Mario Corso Dies at 79, Grande Inter Lose Another Piece

The Grande Inter – the almost-invincible Nerazzurri squad from the 1960s – lost another piece as unforgettable number 11 Mario Corso died on Friday aged 79.

Born in Verona, known as Mariolino (“Little Mario”) for his slender physique, Corso played 16 seasons for Inter – from 1957 to 1973 – before closing his career at Genoa, and became one of the most recognizable names in Helenio Herrera’s Inter lineup which dominated Italian football during the 1960 decade.

Corso was known for his trademark punizione a foglia morta (“dead leaf free-kick”), consisting of taking a free kick by hitting the ball on the inside of the foot to give it such an effect as to make it dip or curl at the last minute, taking most goalkeepers by surprise.

Some say that the true inventor of the foglia morta was Giuseppe Meazza, while Brazilian superstar Didi popularized the feat when using it in an International match between Brazil and Peru. But, to any Italian fan, the dead leaf free-kick would invariably be associated with Mario Corso and his amazing left foot.

In an age when players were associated with their number much more than today, Mario Corso was simply Inter's iconic, irreplaceable "Number 11"
In an age when players were associated with their number much more than today, Mario Corso was simply Inter’s iconic, irreplaceable “Number 11”

A left-winger, an offensive midfielder, Corso played in his own very special position – which mostly meant standing. Corso was not known for being a runner indeed, and some sources much more authoritative than us had affectionately nicknamed him “the past participle of the verb run” back in the days. It was a pun, as that is exactly what the meaning of “corso” is in Italian. The nickname was given to him by Gianni Brera, the most prominent Italian football journalist of all time.

Coach Helenio Herrera seemed to indulge in Corso’s inconsistency, leaving him free to do his thing, knowing that his unpredictability could change the tides of a game in no time. Others say, however, that Il Mago just couldn’t stand Mariolino and constantly tried to put him on the transfer list during every market session – only to be pushed back by President Angelo Moratti, who in turn had a true fondness for his number 11.

So much did Moratti admire Corso, that one unconfirmed story goes that he once gave away to him his brand-new Maserati just because Mariolino had asked him to take a ride on it – as the President knew how much Corso loved cars too.

Of course, Corso knew how to make himself forgiven for his lack of pace. With Inter, he won two European Cups and two Intercontinental Cups, as well as four Scudetto – including the most unexpected one in 1971, snatched from Milan when the Grande Inter’s epoch seemed already over. Corso netted 94 goals in 502 appearances with the Nerazzurri, mostly with his deadly left foot and many from the free-kick spot, obviously.

Later in his career, Mario Corso managed to enlarge his "goal-scoring repertoire" and also used his head
Later in his career, Mario Corso managed to enlarge his “goal-scoring repertoire” and also used his head

Massimo Moratti, the son of legendary President Angelo – and he himself a President of Inter – reported that Corso was “the only player whom Pele admittedly wanted to have in his Brazil.” However, Corso didn’t have much luck when it came to playing for the National side as he collected only 23 caps with the Azzurri, scoring 4 goals.

Two of those goals came between the 87th and the 90th minute in Italy’s 4-2 win over Israel in a World Cup 1962 Qualifiers, prompting opposition coach Gyula Mandi to sorrowfully comment that “we played well, but were beaten by God’s left-foot.” That’s another nickname that remained attached to Corso, a homage to that unpredictable, mischievous left foot of his and the inconceivable things it was capable of.

Contrasts with Italy coach Edmondo Fabbri, as well as his peculiar style of play, however, kept Mario Corso far from the Azzurri for most of his career and prevented him from making any World Cup appearance. Considering how bad Italy fared in the 1962 and 1966 editions, perhaps he might have deserved a chance.

After retiring, Corso had a short stint as a coach, answering President Ernesto Pellegrini’s call in 1986 to take the helm of the Nerazzurri when a players revolt allegedly overturned Ilario Castagner. But training was not his thing and, after leading the club to a 6th place in the table, he stepped down and eventually quit training in 1989.

His later, occasional appearances in the world of calcio, were as a TV commentator when he would offer his inside experience as a trueborn Nerazzurro. Tomorrow, Inter will honor the memory of their unforgettable Mariolino by wearing a black armband during their match with Sampdoria.