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Best Italian Midfielders of All Time

Mon 28 March 2022 | 4:30

Let us take a look at Italian football’s rich history of producing world class midfielders to see who are the best Italian midfielders of all time?!

Italy has been one of the most successful countries in football history having won 4 World Cups and a Euro in 1968 as well as the more recent Euro 2020. Not to mention the immense success that Italian clubs have had over the years with clubs like Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus having won 12 Champions League titles overall and several Europa League titles as well. add to these the competitive nature of Serie A, which has always been one of the greatest football leagues in the world, and you’ll end up with a long list of great footballers, especially midfielders, who have helped these Italian teams achieve success.

In fact, Italian midfielders are known for being great well-rounded players who at any era of modern football have stood amongst the best of the best. So, we thought it would be a great idea to see the impact that some of these players had on their respective teams an Italy’s national team as well, to see who are the

best Italian midfielders of all time

. Let’s find out who these players are:

Best Italian Midfielders Ever

There could’ve been at least two dozen players amongst our best Italian midfielders ever but in the end, we had to go with these 10. So here they are:

Daniele De Rossi 

Let’s start our list of best Italian midfielders ever with an AS Roma legend and the youngest player on our list, the incredible Daniele De Rossi. The former Roma captain spent two decades with Giallorossi, making up one of the best ever midfield partnerships in Italian football history with the great Francesco Totti. A product of AS Roma’s youth academy, De Rossi made his debut for AS Roma in 2001 and has since become the club’s second most capped player with 616 appearances as well as being Italian national team’s 4th most-capped player of all time (117 appearances and 21 goals).

De Rossi was a complete midfielder and one of the best players of his era who could occupy a variety of roles in midfield. Aside from having the usual traits of a great defensive midfielder like having the tenacity and the stamina of running endlessly in a match as well as being tactically aware and good at breaking down attacks, De Rossi was also able to create chances in attack with his incredible passing ability and vision.

He could play the role of a

defensive midfielder

, a box to box midfielder and also an attacking midfielder. He was even at times used as a center back because of his outstanding defensive abilities.

As it is with any AS Roma player, De Rossi didn’t win many pieces of silverware during the 19 years he spent at Roma apart from two consecutive Coppa Italia trophies between 2006 and 2008 as well as a Supercoppa Italiana in 2007. De Rossi played a part in Italy’s 2006 World Cup campaign as he scored in the penalty shoot-outs in the final where Italy went on to become champions. De Rossi was consistently one of the best Serie A players over the course of his two decades as a footballer and for this he is regarded as one of the best Italian midfielders of all time.

Gennaro Gattuso 

One of the best defensive midfielders of the past two decades, Gennaro Gattuso’s inclusion in our list is a no brainer since the Milan legend is one of the best Italian players of all time. Gattuso joined AC Milan in 1999, having prior played for the likes of Perugia and

Salernitana

. At Milan, he immediately established himself as a world-class defensive midfielder and went on to form one of the most balanced midfield partnerships ever with Andrea Pirlo, both at Milan and at Italy’s national team.

Gennaro Gattuso was part of a new breed of defensive midfielders in Europe, like

Roy Keane

and Claude Makelele, who didn’t particularly have strong physical attributes but made it up with their tenacity, tireless nature and in Gattuso’ case ferocity as well as his winning mentality.

As a defensive midfielder, Gattuso was perhaps the best destroyer in the history of football. His chaotic and highly aggressive style of playing coupled with Andrea Pirlo’s calm and composed demeanor, struck the perfect balance of defensive and creative quality which led AC Milan to several major trophies.

Gattuso spent 13 seasons at AC Milan, playing 468 times and scoring 11 goals. he helped AC Milan experience a Renaissance and was able to win 2 Serie A titles, 2 Champions League titles, 1 Coppa Italia trophy and a FIFA Club World Cup with AC Milan. An important part of Italy’s 2006 World Cup squad that won the competition, Gattuso has gone down in history as one of the best Italian midfielders of all time.

