Giuseppe Meazza

This article is about the Italian footballer. For the stadium officially known as Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, see San Siro.
Giuseppe Meazza
Personal information
Date of birth (1910-08-23)23 August 1910
Place of birth Milan, Italy
Date of death 21 August 1979(1979-08-21) (aged 68)
Place of death Rapallo, Italy
Height 1.69 m (5 ft 6 12 in)
Playing position Centre-forward
Inside forward
Attacking midfielder
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1927–1940 Internazionale 348 (241)
1940–1942 Milan 37 (9)
1942–1943 Juventus 27 (10)
1944 Varese 20 (7)
1945–1946 Atalanta 14 (2)
1946–1947 Internazionale 17 (2)
National team
1930–1939 Italy 53 (33)
Teams managed
1946 Atalanta
1946–1948 Internazionale
1948–1949 Beşiktaş
1949–1951 Pro Patria
1952–1953 Italy
1955–1956 Internazionale
1957 Internazionale

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

Giuseppe "Peppino" Meazza (Italian pronunciation: [dʒuˈzɛppe meˈattsa]; 23 August 1910 – 21 August 1979), also known as il Balilla, was an Italian football manager and player. Throughout his career, he played mainly for Internazionale in the 1930s, scoring 242 goals in 365 games for the club, and winning three Serie A titles, as well as the Coppa Italia; he later also played for local rivals Milan, as well as Turin rivals Juventus, in addition to his spells with Varese and Atalanta. At international level, he led Italy to win two consecutive World Cups: in 1934 on home soil, and in 1938 as captain; he was named to the All-star Team and won the Golden Ball Award at the 1934 World Cup, as the tournament's best player. Along with Giovanni Ferrari and Eraldo Monzeglio, he is one of only three Italian players to have won two World Cups.[1][2] Following his retirement, he served as a coach for the Italy national team, and with several Italian clubs, including his former club sides Inter and Atalanta, as well as Pro Patria, and Turkish club Beşiktaş; he was Italy's head coach at the 1952 Summer Olympics.

Meazza is widely considered one of the best players of his generation, and among the greatest of all time, as well as being regarded by many in the sport as Italy's greatest ever player.[3][4] Due to his technical skill, prolific goalscoring, and creative ability, he was often given the nickname "il genio" (the genius) by the Italian press during his career.[5] He has been ranked fourth-best player in the history of the World Cup.[6] A prolific forward, Meazza won the Serie A top-scorer award on three occasions in his career; with 216 goals in Serie A, he is the fourth all-time highest goal scorer in Serie A, alongside José Altafini, and with 33 goals, he is also the second highest goalscorer for the Italian national team.[7][8] With 338 goals, he is the third-highest Italian goalscorer in all competitions.[9] San Siro, the principal stadium in his native city of Milan, which is today shared by two of his former clubs, Internazionale and crosstown rivals A.C. Milan, is now officially called Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in the player's honour.[10] In 2011, he was posthumously inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame.

Early life

Meazza was born in Porta Vittoria, Milan. Having lost his father in 1917 during the tragic fighting of World War I at the age of seven, young Peppe grew up in Milan with his mother, Ersilia who came from Mediglia, helping her sell fruit at the market. However, it was football that was his true calling. His mother hid his shoes so he would not waste his time, so young Peppin learned to play barefoot. He began playing at six years old on the streets on a team named the "Maestri Campionesi" who played with a ball made of rags. At twelve years old he finally got permission from his mother to pursue being a footballer, and began playing for Gloria F.C.. It was here that a fan bought him his first proper pair of football boots. He began his career as a main striker, but due to his talent and technical skills, he later played in a more creative role as a midfielder or as an inside forward.

His nickname, "il Balilla",[11][12] was given to him in 1927 by his older teammate Leopoldo Conti, who thought "Pepp", who was only 17 when he joined the senior team, was too young to be associated to the senior team, and was surprised after Inter coach Árpád Weisz decided to give Meazza his debut for Inter in his place. "Now we even take players from kindergarten!" exclaimed Conti sarcastically. The National Opera Balilla, the Fascist youth organisation which collected all children aged 8 to 14 years, was established in 1926 and so Conti thought it a good way to describe the young rookie. Meazza scored two goals on his debut in a 6–2 win against Milanese Unione Sportiva in the Coppa Volta in Como, leaving old "Poldo" Conti speechless.[13] The Italian Sports Newspaper "La Gazzetta dello Sport" praised his game as "intelligent, fresh, quick",[13] the day after his official debut in the Italian championship, on 12 September 1927, something that didn't happen very frequently during those days.

