Italy’s Roaring Thunder: Luigi Riva

Harry Burford

The word ‘legend’ is thrown around rather negligently within the realms of top-flight modern day football. To some, the handle has already lost a great deal of meaning, losing much of its initial reverence and essence to the ongoing sense of rose-tinted judgement currently taking place among the wider European game.

Yet in the eyes of others, the once prized epithet still acts as an overarching banner, fit to describe only the very best footballers on the planet with long-spanning careers to match their notorious talent.

The word ‘legend’, therefore, acts as something of a relative term. There will always be those who look to disregard the achievements of certain players out there, usually on the back of a mere bad grudge or simple animosity, whilst their equally passionate counterparts on the other end of the spectrum seek to paint the modern game with more legendary verve than is perhaps necessary.

When it comes to defining someone as an out-an-out legendary striker, however – one capable of finding the back of the net at a truly inspiring and commendable rate – there can be little room for doubt or ambiguity.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, one legendary Italian frontman seemingly rose to the forefront above all his fellow striking contemporaries. He may have first introduced himself as little more than an ambitious young forward, desperate to impress among the lower tiers of Italian football  – but once Cagliari’s Luigi Riva finally found his finest form for the proud Isolani, there could be no turning back for the man who would soon become known as Rombo di Tuono, Italy’s Roaring Thunder…

Luigi Riva developed an all-encompassing cult hero status whilst working his well-worn magic among the Italian top-flight. He began his career among the little known realms of Legnano, a local club situated within his native Lombardy. Here, ‘Gigi’ would serve to enthral and excite with his powerful forward line play, but the best was ultimately yet to come for the fresh-faced finisher.

It was at Cagliari, a proud Sardinian outfit still widely recognised as a relatively standout side among the historic Italian game, that Riva really sought to propel himself as one of the most dependable strikers in the whole of world football. His time with the Isolani would prove something of a slow-burner at first, yet all the early signs were in place for the man who would soon win the hearts and minds of his nation as the uncompromising Rombo di Tuono.

His rising status among the island of Sardinia soon caught the attention of the Azzurri national side as well as several elite Italian clubs looking to secure the frontman’s signature. Gigi Riva was no unscrupulous money-grabber nor cold-hearted mercenary, however – for although Cagliari were seemingly always forced to operate as overwhelming underdogs amid the Italian top-flightthe rapidly emerging striker nonetheless found a certain sense of solace among the adoring Isolani supporters; Cagliari was his home.

Italy’s Roaring Thunder would go on to score over 160 goals in just 315 appearances for Cagliari, in over ten years of hard-fought service at the club. He helped the side achieve promotion to the Italian Serie A in his first season in Sardinia – and despite all the early naysayers who sought to cast Cagliari’s ambitious title hopes in something of an unrealistic light – Luigi Riva & co. would go on to successfully lift the prestigious Italian Scudetto upon the final culmination of the 1969/70 campaign. A proud moment among the determined Isolani faithful.

As a result of his consummate composure inside the final third, creative sense of movement in and around the opposition’s penalty box, and one hell of an effective left foot that would leave even the most legendary of strikers somewhat envious of the powerful Italian – Luigi Riva scored goal, after goal, after goal. There was very little his opposing defenders could ultimately do to stop him.

Gigi warmed himself to Italian football fans far and wide. Although there have been many subsequent Serie A goalscorers to surpass Riva in terms of silverware and accolades, no one could dispute the striker’s powerful and potent output throughout his long-spanning top-flight career, for no striker gets labelled the unmistakable Roar of Thunder for nothing after all…

Whilst Lugi Riva could seemingly do no wrong among the Italian top-flight, things would suddenly come to an abrupt and painful end for the no-nonsense Italian finisher. The Cagliari frontman was always widely credited for his giving his all on nearly every given occasion he stepped out on the field for the proud Isolani, but sometimes this tenacious streak would seemingly prove too much for his body to handle.

The striker suffered multiple broken legs throughout his time in Italy, as well as one badly damaged metatarsal and a series of ongoing thigh strains that would sadly put an end to his memorable top-flight career. Despite lifting the illustrious Scudetto with Cagliari, becoming Italy’s leading top goalscorer and developing almost saintly status within the island of Sardinia, the striker’s time among the limelight wouldn’t last forever.

Luigi Riva retired from the beautiful game in 1976 as an undisputed legendary striker of his time. He was brave, determined, talented and exciting to watch – wowing his respective onlookers on almost every available opportunity. Although the Italian top-flight has certainly moved on a great deal since the days of Gigi Riva, Isolani fans will forever hold their infamous frontman in the highest regard possible.

If you listen closely around the banks of Cagliari’s Stadio Sant’Elia, you can still hear Italy’s roaring thunder purring in the distance, ready to remind all those who were lucky enough to see Luigi Riva play just what an effective frontman this legendary Italian certainly proved to be.

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