Bruno Conti

No list of best Italian players of all time would be complete without mentioning the Mayor of Rome, Bruno Conti. An explosive winger that spent who could operate further up the pitch as well, Bruno Conti spent the entirety of his lengthy career at his beloved

Roma

(although he had two loan spells with Genoa in his early days). During the 18 years that he spent with Giallorossi, Conti established himself as one of the best wingers in the world and went to play an integral role in making Italy champions in the 1982 World Cup.

Despite his small stature (1.69m), Conti’s ridiculous amount of technique and talent as well as his inch-perfect delivery and explosive pace, made him stand out in during his youth academy days and Conti quickly rose to the top.

Originally left-footed, Conti was often deployed as a right winger but he could also play on the left flank or as an attacking midfielder. He was capable of delivering crosses with both his feet and was also a great shot, although he usually opted to create chances rather than finishing them. His dribbling, pace and overall delivery made him a nightmare for defenders.

At his peak, Conti helped Italy win the 1982 World Cup against all odds and in spectacular fashion. He then went on to help Roma win the scudetto the following season. in addition to these, he also won 5 Coppa Italias with Roma. Conti was one of the original inductees of AS Roma Hall of Fame in 2012 and will remain as one of the best Italian midfielders of all time.

Demetrio Albertini

Another AC Milan legend that is among our best Italian midfielders ever is the great Demetrio Albertini who was a part of the great AC Milan of the 1990s, a team that dominated Italian and European football, in great parts due to Albertini’s genius as a playmaker. He was also a constant presence in Italy’s setting in that same era, helping them reach 2 finals (1994 World Cup and Euro 2000) and later went on to play well into the 2000s, finishing his career in style by winning the

La Liga

with Barcelona in 2005.

Albertini was very much in the same vein of midfielder as players like Carlo Ancelotti that came before him and the likes of Andrea Pirlo that came after him. A complete midfielder that above everything excelled at passing which was complimented by his tactical genius, amazing technique, stamina and class.

Albertini was also an accurate shot and a great set-piece and penalty taker which added some extra threat to his playing style. Due to him being a deep-lying playmaker, he was also adept at defensive work too, excelling at interceptions but also could be utilized as a winger as well.

Demetrio Albertini won 5 Serie A titles, 3 Champions League titles, and an Intercontinental Cup with AC Milan as well as a Coppa Italia with Lazio and the La Liga with

Barcelona

later in his career. Having represented his country in 79 matches, Albertini was among the few that scored from the spot in the 1994 World Cup final penalty shoot-outs but ultimately, he failed to win any silverware with the Azzuri. A pillar of AC Milan in perhaps the greatest era of the club, Demetrio Albertini is without a doubt one of the best Italian midfielders of all time.

Marco Tardelli 

Next up on our list of

best Italian midfielders of all time

is Marco Tardelli who is one of the few players who has won every major European trophy as well as winning everything there is in Italy with Juventus. In addition to that, Tardelli has also won the 1982 World Cup with Italy. One of the most decorated players in football history, Tardelli started his career in the Serie C side Pisa and later went on to play for Como in Serie B, before joining Juventus in 1975. He spent the majority of his career with the Turin club, winning many trophies, before he joined their Rivals Internazionale in 1985.

Tardelli is widely considered to be one of the most complete midfielders of all time. Capable of playing in several positions, Tadelli was a hard tackling midfielder who was very quick with the ball as well as being technically gifted. In fact, he was used in all outfield positions throughout his career except playing as a striker. In the 80s, an era defined by Italy’s catanaccio football, Tardelli was the perfect player as he was defensively solid as well as being quick enough to initiate counter attacks.

Both

Juventus

and Italy found huge success by utilizing Tardelli in that manner and he was able to help Juventus win 5 Serie A titles, 2 Coppa Italia trophies, 1 UEFA Cup, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, 1 UEFA Supercup and a European Cup (now known as Champions League). he was also a key figure in Italy reaching the 1982 World Cup final and ended up scoring Italy’s 2nd goal in the final. To this day his celebration for that goal remains as one of the most memorable moments in World Cup history. As far as the best Italian players of all time goes, you can’t find many who are better than Tardelli.