Club career

At the age of 13, Meazza admired Milan, but was rejected by the team for being too skinny. However, he was received with open arms by Internazionale. He was randomly observed juggling a rag ball in the street by an Inter scout and quickly signed. They fed him steaks so he would get bigger and stronger. At first he was used to fill a gap in defense instead of being allowed to follow his attacking instinct, but luckily Inter's junior coach later corrected the mistake. He scored two goals on his debut in a 6–2 win against Milanese Unione Sportiva in the Coppa Volta di Como.

Giuseppe Meazza playing with Internazionale

Meazza still holds the record for the most goals scored in a debut season in Serie A, with 31 goals in his first season (1929–30). The year before, when Serie A did not exist, and the Italian Championship was composed of 2 leagues (North and Central-South) with playoffs, Meazza played 29 matches, scoring 38 goals at the age of 18 years. He scored 5 goals in a single game, twice in one season: 6 January 1929 Inter against Pistoiese 9–1 and 17 March 1929 Inter v Verona 9–0. That same season (1928–29) on 12 May 1929, he scored six goals as Inter beat Venezia 10–2. 27 April 1930 was the first time Inter ever played A.S. Roma in Milan. Inter won 6–0 and Meazza scored four goals, scoring his first three within three minutes of the game.

With Meazza on the squad, Inter (re-christened Ambrosiana while under Fascist law) won 3 national championships in 1930, 1938 and 1940, and helped win the team's first Coppa Italia in 1939. The 1930 championship was Inter's first since 1920 and they were considered underdogs to teams like Bologna, Torino, Juventus and Genoa. It was Meazza's dazzling form that clinched the inaugural Serie A title. In the deciding game, he scored a second half hat-trick to tie the game against Genoa after Inter had been down 3–0. He was top-scorer of Serie A 3 times (1930, 1936, 1938), top-scorer in the pre-Serie A year of 1929 and top scorer of the Mitropa Cup three times: 1930 (7), 1933 (5) and 1936 (10); he finished with a runners-up medal in the competition in 1933.[14]

During the 1933 season, Meazza made a bet with Gianpiero Combi, goalkeeper of Juventus and captain of the 1934 World Champion Italian National Team. Combi challenged Meazza, claiming that nobody, not even Meazza, could sidestep him to score a goal. Meazza accepted the challenge. Combi also made another bet with Meazza. A few weeks earlier, while training with the national team, Meazza scored a splendid bicycle kick against the Juventus goalkeeper. Combi wagered that he could not repeat it in an official game. The next game between Ambrosiana Inter and Juventus was played in the Arena Civica of Milan on 25 May 1933. Meazza managed to score two stupendous goals. The first goal was an identical overhead kick to the one he had scored against Combi in practice. For the second goal he dribbled through a series of defenders, before faking out Combi, dribbling past him, and scoring a tap-in goal. Combi immediately got up and shook Meazza's hand.

Sometimes his love of champagne and woman would cause him trouble with the board of directors.

"Luckily I lived near the stadium, and I managed to get there in a rush. My teammates and the coach looked at me disapprovingly. It was only five minutes before the kick-off, so I quickly changed and joined the team on the pitch. I could hear the Inter directors saying: 'We'll deal with him after the match. We'll find out what he's been up to.' Luckily I scored a hat-trick so afterwards no one said a word!" Giuseppe Meazza.

Giuseppe Meazza with Amedeo Biavati

Incidents of the sort soon became common. In 1937, it was the day of the game against Juventus in Milan with only an hour before the game and Meazza had still not shown up. The directors became nervous and sent a masseuse and another trainer in a car to find him. They found him in bed, sleeping profoundly and snoring. Without even washing his face, they dragged him up and rushed him to the stadium. While lying down in the back seat Meazza told them of love filled night and said he felt like a lion. The Lion Meazza entered the dressing room and without any squabbling, they quickly gave him his number 9 jersey. He scored two goals that game and was the best on the field. Inter won the game 2–1 and beat Juventus for the Serie A scudetto by two points.

