The world of calcio lost another giant as former Milan striker Pierino Prati died at 73 today. Just a few days after Mario Corso, another iconic player from the 1960s left this world, taking away a good share of sweet memories from the most aged football fans.
Piero Prati – Pierino for his friends – played with the Rossoneri from 1966 to 1973 before moving to Roma and Fiorentina, but his name remained mostly tied with Milan, whose youth academy he was a product of.
In an age dominated by Inter, Prati was one of Milan’s answers to the Nerazzurri predominance and went down in history as the first player to have ever scored a hat-trick in a European Cup Final. It happened in 1969 when the Rossoneri clinched the European throne for the second time by annihilating Ajax and young Johann Cruijff 4-1 in the Final at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Before that, Prati had led Milan to win the Scudetto the previous season, netting 22 goals out of 38 games in the process. In a team led by charismatic coach Nereo Rocco and directed on the pitch by the more famous Gianni Rivera, Prati was the offensive terminal of a rising Rossoneri squad who would also conquer a Cup Winners’ Cup in the same campaign, beating Hamburg 2-0.
Pierino Prati’s accolades at Milan also include two Coppa Italia, a second Cup Winners’ Cup won in 1972 but, moreover, the 1969 Intercontinental Cup conquered in Buenos Aires against Estudiantes La Plata – one of the most hard-earned trophies in Milan’s cabinet. In an age when the Cup was disputed with a home / away format, the Rossoneri trampled Estudiantes 3-0 in the first leg at the San Siro.
The second game at La Bombonera, however, turned into a real manhunt before and during the game, with the Rossoneri intimidated and battered by local fans and even players. As Prati himself suffered a blow to the head, Estudiantes managed to win only by 2-1, leaving the Intercontinental Cup to Milan.
Prati’s adventure with the Rossoneri ended with 102 goals in 209 games. After moving to Rome, he played four seasons with the Giallorossi, scoring 41 goals in 101 games. He would eventually move to Fiorentina, but his experience in the Viola was short and unremarkable. His next stop was Serie C2 club Savona, where he would spend his last two seasons as a professional – except for a short stint with U.S. side Rochester Lancers in one of the many leagues in the fragmented U.S. football landscape back in the 1970s.
Pierino Prati was also part of the Azzurri squad that won the 1968 European Championship. He was a starter in the “first Final” against Yugoslavia but, as the game ended 1-1, he was not confirmed by coach Ferruccio Valcareggi in the re-match needed to assign the title (there were no penalty shootouts back then…).
At World Cup 1970 in Mexico, Prati didn’t make it to the initial squad but was hastily called by Valcareggi due to Pietro Anastasi’s injury. He would, however, never set foot on the pitch as he was closed by the likes of Gigi Riva.
Fair enough, anyway. Pierino Prati did have his share of glory and silverware, despite having fallen off the football radar in recent years. A Rossoneri affectionate until the end of his days, his name will forever be linked to that night in 1969 at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, and his unforgettable hat-trick scored against no less than Johann Cruijff.