Sat 04 December 2021 | 5:30

Top Facts about Claudio Gentile, the Misunderstood Italian Defender

The tale about Claudio Gentile is that of a hatchet man. However, he was one of the greatest Italian defenders whose toughness has been exaggerated. In this article we are going to take a look at top facts about Claudio Gentile.

Claudio Gentile, who was born on 27 September 1953, is an Italian football manager and former football player of the 1970s and 1980s. Gentile played for Italy in two FIFA World Cups, and appeared for the winning Italian team in the 1982 final match. His club professional career was particularly spent with Juventus for whom he played nearly 300 league games, winning six national trophies and two major European titles.

Top Facts about Claudio Gentile, the Misunderstood Italian Defender

In spite of the smartness of defenders like Gaetano Scirea, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta and

Fabio Cannavaro

, it is difficult not to name one of the most misunderstood names in the Italian glorious football history; namely Claudio Gentile.

Claudio Gentile had nothing to do with the renaissance of Paolo Rossi, the experience of

Dino Zoff

, the talents of Bruno Conti and Giancarlo Antognoni, the liveliness of Marco Tardelli or the runs of Antonio Cabrini.

But in 1978 and 1982, a period where Italy redeemed themselves following a unsatisfactory 1974 FIFA World Cup, Gentile was very much in the middle of the action.

Claudio Gentile at a glance

  • Date of birth:

     27 September, 1953

  • Place of birth:

     Tripoli, Libya

  • Citizenship:


  • Nickname:


  • Height:

     1.78 m

  • Position:


  • Former International:


  • International games/goals:


Claudio Gentile club professional career

One of the

top facts about Claudio Gentile

is that he was born in Tripoli, Libya, but migrated to Italy when he was a child. In fact, his parents were originally from Noto, a region in Italy.As a child, Gentile began playing in the alleys of Tripoli with Arab companions and other sons of settlers.

After migration to Italy, he began his career with Arona, Claudio Gentile played in Serie B with Varese during the 1972–73 season. 

Claudio then joined Juventus and first played for them in a Coppa Italia game against Ascoli Calcio on 29 August 1973. Then he made his Serie A debut on 2 December 1973 against Verona. 

One of the top facts about Claudio Gentile is that he played 414 senior games for


, including 283 in Serie A. In over a decade with Juventus, Claudio Gentile won two major European club tournaments (1976–77 UEFA Cup and 1983–84 European Cup Winners' Cup), six Serie A titles, and two Coppa Italias.  Gentile also reached the final match of the 1982–83 European Cup with Bianconeri and was defeated 1–0 by Hamburg in Athens.

In 1984, he joined opponents Fiorentina where Gentile spent three seasons in Serie A, making more than 60 appearances for the team. Finally, he played a season with Piacenza, in Serie B and retired at the end of the 1987–88 season.

Claudio Gentile international career

One of the

top facts about Claudio Gentile

is that he played for Italy national team in 71 matches between 1975 and 1984, netting a single goal during his international career. 

Another top fact about Claudio Gentile is that on 19 April 1975 he made his international debut in a 0-0 draw against Poland in Rome in the Euro 76 qualifiers.

He also played in all of Italy's games at the 1978 FIFA World Cup, where Italy ended in fourth place, after reaching second place in the final group stage of the competition and then they lost the 3rd place playoff to Brazil national team. Gentile also played in the 1980 European Championship on home soil, and he was named in the team of the tournament.

In the 1982 FIFA World Cup, Claudio Gentile was once again a permanent player of the starting line-up as his nation won the World Cup that year. He was known for his violent man-marking of 

Diego Maradona

 in a 2–1 second-round win against Argentina at the 1982 FIFA World Cup. In the match, he fouled the Argentine player 11 times in the first half, and 23 in total. After the game, Claudio Gentile notably joked, "Football is not for ballerinas!"  Italy ended up beating the defending world champions Argentina 2–1.

Then Italy played against tournament favourites Brazil in the next second-round group match winning 3–2 with 

Paolo Rossi

’s brilliant hat trick. Italy won against Poland 2–0 in the semi-final, while Claudio Gentile was suspended and he returned for the final match against West Germany where Italy won 3–1 and lifted the World Cup

Claudio Gentile was once again in the team of the tournament for his excellent performances during the World Cup.

Finally he retired from international career after Italy’s failed Euro 84 qualifying campaign.

Claudio Gentile style of play

Regarding his style of play, the

top fact about Claudio Gentile

is that he was a tough, resilient, stubborn, ruthless, and strict defender. So it is not strange that Gentile was considered as one of the greatest defenders of his generation, one of the toughest ever football players in his position, and as one of the greatest Italian defenders of all time.