When Ambrosiana beat Bari in the 1937–38 championship, he scored five goals in a 9–2 victory. The next week he scored a hat-trick against Lucchese. Along with fellow Inter players Ferraris II, Ferrari, and Locatelli, Meazza was involved in the Azzurri set-up that wins the 1938 World Cup in Paris. The same year, Inter won their fourth Scudetto, while the clubs first Coppa Italia success came in 1939.

An injury put him out of action for most of 1938–39, and after having devoted the best part of his career to Inter, Meazza transferred to A.C. Milan on 28 November 1940. In almost a century of rivalry, Meazza is the only man who has ever come close to bridging the chasm between the two clubs. The next 9 February, before the derby with Inter, Meazza cried in the dressing room, but then he scored the equalizer for Milan in a 2–2 draw. He wore the red and black shirt from 1940–1942. Later in his career he also played for Juventus, A.S. Varese 1910 and Atalanta Bergamo.

His debut for Juventus, 18 October 1942, took place in the derby against Torino. It was not a happy debut. Meazza was untrained, looked overweight and slower in movement. When he entered the game with the number eight jersey and came face to face with goalkeeper, the crowd waited for one of its famous "goal by invitation only," but he did not have the necessary speed of motion and he ended up losing the ball ignominiously. The game was eventually won by Torino 5 to 2. Things went better when he was moved to the center of the attack, where he contributed ten goals, even scoring two against his old club Ambrosiana.

In 1946 he was recalled to Inter as a player-coach. He played seventeen games, scoring the last two goals of his career to help an Inter team that was in danger of relegation.

International career

Meazza played for Italy in the 1934 and 1938 World Cups, both of which Italy won. Apart from being on and captaining the first team to win a World Cup when not the host in 1938, Meazza, along with Giovanni Ferrari, Guido Masetti and Eraldo Monzeglio, also set a record for being the only Italian players to win two World Cups.[1]

His debut with the Azzurri was in Rome on 9 February 1930 against Switzerland. Then nineteen years old, Meazza scored twice in that game (in the 37th and 39th minutes) to help Italy to a 4–2 victory after they had been down by two goals in only 19 minutes. The next game Italy played was on 2 March 1930 against Germany in Frankfurt, where Meazza scored a goal in a 2–0 win. A few months later, on 11 May 1930, he scored a hat-trick in a 5–0 game as Italy beat the Hungary of Larcos, Hirzer and Pál Titkos for the first time ever while playing in Budapest. Meazza helped Italy win the Central European International Cup that year; the cup was a three-year international tournament between the strongest national teams of central and eastern Europe.[7]

On 25 January 1931, Meazza scored another three goals in a 5–0 win against France.[7]

During the Central European International Cup game on 22 February at the San Siro, Meazza helped Italy to victory after overcoming an early deficit when Horvath had scored in the 4th minute to beat Austria for the first time in its history. While dribbling the ball in attack, he noticed two defenders closing down on him. He stopped the ball with the sole of his shoe, making both defenders fall to the ground, before racing towards goal, running forty yards, then faking Josef Smistik, dribbling around Roman Schramseis, drawing out the keeper Rodolphe Hiden, faking and dribbling around him, making the off balance keeper crash into Schramseis, before tapping the ball into the net for the equaliser and one of the most beautiful goals in soccer history. Italy won 2–1.

His first fifteen caps were at center-forward, but in 1933, he showed his versatility during a 3–1 victory over Germany in Bologna, when he was moved to an inside-right position by the Italian coach Vittorio Pozzo, to accommodate teammate Angelo Schiavio, a switch that would help Italy win the World Cup the next year as the goals flowed in. During the tournament, Meazza once again demonstrated his adaptability when he was switched to an inside-left, when needed.

