George Rinaldi: Calcio's Greatest Forwards
George Rinaldi is the author of Calcio's Greatest Forwards, his first book. Rinaldi is a UK-based journalist with a particular interest in Serie A and writes for a number of publications including FourFourTwo, Football Italia and Forza Italian Football.
Can you tell us a bit about your background - I am guessing from your surname you grew up in an Italian household where watching calcio was a big part of life?
Rinaldi does derive from an Italian background, and despite growing up in South-East London my father made sure Gli Azzurri was the main team supported in the household. From Richardson's [James] presenting of Football Italia to the 2006 World Cup, it was always popped on the television when possible.
What are your first memories of Italian football?
I have a couple to be honest. Mainly around 2004 and 2006. Firstly, my family jetted off to Rome, the home of the King Francesco Totti and seeing the country for the first time was wonderful. I went to Lazio v Bologna at Stadio Olimpico and I can still remember it fondly now - Japp Stam scoring late on with a header! Two years later the support for Italy was inevitable when they went to Germany for the World Cup. In fact, during that semi-final, I was repeatedly wrestled to the ground following Fabio Grosso's goal!
You support Fiorentina. What is it about that club that attracts overseas fans (In my experience)?
I don't think there was anything in particular that really drew me to Fiorentina except they weren't one of the 'big' clubs - Milan, Inter, Juventus etc. I watched a lot of clips online of Gabriel Batistuta's days with la Viola so I guess that played a part. I finally got to go the Stadio Artemio Franchi back in 2011 when they hosted Sampdoria and that is when the love was secured. For other fans, I imagine some may see Fiorentina as 'that' club that isn't too mainstream but also able to compete on some level for trophies. Think Borussia Dortmund or Sevilla.
Do you agree with Gabriele Marcotti when he says in his introduction that Serie A is the hardest league for forwards to play in and so those that succeed are the best strikers there are?
Definitely. Ever since the league reformed for the inaugural Serie A back in 1929, you had both Silvio Piola and Giuseppe Meazza. There has always been a constant flow of talent upfront in Italy, and you can see in the book that every single decade is covered. The 1990's onward to around the late noughties was wonderful as the coach would have the likes of Totti, Luca Toni, Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi and Christian Vieri to pick from. With that much talent at your fingertips so much pressure was put on them, considering the stereotypical way of thinking that Serie A is defensive. Does that look like a defensive line of attackers to you? Would Zdenek Zeman agree? Exactly.
Who were the first names on your 'team sheet' of 21 strikers?
I broke it up into decades and tried to average across them all. I had a good handful of 'recent' players to attract more people to the book. As much as I could have written on players pre-1990 the draw-in would have been a lot lower than anticipated. Some people are still annoyed I didn't include Valentino Mazzola. I'm 21 at the end of the day, and I wrote this when I was 19 and 20. I don't have the mental capability or writing style to showcase the man who passed away in such tragic circumstances. If I had, I can almost guarantee someone would say I didn't do him justice. I couldn't be bothered to risk it and take the flak for it on the chin. If needs be, I'll add him to a 2nd edition.
Was it hard to narrow down the choice - why for example did someone like John Charles miss out? It's not just about goals is it in choosing the greatest of all time...?
Quite tough, as you honestly can't win when picking a select 'best'. Some wanted George Weah, others wanted Omar Sivori. At the end of the day, I had a deadline to meet and I couldn't alter my original list. If I'd tried to get them done, it would have been sloppy and poor. For guys such as Charles, Sivori and others, it came down to the main one I wanted from a team at that time. I was happy for players to overlap like Roberto Boninsegna and Gigi Riva as they had different careers in Italy away from each other. With Charles, it was Juventus and the story I told would have followed Giampiero Boniperti's too much. As I wouldn't have covered his time outside of Italy, it seemed like more work to do in such a short time period. It wasn't feasible and people need to understand that. I was studying at University at the time [and still am] and it ticked me off a tad when people kept saying put this person in. If I could've done 40 players, I would have.
Which of the great strikers of yesteryear would you have most loved to have seen play in the flesh?
Gigi Riva. He had it all. Power, strength and to think he was a brawny little kid when he started out. His sheer passion for Cagliari is worth a book in itself.
You did an impressive amount of research for this book. Was there any fact or nugget about a player which you discovered that stuck out?
Giuseppe Meazza's goal record. I'm surprised no one had found this but he was credited two goals in one of his most well-known stories but he only scored one in that game. That didn't have to take up various phone calls, just some research into a particular edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport in the 1930's.
Serie A was the No.1 league in the 1980's and early '90's but the Premier League and the big Spanish clubs seem to dominate now in terms of money and trophies. Do you think there is a way back to the top for calcio?
Right now, no. It's good to have players in the shape of Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Paul Pogba to attract viewers but realistically it will take a lot more than few big names to get them back to the top. Personally, it will only happen again if both Milan and Inter returned to how they were. If not, then no.
If you had to name just one as your favourite who would that be and why?
Riva again. The passion that exhumed from him is second to none. You would have wished to have been there that day they lifted Serie A. A true fairy tale.
© Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile.com