Appearances And Trophies
In 475 Serie A appearances, Giacinto Facchetti scored 59 goals, adding another ten in the Coppa Italia and six in 68 European contests for 75. He plundered ten in the 1965/66 season alone, a remarkable feat for a defender at the high-water mark of the catenaccio era.
Wearing the Nerazzurri colors, Facchetti secured two consecutive European Cups – beating final opponents Real Madrid in 1964 and Benfica in 1965 – and likewise helped claim four Serie A titles and a pair of Intercontinental Cups.
On the international stage, meanwhile, his maiden outing against Turkey on 27 March 1963 marked the start of a long and distinguished career with La Nazionale that yielded 94 appearances between 1963 and 1977, including 70 as captain.
Upon retirement, he had won more caps for Italy than any other player, his record eventually broken by fellow Squadra Azzurra legend Dino Zoff.
Like his teammates, Facchetti did not distinguish himself during Italy’s ‘match of shame’ at the 1966 FIFA World Cup England, when his team suffered a surprise 1-0 loss to Korea DPR. Still, two years later, he captained his country to glory at the UEFA European Championship on home soil.
As fine as that achievement was, Facchetti truly made his name in the epic semi-final against West Germany in Mexico in 1970.
Giacinto Facchetti played with an impressive line-up featuring players with forthright personalities, such as Gianni Rivera, Sandro Mazzola, and Gigi Riva. At the same time, Beckenbauer ended the match with his arm in a sling.
Italy followed up that 4-3 extra-time triumph with a heavy loss to Brazil in the decider. Still, despite being given a torrid time by livewire Jairzinho, Facchetti returned to Italy as a hero.
From Player To President
A few years later, he spoke affectionately about the supporters’ passion back home: “After the loss to North Korea, they wanted to condemn me to forced labor for the rest of my life.
Four years later, following the semi-final against Germany, the police had to protect my wife because the local Tifosi wanted to carry her aloft. Despite its faults, football is one of the rare things that makes people speak positively about Italy.”
Giacinto Facchetti and Co could not build on their Mexican high four years later in West Germany, and Italy’s frustrating campaign hinted that the great defender’s career was slowly drawing to a close.
He operated as a libero in that tournament. He spent the next three seasons limiting himself to defensive duties, performing with continued distinction until withdrawing from the international scene aged 36 at Wembley on 16 November 1977.
His final Serie A game then followed at the San Siro on 7 May 1978, after which Facchetti joined the club staff to which he had always displayed such impeccable dedication.
He would hold various technical and administrative positions at the club and, after becoming vice-president on 13 November 2001, was named Inter’s 19th president on 19 January 2004. It was a role he occupied until his death from illness on 4 September 2006.
The son of a railwayman was a genuine icon of the Italian game, leaving an indelible impression as an ambassador for the sport and a player of excellent quality.
Presidential Award For Giacinto Facchetti
Upon his death, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter paid tribute to “an exceptional player, a capable official and, above all, as a wonderful man. As a FIFA coaching instructor for almost ten years and a member of the FIFA Football Committee since 1998, Giacinto Facchetti left his mark not only on his own club, Inter Milan, but also on Italian, European, and world football through his technical knowledge and human qualities. We have all lost a true friend in Giacinto, and we will never forget him.”
Giacinto Facchetti Facts And Figures
Full Name: Giacinto Facchetti
Position: Left back and sweeper
- 1960-1978: Inter Milan (476 appearances, 59 goals)
- Italy National Team (1963-1977)
Appearances: 94 caps, 70 as captain
International Debut: 27 March 1963 (Turkey 0-1 Italy)
Last International: 16 November 1977 (England 2-0 Italy)
- 1962/63, 1964/65, 1965/66, and 1970/71: Serie A Champions
- 1963/64 and 1964/65: Intercontinental Cups
- 1963/64 and 1964/65: UEFA European Cups
- 1968: UEFA European Championship
- 1977/78: Coppa Italia
- 1965: Ballon d’Or (runner-up)
- 1968: UEFA European Championship Team of the Tournament
- 1970: FIFA World Cup All-Star Team
- 2006: FIFA Presidential Award
- 2015: Italian Football Hall of Fame
- 2019: Inter Milan Hall of Fame
- Facchetti picked up just one red card in 728 competitive matches during the defensive heyday of catenaccio, earning his solitary dismissal for ironic applause of a refereeing decision.
- Boasting a personal best of 10.7 seconds for 100m and regularly coming in under 11, Facchetti dreamed of becoming the 100m Olympic champion in his youth before opting to pursue a career in football.
- Several roads in Italy are named after Giacinto Facchetti. The little village of Monte San Vito, in the province of Ancona, was the first to honor the defender by renaming a road to – where else? – a stadium.
- “I learned from him to get forward in attack,” said West Germany legend Franz Beckenbauer of Facchetti.
- When Giacinto Facchetti was asked who he considered his successor, he identified Paolo Maldini, “whose only fault is that he chose AC Milan.”