In the 1934 World Cup, which was hosted by Italy, Meazza appeared in every game for the Azzurri. On 25 March 1934 in Milan, Italy beat Greece 4–0 in a qualifying match with two goals coming from Meazza. He then scored the final goal in their 7–1 victory over the United States in the 89th minute in their World Cup opener. In the game against Spain, Giovanni Ferrari scored a goal against Ricardo Zamora after the latter was supposedly fouled by Meazza. Meazza was himself almost knocked unconscious by a collision of heads with Jacinto Quincoces during the game. The game ended 1–1 and had to be settled the next day. Forty-three thousand screaming Italian fans witnessed Meazza score from a corner sent in by Raimundo Orsi in the 11th minute. Meazza took another nasty hit when he crashed into the desperate keeper. It was the only goal of the game. There were claims that the replacement Spanish goalkeeper, Juan José Nogués, who was replacing the injured Zamora after he was hurt in a clash with Schiavio in the first game, was fouled by Meazza in the play. However, footage exists that exonerates the Italian of any wrongdoing. Meazza only ever scored one time against Zamora, in a friendly match.

The semi-final was against the Wunderteam, managed by Hugo Meisl and with Josef Bican of Rapid Vienna and Matthias Sindelar of FK Austria, two of the world's finest players, Austria was widely considered the strongest continental side and had already beaten the Italians 4–2 in Turin only four months earlier. A deluge a few hours before kick-off left the San Siro pitch resembling a bog, but Meazza, who knew this ground better than anybody on the Italian team, made light of the conditions to book his country's place in the final. Playing his fourth game in a week, Meazza out-played an Austrian forward, dribbled past him, then collided into the grounded Austrian goalkeeper, Peter Platzer, who had pounced on the ball to quell the attack. The ball came loose, hit the post and bounced to Enrique Guaita, to score the only goal of the match.[3][4]

55,000 fans turned out to see the final against Czechoslovakia in Rome's Stadio Nazionale PNF. Italy suffered badly after Meazza was injured in a tackle. He soldiered on though. Cries of a conspiracy were heard in the 54th minute after Meazza, who was playing in the final even though carrying an injury from the semifinals, punched Rudolf Krčil in the liver in retaliation for a hard foul, without being disciplined by referee Ivan Eklind, who had also officiated the semi-final. After ninety minutes the two teams were 1–1. Italy, though, was in far more trouble as the game went into extra time, until Meazza became the inspirer again. His injury became a mixed blessing as the Czechs did not bother to mark him and he made them rue that decision. In the 96th minute, Eraldo Monzeglio sent a long ball to the hobbled Meazza from the right side of the Italian defence. Meazza, who was being left alone on the wing to drift in and out of the match, recovered sufficiently enough to send a slicing pass to Guaita that unlocked the Czech defense, and then went about setting a series of blocks to free up his strikers. The Roma midfielder slid the ball to Schiavio, who hit a snap-shot past Frantisek Planicka, another legendary goalkeeper of the era, for the winner five minutes into the extra period. Meazza was elected into the All-Star Team of the tournament and won the Golden Ball, the award presented to the best player at each FIFA World Cup finals.[3][4]

After the World Cup victory, Meazza represented Italy against England in the "Battle of Highbury", the Azzurri's first game since winning the World Cup five months earlier. England and Italy had drawn, 1–1, 18 months earlier in Rome, in their only previous meeting. The game started terribly for the Azzurri. After losing Monti to a broken foot in the 2nd minute, England were leading three goals to nil by the 12th with two goals from Eric Brook and one from Ted Drake. With no substitutes allowed in those days, the Italians had to play the rest of the game with ten men. They lost the game; however, Meazza salvaged some pride by scoring two goals four minutes apart, in the 58th and 62nd minute in very heavy rain to make it 3–2. The first was the result from a skillful move by Guaita that set Meazza free to crown the straggling raid with a fine rocket shot that beat the goalie. The second on a header after he made the most of a free-kick from Attilio Ferraris. He was only denied an equalizer by the woodwork and by some fine saves by England's goalkeeper, Frank Moss who playing in what was to be his last international; Meazza described one of his misses as one of the worst moments of his career.[3][4]

On 9 December 1934 against Hungary, Meazza scored his 25th goal (in 29 games) with the blue jersey, to tie Adolfo Baloncieri as top goalscorer for the national team. In the next game against France he had another two goals, which allowed him to jump in command of the ranking. In 1935 he claimed the Central European International Cup again. Alongside Eraldo Monzeglio and Alfredo Pitto, Meazza is the only only Italian player to win two editions of the Central European International Cup (1927–30 and 1933–35).[15] He holds the all-time record for appearances and goals, sixteen and eight respectively, at Central European International Cup tournaments for the Italian national side.[16][17]

In the 1938 World Cup hosted by France, Meazza captained Italy, again playing in every match. The Italian team had extra pressure to win the World Cup. Dictator Benito Mussolini laid down the gauntlet by sending Meazza a telegram engraved with the words: "Win or die!".

