Paolo Rossi, Italy’s goal-scoring hero from its victorious 1982 World Cup campaign and scorer of a hat-trick against Brazil in one of the most famous matches in the competition’s history, has died at the age of 64.
The celebrated striker’s death comes with the football world still in mourning for Argentina icon Diego Maradona, who passed away late last month.
Italian TV channel RAI Sport, where Rossi had been working as a pundit, said on Thursday that “Pablito” had died of an “incurable disease”.
Rossi’s wife, Federica Cappelletti, posted a photo of herself and her husband on Instagram along with the words “per sempre” – “forever”.
Cappelletti said he died in her arms. She said Rossi passed away in his sleep at hospital after she promised him she would care for their children and assured him that he “had already done so much”.
“He didn’t want to go, but I hugged him hard and I told him, ‘Paolo, now go. Enough, you’ve suffered enough. Now leave this body,'” she said. “And then he went to sleep.”
“There will never be anyone like you, unique, special” Cappelletti later wrote in Italian on Facebook.
Italian Football Federation (FIGC) President Gabriele Gravina said that Rossi was “indelibly linked to the blue shirt and his style of play inspired many strikers of future generations”.
Rossi had a remarkable career comeback, leading Italy to the World Cup title after returning from a suspension following a betting scandal in 1980.
He scored six goals at the tournament in Spain, including a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Brazil and the opening goal in a 3-1 win over West Germany in the final.
He was also won the 1982 Ballon d’Or award naming him the best player in Europe.
Rossi won two Serie A titles and a European Cup while playing for Juventus. He also played for AC Milan before moving into sportscasting at Italy’s top networks.
‘Lost an icon’
The FIGC said it would fly flags at half-staff in a sign of mourning.
“We have lost a friend and an icon of our soccer,” said FIGC’s Gravina.
“He took an entire country by the hand, which rejoiced in the streets, for him and with him. He is permanently linked to the Azzurri and has inspired generations of forwards with his style.”
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte offered his condolences, posting on Twitter that Rossi was a player who “gave a dream to entire generations with his goals in the summer of 1982”.
Former teammate Fulvio Collovati told RAI Radio 1 that he received the news from the phone chat used by the 1982 team members, many of whom expressed devastation at Rossi’s passing.
“I heard five minutes ago. I’m so sorry. It was out of the blue,” former teammate Dino Zoff told the ANSA news agency. “It had been a while that we hadn’t spoken, he had said something but we didn’t think it was so serious.”
RAI sports presenter Enrico Varriale, who worked with Rossi, posted on Twitter about the star forward’s death.
“Very sad news: Paolo Rossi left us,” Varriale wrote. “Unforgettable Pablito, who made us all fall in love in that summer of ’82 and who has been a precious and competent workmate at RAI in recent years. RIP dear Paolo.”
In a statement, Serie A president Paolo Dal Pino said the Italian league was in mourning.
“Paolo Rossi made us feel proud to be Italian,” Dal Pino said. “He was the hero of all of us.”
Cappelletti said a memorial service was planned at Vicenza and that Rossi’s remains would be cremated, a decision she took in agreement with their children.
“I want to have him near me forever,” she said.