A hard-tackling and adaptable defender, Claudio Gentile was able to play both as a man-marking centre-back or "stopper", and as a full-back on either side, and was mainly known for his tight, heavy, bodily marking of rivals, as well as his work-rate, and aggressive contests. He was also capable of playing as a sweeper, a role which he occupied towards the end of his career, as he lost some of his pace, or in the centre of the pitch as a defensive midfielder.

Claudio Gentile also was well-known for his ability in the air. While he was not primarily known to be the most naturally gifted football player from a skilful viewpoint, and was seen as more of a defensive-minded right-back, who mostly sought to break down opposite attacks, he was known for his discipline in training, and showed important technical developments throughout his professional career.

Certainly, Claudio Gentile was a mobile and meticulous footballer, who was also proficient in contributing offensively as an attacking full-back in a zonal-marking system, by getting up the side and passing into the box for his teammates. 

Along with Juventus and Italy teammates Dino Zoff, Sergio Brio,

Antonio Cabrini

, and Gaetano Scirea, Gentile formed one of the toughest defensive lines in football history. 

One of the top facts about Claudio Gentile is that in 2007, The Times placed him at number 8 in their list of the 50 toughest football players in history. Though, in spite of his infamous reputation, Claudio Gentile considered himself to be a hard yet fair footballer. He was only sent off once in his professional career, with Bianconeri, in a 2–0 away loss to Club Brugge in a European Cup semi-final game in April 1978, for the second yellow card due to a hand ball. Because of his aggressive playing style and country of birth, Claudio Gentile was given the nickname Gaddafi in the Italian media.

Claudio Gentile coaching career

After retirement, Claudio Gentile later coached the Italy national under-21 football team which won the 2004 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship, and the under-23 team which won a bronze at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

On 5 June 2014 Gentile signed two-year contract with FC Sion.

Claudio Gentile brutality; True or false?

In Italian, the word “gentile” means “kind”, but it seems that Claudio was not so kind on the pitch. Possibly it was the one of the wrong name afforded to a professional football player.

It is believed that Claudio Gentile’s style of play in the second stage of the 1982 FIFA World Cup were a juxtaposition of exquisite cruelty.

The question is that whether Claudio Gentile is the Italy’s Misunderstood football player? And what does the statistics say in comparison with the usual treatment he received from the media?

Claudio Gentile is often pictured next to


and his ripped shirt or disparaged for the number of fouls he committed on Diego Maradona in Italy’s second-round win against Argentina. However, his fouls are exaggerated like almost everything that was written about the 1982 World Cup.

The Italian star is known as a rough, rigid defender, or as the more click bait YouTube video names would make you believe, ‘The Hardest Man in Soccer’, as a symbol of honour. But there was nothing gentle about Claudio Gentile who was born in Libya and raised in Italy with Catenaccio strategy and traditional Italian physical style of play. Once the Gentile said, “My character was not to intimidate, it was to show I was the boss on the field. You have to be gritty and determined. At certain times you have to know ‘how’ to foul”.

We can scrutinise whether his character as the master of the dark arts is acceptable.

In spite of the fact that he was known as a bad boy, he was only sent off once in his whole professional career and as it was mentioned that was not a straight red card.

In 1978 World Cup, it was in fact the Netherlands, the team famous for its Total Football, who conceded the most fouls, both in total and in each game.

In the tournament, both Willy van de Kerkhof and Arie Haan topped the charts with 23 fouls each and Gentile was eighth with 18 fouls. His only yellow card came in Italy’s 3rd place match against Brazil.  

At 1982 World Cup, Poland national team committed the most fouls in total and Cameroon had the highest average per match. Italy along with West Germany ranked sixth on fouls per game.

It is true that Claudio Gentile committed the most fouls during the competition, 24 in total including two handballs, but the number of his fouls split by game is not that frightening.

Gentile was guilty of committing four fouls per match, the fourth-highest figure of players at the World Cup. The bad boy of this tournament was Ibrahim Aoudou of Cameroon, who committed 17 fouls in only three games, at a rate of 5.7 per match.

Just a few minutes before half-time against Argentina, Claudio Gentile was booked for his third foul on Diego Maradona, however in the match against Brazil he was shown a yellow card within the first 15 minutes for his second foul on Zico. It indicates that for most of those two matches the Italian star had to temper his natural man-marking style in order to prevent his team from continuing playing with 10 men.

It is worth mentioning that it was Argentina national team, not Gentile’s Italy, who had the worse disciplinary statistics in the match, receiving three yellow cards and a red card compared to Italy with two yellow cards.

