FourFourTwo's 100 Greatest Footballers EVER: No.18 Giuseppe Meazza

Giuseppe Meazza

When young Giuseppe was seven years old, he was sent to the 'open-air school’ in Milan – complete with football pitches, swimming pools and a zoo – in order to strengthen his weak lungs.

The treatment worked spectacularly well. His mazy dribbling and clinical finishing were evident at youth level, so much so that La Gazetta were confident enough to write after his debut for Inter in 1910: "A star is born."

By the time he retired in 1947, he'd won two World Cups and a pair of league titles, while a popular song claimed that the graceful Meazza "scored to the rhythm of the foxtrot". Yet as with many Italian legends, he was a magnet for controversy.

Inter fans who'd worshipped him between 1927 and 1940 were furious when he briefly played for deadly rivals Milan during the Second World War; some never forgave him despite his return to remain a part of Inter until his death in 1979.

World Cup winner

To have him in your team meant to start 1-0 up

Meazza was accused of foul play by Spanish and Austrian players at the 1934 World Cup, amid wider accusations that officials had been ‘got at’ throughout the tournament (held in fascist-controlled Italy). Not that national team coach Vittorio Pozzo was overly concerned about criticisms of his striker, claiming: "To have him in your team meant to start 1-0 up."

Short, stocky and good looking, Meazza was often compared in Italy with screen heart-throb Rudolf Valentino, and his hectic social life was an endless source of fascination for the Italian media. It was often reported that Meazza rarely trained, and in an era when sport was a key fascist propaganda weapon, he became intrinsically linked to Mussolini's regime whether he liked it or not. His nickname - on account of his boyish good looks - was Ballila, which was the name given to military youth groups organised by Il Duce.

Meazza, who advertised both toothpaste and brilliantine, became stupendously rich both from the game and off-field endorsements.

His name will forever be linked with the 1930s, when the Italian national team dominated world football. In 1980 the San Siro was post-humously named in his honour. 

Career highlight
Meazza's star continued to rise when he netted two goals in just four minutes against England in the infamous ‘Battle of Highbury’ just after the 1934 World Cup. He regretted not completing a hat-trick for the rest of his life. 

The list

100 to 91 • 90 to 81 • 80 to 71 • 70 to 61 • 60 to 51 • 50 to 41 • 40 to 31 • 30 to 21

20 • 19 • 18 • 17 • 16 • 15 • 14 • 13 • 12 • 11 • 10 • 9 • 8 • 7 • 6 • 5 • 4 • 3 • 2 • 1

FourFourTwo's 100 Greatest Footballers EVER


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Jon Spurling

Jon Spurling is a history and politics teacher in his day job, but has written articles and interviewed footballers for numerous publications at home and abroad over the last 25 years. He is a long-time contributor to FourFourTwo and has authored seven books, including the best-selling Highbury: The Story of Arsenal in N5, and Get It On: How The '70s Rocked Football was published in March 2022.