After what turned out to be their toughest game of the tournament in the opener against Norway (Italy won 2–1 in extra time) Meazza petitioned Vittorio Pozzo, to allow the team a night off to relax. In his wisdom, Pozzo saw that his players needed to unwind after having trained for so long in preparation of the tournament and allowed the players a night of indulgence. Meazza was reported to have spent the night with two beautiful French girls.

Another of his memorable moments in that tournament was the goal he scored against Brazil in the semi-final. Italy were awarded a penalty after Silvio Piola, the team's new center forward, was chopped down in the box by "the Divine Master", Domingos da Guia. The Brazilian goalkeeper Walter, who was famous for hypnotizing his opponents and for saving penalties back in Brazil, arrogantly claimed he was certain he would save the shot. Meazza made no fuss, but as he stepped up to take the kick, his shorts fell down because the elastic around the waist had earlier been pulled and ripped by a defender. Meazza, without letting this stress him, pulled up his shorts with one hand and shot past the confused Walter, who was still busy laughing. His celebrating team-mates surrounded him until a new pair of shorts were produced. The goal sent Italy into their second consecutive World Cup final. It was his last goal for Italy.[3][4]

In the final, the Italians faced Hungary, a surprise package, playing a similar brand of flowing football to that of the Wunderteam. With the Italians having defeated France, home fans were well and truly behind the Magyars and hoped they could spring a surprise, but Italy's dynamic inside-forward partnership of Meazza and Giovanni Ferrari, took hold of the game. Meazza set up goals for Silvio Piola and Gino Colaussi before halftime. The first assist he gave came after a quick exchange with Colaussi, who put Italy up 1–0. The next assist came after he faked a shot, making his defender jump past him, and dribbled past another defender, before sending in a quick pass on the ground for Piola to slam home. Ten minutes before half, after another quick exchange between Ferrari and Meazza, the latter found the unmarked Colaussi with a pass, and the winger netted his second of the game to make it 3–1 at the break. After the tournament, Piola, who scored five goals in France, paid his colleague the compliment of being responsible for his own good performance: "At the FIFA World Cup, I mainly lived off Meazza and Ferrari".[4]

He played his last match for the national nine years after his debut, on the 20 July 1939 at the Olympiastadion in Helsinki, when he captained Italy to a 3–2 win over Finland.[7]

In total, he played 53 times with Italy between 1930 and 1939, losing only six matches, and scoring 33 goals; he is currently Italy's second highest goalscorer, behind Luigi Riva.[7]

Style of play

"I also saw Pelé playing. He did not achieve Meazza's elegant style of playing. One day, at the Arena, I witnessed him doing something astonishing: he stopped the ball with a bicycle kick, elevating himself two meters from the ground. Then he landed with the ball glued at his foot, dribbled over an astonished defender, and then went on scoring a goal with one of his hallmark shots, sardonic and accurate to the millimeter."[18]

Meazza began his career as an all out striker or centre forward, but showed his skill and ability by also becoming an accomplished offensive midfielder, playing for more than half of his career as a creative inside forward. He was a great leader with excellent shooting and intoxicating dribbling skills, an eye for the final pass and, despite his average height, an exceptional heading ability.[11][12][19]

