x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Giorgio Chinaglia was Italian football's first non-comformist

The former Lazio player and club president, who died last week, was a cult hero with fans, writes Ian Hawkey.

Giorgio Chinaglia was a popular figure as a player and official for Lazio.
Giorgio Chinaglia was a popular figure as a player and official for Lazio.

Italian football has welcomed back one of its genuine mavericks. Antonio Cassano, the AC Milan and Italy striker, is now cleared, following his heart operation, to play again.

Cassano has made some enemies in a career mixing moments of inspiration with causing his bosses frustration but the game will wish him well.

Meanwhile, another Italian oddball has been making the gossip columns in England with stories of Mario Balotelli's eccentric behaviour.

But calcio's community of nonconformists also lost one of its totems this week, with the death of Giorgio Chinaglia, at the age of 65.

Chinaglia was part of so many football adventures it is hard to know where to start. He was an intrepid traveller long before moving abroad became commonplace for good players.

Though born in Italy he began in the profession at Swansea City, his father having moved to Wales to seek work.

It was with Lazio that he became a star, the centre-forward whose goals led the club to their first ever scudetto, in 1974.

Had Cassano or Balotelli been in the Lazio dressing-room then, they would have appeared shy and withdrawn.

In his vivid book on one of the more intriguing eras in Serie A history, Guns and Balls, the author Guy Chiappaventi, describes a group of "madmen, emotional and wild, who carried guns and went parachuting for fun". They were also divided into rival clans.

An independent spirit like Chinaglia could thrive there but with Italy, he rebelled, involved in a fiery row with the national head coach at the Azzurri's disastrous World Cup campaign in West Germany in 1974 just after Lazio won the league.

Cliquey they may have been, but, together, Lazio's daredevils broke a stranglehold on the scudetto held at the time by the clubs of the north.

Fans never forgot them, which is how Chinaglia, the outspoken and bullish icon of the popular 1974 team, returned to become the club president in the early 1980s.

He nearly took the post again five years ago, though his campaign floundered amid allegations of financial impropriety.

By then Chinaglia lived in the United States, where he had moved initially to play for the New York Cosmos, alongside Pele and Franz Beckenbauer.

He always regarded himself as just as stellar as they were and scored freely for the glamorous Cosmos.

In the US, he later became an unlikely football statesman. In the light-blue half of Rome, he remains, forever, a larger-than-life legend.

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