Inter defender Tarcisio Burgnich, the timeless “number two” of the Nerazzurri lineup across the 1960s, passed away on Wednesday at 82 years of age. A master of the Italian art of no-nonsense defending, he was known as “The Rock” and his very name sounded granitic and impassable, a shrill jumble of letters very unusual for the musicality of Italian language.
Born in the Northeastern Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia – a land of many other footballing legends such as Dino Zoff – he became a pillar of the Grande Inter that collected trophies across the Serie A and Europe under Helenio Herrera’s guidance.
In an iconic squad that is continuing to lose its pieces – Peirò, Corso, Bellugi – he was the last man standing from their invincible defensive triangle also made by goalkeeper Giuliano Sarti and left back Giacinto Facchetti.
Burgnich won four Scudettos, two Europeans Cups and two Intercontinental Cups across a career at Inter spanning from 1962 to 1974. But he also won a title as a youngster with Juventus before joining the Beneamata. He closed his career at Napoli.
With the Azzurri, he won the 1968 European Championship and was runner-up at World Cup 1970. He collected 66 caps for Italy and scored 2 goals – including a majorly important one in the history of the Italian selection.
Burgnich made it to the scorecard in the iconic Italy-West Germany Semi Final at World Cup 1970, the one the Azzurri won 4-3 and that everybody in the Belpaese just calls Italia-Germania-quattro-a-tre, all in one word. With Italy trailing 1-2 during extra time, Burgnich scored the second goal to give his side a new hope.
Gianni Rivera whipped a free kick in the box, German midfielder Sigfried Held blocked the ball with his chest but didn’t manage to control it and the Inter rock-solid defender pounced on it to push it past Sepp Maier.
In the Final, he was tasked with controlling a certain Pele. He did what he could, but O Rei was unmarkable and his jump over poor Burgnich to head the ball home and draw first blood for the Brazilians is another iconic image from the Mexican World Cup.
After hanging his boots, Tarcisio Burgnich had an average career as a coach in the Italian Provincia but never made a name for himself in the dugout. He was also an Inter scout for a short time, before leaving the world of football.
He lived his last years in silence and off the radar. Just like he used to do as a player. Unless he decided to score a goal in a World Cup Semi Final, you would hardly notice that Tarcisio Burgnich was on the pitch. But you would know that he was there, and that was enough to make you feel that you had your back covered.