Andrea Pirlo

We all knew that the great Andrea Pirlo was going to be somewhere on this list since he is undoubtedly one of the best midfielders of all time.  A native of Flero, Italy, Andrea Pirlo started his professional career at

Brescia

in 1995 and later joined Inter Milan in 1998. Limited game time with the Nerazzurri led to Pirlo switching sides in Milan and Joining

AC Milan

in 2001 where he became one of the best midfielders of his generation. A decade later he joined Juventus and continued conquering titles after titles before ending his career in the MLS in 2017.

One of the most elegant players to grace a football pitch in the history of football, Andrea Pirlo was an exceptional play maker, perhaps the best deep-lying playmaker ever. His superb ball control, technique, insane passing ability and range and pinpoint accuracy whether it came to passing or shooting coupled with his vision and ball-carrying ability made Andrea Pirlo a dream for any coach to have. At his best Pirlo worked superbly in tandem with a more defensive midfielder like Genarro Gatusso to create a midfield partnership that was unlike any other in Italian football history.

In fact Pirlo’s partnership with Gatusso was one of the key factors in Italy winning the 2006 World Cup for which Pirlo was awarded the Bronze Ball of the tournament. At club level, Pirlo won 2 Serie A titles, 2 Champions League titles, a FIFA Club World Cup, a Coppa Italia with AC Milan before joining Juventus in 2011 and winning four consecutive Serie A titles as well as another Coppa Italia.

Andrea Pirlo represented Italy 116 times, scoring 13 goals for the Azzuri and is currently the 5th most appearance holder for Italy. He represented Italy in 5 major tournaments, reaching two finals with Italy (Euro 2012 and the aforementioned 2006 World Cup) and has been named Serie A Footballer of the Year three times as well as being voted to the

Serie A Team of the Year

four times, which is why he is widely known to be one of the best Italian midfielders of all time.

Sandro Mazzola

Sandro Mazzola, who is one of the

best Italian midfielders ever

and an Inter Milan legend, is another one of those illusive one-club players, having spent his entire career at Inter Milan. A symbol of the Grande Inter, an era of the club between 1960 and 1967 where under the management of Helenio Herrera Inter Milan dominated Serie A and rose to European prominence, Mazzola is synonymous with glory for Inter Milan fans which is why he is still a beloved figure at Giuseppe Meazza stadium.

An extremely versatile midfielder, who was also capable of playing in different attacking roles, Mazzola broke out into Inter’s first team during the 1962-63 season and it wasn’t long before he won his first Scudetto in his debut season, a feat

Internazionale

would repeat 3 times between 1962 and 1966.

Perhaps the thing that Mazzola is known for the most is the 2 goals that he scored in the final of 1963-64 European Cup (now known as the Champions League) which won them the match 3-1 for Inter Milan against a legendary Real Madrid side that were at the time the Kings of Europe. He would also help Inter win it a 2nd time the following season.

Sandro Mazzola represented Inter in 565 matches, scoring 158 goals and helping them win 4

Serie A

titles and 2 European Cups. He represented Italy’s national team 70 times and won the 1968 Euros with them as well as helping them reach the 1970 World Cup final, although they were beaten by Pele’s Brazil in that final. On individual level, Mazzola has won the Serie A top goal scorer award in 1964-65 and came in 2nd for the Ballon d’Or in 1971. All of which cements his place as one of the best Italian midfielders of all time.

Gianni Rivera

The second ever player to win the Ballon d’Or, Gianni Rivera is undoubtedly one of the

best Italian players of all time

if not the best ever. The Golden Boy of Italian football is considered by many to be one of the best playmakers of all time. Born in Alessandria, Rivera started playing professional football in 1959 for his hometown club before being signed by AC Milan a year later. At AC Milan, Rivera became one of the best players of his generation leading Milan and Italy to insurmountable success during the 1960s and 70s.