Also, the number of fouls in the match against Brazil was divided equally with 21 fouls per side.

Do these numbers indicate the image of the hatchet man many writers like to talk about? In fact, Claudio Gentile was a tough defender in an era where defending was regarded as a positive ability and it was as important as creating and attacking.

Charlton said about himself, “I wasn’t very good at playing football. But I was very good at stopping other people playing football.”

Accordingly, we feeling that he would have got along very well with Claudio Gentile from the safe distance of the other end of the pitch.

Claudio Gentile status at Juventus

Juventus coach Čestmír Vycpálek was aware of Claudio Gentile’s tough rigid style of defending and brought the defender to la Vecchia Signora of Turin. Gentile missed out on winning the Serie A title with the Czech manager, but a change in manager would bring about a change in luck as Italian Carlo Parola was brought in for a second spell in charge of the Bianconeri.

When Claudio Gentile moved to Juventus, goalkeeper Dino Zoff was already at the team who had moved from Napoli in 1972 at the age of 30. Zoff and Gentile made half of what would prove to be one of the best defences the history of Serie A, as well as on the international level for Italy national team.

A year after Claudio signed for Bianconeri another defender arrived from Atalanta. Gaetano Scirea was the complete opposite of Gentile. He was known for his fair play and sportsmanship as well as being a smart defender who played with elegance and beauty. Gaetano Scirea was also skilful at reading the game and had brilliant technique on the ball.

In 1976, Giovanni Trapattoni arrived at Juventus. It was to be the start of a continuous era of victory for the manager, the team, the Bianconeri defence and also Claudio Gentile. Antonio Cabrini arrival as a left-back, moving from Atalanta like Scirea, was the last part in Trapattoni’s defence. Zoff, Gentile, Scirea and Cabrini would form the heart of Juventus defence for the next seven years. These four stars were the first choice starters for Italy national team from 1975 to 1983, playing in the 1978 and 1982 FIFA World Cups as well as Euro 80.

Trapattoni revolutionised la Vecchia Signora with wise tactical insight as well as adjusting the catenaccio style, using the zona mista, which was a combination of man-marking and zonal marking. It was a tactic which saw the Juventus defensive personnel prosper, in particular Claudio Gentile, who elevated the art of man-marking to a different level from all who had played the beautiful game before him.

Claudio Gentile vs. Diego Maradona

One of the top facts about Claudio Gentile is that he formed a part of world footballing history due to his outstanding marking of Maradona in the 1982 FIFA World Cup.

In an interview, the reporter asked him “What would you do against Messi?” Then he replied, "The same things I did at the Sarrià against Maradona. Above all, to not let him get the ball and if he does, in the worst conditions possible. It must never be him that starts off a move with the advantage."

"I would like to be able to face up to Messi, to mark him in the final. I wish that Juve would give me a call and tell me I was the man chosen to mark him! It would be an amazing challenge, as was playing against Maradona", Gentile added.

"You need to mark Messi in a special way, to keep him away from the rest of the team. Juve need him to feel out of sorts, to feel isolated; they need him to raise his head and not find any Barcelona shirts nearby. That's the only way to limit the effectiveness of his moves. I say 'limit' because there is no way to completely stop him; that's impossible", he emphasised.

The interviewer asked “Man-to-man marking?” Claudio Gentile concluded "For a player like Messi, most definitely. You need a player that is mentally very strong to do it. Someone that knows that he has a great responsibility on his shoulders, that he might be the man remembered as the one Messi beat to win the game."

“A defender has to be strong. That's something very different to being dirty and going in to do harm. A defender is a defender, not a dancer.”

Claudio Gentile private life

Regarding his personal life, the top fact about Claudio Gentile is that he married to Laura when he was a player and they had a son whose name was Andrea. There is not much information about his family at the moment.

Claudio Gentile book

One of the top facts about Claudio Gentile is that he has authored a book entitled “E sono stato Gentile” (in English it means “And I was Gentile”), published in Milano by Rizzoli publication. It was released on 10 March 2016.

Claudio Gentile honours

As a player


  • 6 Serie A in 1974–75, 1976–77, 1977–78, 1980–81, 1981–82, 1983–84

  • 2 Coppa Italia in 1978–79, 1982–83

  • 1 UEFA Cup in 1976–77

  • 1 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1983–84



  • FIFA World Cup in 1982


  • UEFA European Championship Team of the Tournament in 1980

  • FIFA World Cup All-star Team in 1982

As a manager

Italy under-21

  • UEFA European Under-21 Championship in 2004

  • Olympic Bronze Medal in 2004


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