Italian football legend Gigi Riva passed away on Monday at the age of 79. He had been hospitalised due to a heart attack on Sunday, sources confirmed.
Riva, renowned as Italy’s all-time leading goal scorer with 35 goals and the spearhead of Cagliari’s 1970 scudetto-winning team, initially seemed to be in stable condition at Cagliari’s Brotzu Hospital. Medical sources initially described the heart attack as minor, projecting a full recovery after a routine procedure.
Considered one of the greatest strikers of all time, Riva earned admiration for his remarkable scoring record, powered by his composure, powerful left foot, and aerial prowess. The great Italian journalist Gianni Brera nicknamed him “Rombo di Tuono” (Roar of Thunder) for his speed, strength, and goal-scoring instincts.
Sardinians cherished Riva for elevating their regional team against the football giants of Turin and Milan, steadfastly resisting tempting offers from wealthier clubs. In explaining his loyalty to Cagliari, he once expressed finding a sense of family after arriving in 1963.
On the international stage, Riva won the 1968 European Championship and was a runner-up at the 1970 World Cup. His 35 goals in 42 official appearances between 1965 and 1974 established him as Italy’s leading goal scorer.
After retiring in 1976, Riva briefly served as Cagliari’s president during the 1986-87 season. He later held roles as a senior managing official, players’ advisor, and ‘uncle’ with the national side until 2013.
Tributes to Gigi Riva
Italy’s goalkeeping great Dino Zoff expressed “infinite sadness” at losing a “very great friend” in Riva, highlighting their enduring friendship since their military service and their joint triumphs in the 1968 European Championships.
Former Italy and Cagliari keeper Enrico Albertosi, who spent many years with Riva, including the scudetto win and the 1970 World Cup, mourned the loss, stating he had “lost a brother.”
“I lose a brother, we spent many years together, we slept together with Cagliari and with the national team, I lose someone who was important to me,” Albertosi said. “Even today we spoke on the phone and I heard him well, I didn’t know he had heart problems.”
Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani bid farewell, saying, “May the earth lie lightly on you, champ. Bon voyage to heaven, Roar of Thunder,” using the iconic nickname coined by sports writer Gianni Brera. Premier Giorgia Meloni said, “”We lose a great sportsman who marked the history of football and of our national side,” she said.