A creative offensive playmaker who also had an eye for goal, Rivera was exceptionally talented in all areas that a midfielder should be good at. His impeccable vision, pinpoint passing accuracy, swerving shots and amazing ball carrying ability allowed him to be the creative force that Ac Milan and Italy needed. His absolute peak came at the end of the 1960s where after helping Milan win the Serie A in 1968, Rivera made them European Champions a year later and was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1969, finally leaving his experiencing of losing out to Lev Yashin in 1963 behind.

Rivera represented Italy in 4 different World Cups between 1962 and 1974 and was part of the Italian team that won the country’s first ever European Championship in 1968. 3 Serie A titles, 4 Coppa Italia, 2 European Cups, 2 Cup Winners’ Cup and a Intercontinental Cup was the fruits of his labor at Milan. Without his genius playmaking abilities, leadership and overall quality as a player AC Milan may have never been a European Giant they are today and for that reason, Gianni Rivera certainly deserves to be called one of the best Italian midfielders of all time and a lot more!

Francesco Totti

The King of Rome, who was one of the finest midfielders and in fact strikers of the modern game, is undoubtedly a player that changed Italian football and, in some ways, the modern football to some extent. In his 25-year career at AS Roma, Francesco Totti became one of the best midfielders of all time, having first appeared for Roma in 1992 as a 16-year-old and then becoming a legend of the club in the following 2 decades and a half.

One of the most technically gifted players of all-time, Il Capitano was capable of dribbling past even the best defenders of his era. Starting as a midfielder in his early days, Totti later shifted his game more up front and was capable of playing as bot a playmaker and a striker, excelling at both. This later allowed him to be used as a “false-9” striker, a role which allows the player to both create and score goals by moving between the opposition’s lines of defense and midfield, something that Lionel Messi later perfected at Barcelona.

With AS Roma, Totti won 2 Coppa Italia, 2 Supercoppa Italiana and a solitary Serie A title in 2000-01 season with AS Roma. A symbol of loyalty and dedication in football, Francesco Totti is one of the most decorated Italian players on individual level.

Totti scored 250 goals in 618 Serie A appearances and is currently Serie A’s 2nd top scorer of all time. He also became a World Cup champion in 2006 with Italy and helped redefine the role of an attacking midfielder in the modern game. with several Serie A Player of the Year or Goal of the Season awards as well as 1

European Golden Shoe

award in 2007, Totti has truly earned his place among the

best Italian midfielders of all time

.

Roberto Baggio

The last but certainly not the least among our best Italian midfielders ever is the Divine Ponytail himself, the incredible Roberto Baggio. Having played for all of Italy’s Big 3, AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan, Roberto Baggio proved himself at every level and every stage becoming one of the

best midfielders of all time

in addition to being one of Serie A best strikers ever. This was proven by the fact that Baggio won both the Ballon d’Or award and FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1993 and came close a couple of other times as well.

Baggio started his career in Serie A at Fiorentina, after joining them from the Serie C1 side Vicenza. he stayed with Fiorentina for five seasons before Joining Juventus in 1990 where he, alongside Vialli and later Del Piero, helped Juventus win the Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup. He then joined AC Milan where he won another Serie A title in 1995-96 season. After spells at Bologna and Inter Milan, he eventually joined Brescia in 2000 at the age of 33 and stayed with them until he retired from football in 2004.

An attacking midfielder and a playmaker at heart, Baggio could dribble past multiple defenders and sometimes ended up scoring by walking the ball into goal. He was a great crosser and a free-kick taker and could score from long range shots and volleys.  Perhaps the peak of his powers came during the 1990 and 1994 World Cups where Italy ended up as 3rd and 2nd respectively, with the 1994 World Cup in particular being called by some as Baggio’s World Cup.

Although the tournament ended up in heartbreak as the final against the Brazil went into the penalties and Baggio ended up missing his penalty causing Italy to lose the match. Baggio scored 318 goals in 698 appearances for club and country, and was one of the reasons Italy once again came to the forefront of European football in the 90s. he is undoubtedly one of the best Italian midfielders of all time and a damn good conclusion to our list!

 

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