Meazza was the first Italian football player who became famous worldwide, and was the first player with personal sponsors. Unlike his more reserved friend, international team-mate, and club-rival Silvio Piola, a player with whom Meazza was often compared, he was known for having a much more flamboyant character both on and off the pitch.[20] He loved his cabriolet, champagne and women and was the only player on the national team that was allowed to smoke. Meazza was famous for humiliating the best defenders of the era and for sleeping at a brothel the night before a match. With his plush touch on the ball, he would cause panic in the robust defenders from an era where two footed tackles from behind were often waved on. Sometimes he would not get out of bed until his teammates were already done practicing. He also loved the Tango and used this proficiency to make him unpredictable on the field and could score goals at fox-trot tempo. He was a superb dribbler who despite his speed, never had a single brylcreemed hair out of place, and although he was not tall, was remarkably good in the air. Meazza created many chances for his teammates and scored goals as well. His goals "a foglia morta", the "dead leaf technique", were also feared by goalkeepers. As an offensive playmaker, he was a brilliant passer, two-footed, had remarkable field vision, and was noted for his balance and agility on the ball, as well as his control, turns and spins.[3][4][11][12]

His trademark goals were ones where he would collect the ball at the half-line, dribble through several opponents with a series of twinkle-toed shuffles, and turns, until arriving in front of the goal, where he would stop and invite the goalkeeper to attack him like a matador, before faking a shot, then dribbling past the beaten goalkeeper to slot home easily.[12] In away games, the defenders would often foul and hack him to avoid being humiliated.[21] "Gol alla Meazza" and "finte alla Meazza" have since become popular sayings for Italian football fans to describe a truly inspiring goal off the dribble or a series of jukes. His goals "ad invito", where he would invite the goalkeeper out before dribbling around him is yet another popular saying. Meazza once said, "There is nothing worse than having a penalty kick saved by a keeper who didn't understand the fake."[3][4][11]

Vittorio Pozzo, the mastermind coach behind both Italian World Cup victories, wrote of him: "He was a born forward. He saw the game, understood the situation, distributed the ball carefully and made the team offense operate. Having him on the team was like starting the game 1–0 up."

Gianni Brera called him "Il Folber", and his style of play the "fasso-tuto-mi" because he considered him the complete central midfielder and a nimble acrobat. "He was only Italian that stood out amongst the sensational Brazilians and Argentines" said Brera.[22]

Peppino Prisco, who became vice-president of Internazionale in 1963 and won every trophy possible with the club considered him the best of all time and said, "Meazza was great, unbeatable, even if he would occasionally run into a frightful crisis, caused by his intense sexual activity and his passion for the game. When he took over on the field, he did things that left the mouth ajar."

Bruno Acari IV, who played with Meazza at A.C. Milan and later coached, once said that "Peppino never wanted to hear about tactics. He was a simple person who became a king when he entered the goal box, with a technical ability that was comparable to Pelé."


A marble gravestone on the wall of a crypt
Meazza's grave at the Monumental Cemetery of Milan in 2015

Meazza died in 1979 in Rapallo, Italy, and is buried at the Monumental Cemetery of Milan.

Career statistics


Season Club League League Cup Europe Other Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
1927–28InternazionaleDivisione Nazionale 3312------3312
1928–29 2933------2933
1929–30Serie A 3331------3331
1930–31 3424----674031
1931–32 2821------2821
1932–33 3220------3220
1933–34 3221----653826
1934–35 3019----233222
1935–36 292521--223328
1936–37 261143--6103624
1937–38 262048----3028
1938–39 16460--42266
1939–40 ------1010
1940–41MilanSerie A 14610----156
1941–42 23342----275
1942–43JuventusSerie A 2710------2710
1944VareseAlta Italia 207------207
1945–46AtalantaDivisione Nazionale 142------142
1946–47Internazionale MilanoSerie A 172------172
Total for Inter 3652431612--2729408284
Career totals 4632712114--2729511314



Italy national team
Year Apps Goals
1930 56
1931 65
1932 42
1933 55
1934 97
1935 32
1936 42
1937 51
1938 63
1939 60
Total 5333

International goals

Results list Italy's goal tally first.



F.C. Internazionale Milano
A.C. Milan






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  30. Giuseppe Meazza, uno dei calciatori più amati del primo dopoguerra
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Leopoldo Conti
Internazionale captain
Succeeded by
Attilio Demaría
Preceded by
Bruno Arcari
Milan captain
Succeeded by
Giuseppe Antonini
Preceded by
Luigi Allemandi
Italy captain
Succeeded by
Silvio Piola
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