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  • Writer's pictureSimon Basten

Manager Series: Dino Zoff

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Dino Zoff is an untouchable icon of Italian football. A symbol of Italian 1970s soccer, he represents an end of an era, the pre-super professional football of today. He is considered one the greatest goalkeepers of all time. He was Lazio's manager from 1990 to 1994, January to June 1997 and in 2001.

Born in Mariano del Friuli on February 28 1942, he started playing football in the youth teams of his hometown but at an early age moved to Udinese where he debuted in Serie A on September 24 1961. An unlucky debut since Udinese lost 5-2 to Fiorentina and things did not get much better in the following years with the Bianconeri in Serie B. At the end of the season he was sold to Mantova where in four years he did very well.

In 1967 he signed with Napoli and stayed there for five years. During his stay he set two records: in 1970-71 Napoli conceded only 18 goals in 30 games and kept a clean sheet for the first six games. He ended his experience in Naples in 1972 after having lost the Coppa Italia final to Milan.

Napoli needed a generational change so they thought it was time to put the 30 year old goalkeeper up for sale.

Zoff signed for Juventus and became an icon of Italian football. He played 11 seasons for the Bianconeri and never missed a game in Serie A. He won 6 scudettos, the Coppa Italia twice and a UEFA Cup. His last game was the European Cup Final lost to SV Hamburg. There were still two games to play, the two legs of the Coppa Italia final, but Dino, who had communicated that he was going to retire, asked the club that his deputy play the finals.

He established a number of records in his stay in Turin: unbeaten for 903 minutes (a record later beaten by Sebastiano Rossi and Gianluigi Buffon), oldest Serie A player (beaten by Marco Ballotta), highest number of Serie A matches (later beaten by 5 players), most consecutive games in Serie A (332, unbeaten).

Curiously, at Juventus he was trained by Lucidio Sentimenti IV, Lazio’s legendary goalkeeper.


Dino Zoff played his first match for his country on April 4, 1968 in the Euro 1968 qualifications against Bulgaria. He did so well that Manager Ferruccio Valcareggi confirmed him for the final phase. Italy went on to win the trophy.

He played most of the qualification games for the 1970 Mexican World Cup but Valacareggi chose Enrico Albertosi for the final phase. Zoff was on the bench for the whole tournament. The hierarchy changed in 1971 and Zoff became the Nazionale goalkeeper. He holds a record for national teams: he was unbeaten for 1142 minutes, from Italy-Yugoslavia in 1972 to Haiti-Italy in 1974.

He played his second World Cup in Argentina in 1978 where Italy came fourth. Zoff was harshly criticised for the goals Italy conceded against the Netherlands and in the 3rd-4th final against Brazil. The media attacked Zoff: “time to wear spectacles”, “too old”, “time for a change”. A criticism that would continue until Italy-Brazil in Barcelona in the Spanish World Cup 1982.

Brazil were considered unbeatable. They had Zico, Socrates, Junior, Eder, Paulo Roberto Falcao, Toninho Cerezo. They had scored loads of goals in the group stage and had beaten Argentina 3-1 in the first match of the second group stage. They were clear favourites.

Italy had just scraped through the first phase with three draws and playing terribly. The Italian media had massacred the Nazionale. It seemed like it was a competition on who could be nastier. The limit, according to the players, was reached with the alleged love affair between Paolo Rossi and Antonio Cabrini. At that point, the players stopped speaking to the media. Only Dino Zoff, since he was skipper, was “allowed” to speak to the journalists. Italy beat Argentina 2-1, which meant that they had to beat Brazil to reach the semi-final.

The game was epic. Paolo Rossi, in terrible physical conditions following the 2 year ban for his alleged involvement in the match fixing scandal of 1980, suddenly showed some form and Italy went up 1-0 early on. Socrates equalised, but Rossi scored again and at half time Italy were leading 2-1. Brazil managed to equalise in the second half, but Rossi was back big time and scored yet again. Brazil, stunned, attacked, and in the dying minutes of the game, Zoff made a fundamental save and Italy were through. They would go on to win the World Cup and Zoff was handed the trophy.

A win that made Dino a legend.

A photograph of Enzo Bearzot, the Italy manager, alongside President Sandro Pertini who had made the trip to see the final, Zoff and the “Baron” Franco Causio, playing cards on the presidential plane returning from Spain with the World Cup trophy on the table, which has become one of the most iconic images in Italian popular culture.

Source Wikipedia


After having stopped playing, Zoff started his managerial career. First he was goalkeeper coach for Juventus in 1983-84 and then selector for the Italian Olympic Team from 1986 to 1988. In 1988 he was called to be manager for Juventus.

He was manager for the Bianconeri for two seasons. The first, anonymous, the club came fourth. His second was triumphant and Juve won both the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup. But Juventus wanted a massive change in direction and Zoff was not confirmed.


Lazio President Gianmarco Calleri had ambition. He had become president in the famous -9 season, saw Lazio reach Serie A after three years, and avoid relegation in the first year. In the second year he hoped Lazio would be much higher up and maybe reach a qualification for a European competition. But with a very conservative manager like Giuseppe Materazzi, nicknamed “mister 0-0” by the media and fans, that was going to be difficult. Since Zoff was available, Calleri thought that the signing of an Italian football legend would give Lazio that extra winning mentality as well as give the club more international prestige. So Zoff signed for Lazio and became their manager.

Source Wikipedia

The first year was not good (19 draws!). The second was awful. Third year OK, thanks to the introduction of better players. This was the main problem with Zoff. Tactically speaking Lazio were practically non-existent. He gave a few indications and then left it up to the players. The better the team, the better the results. Lazio changed hands and Sergio Cragnotti, who liked Zoff, invested a lot of money in players. In Zoff’s third year Lazio finally managed to qualify for the following season’s UEFA Cup and Cragnotti was happy. Zoff’s fourth year as manager followed the same pattern as the previous season and Lazio qualified again for a European competition. But Cragnotti wanted more. He wanted to win and play great football. He called Zdenek Zeman to be manager. What to do with Zoff? Lazio could not afford to let the legend go, so Cragnotti, with great intuition, promoted Zoff to President of the club. It was a great political move and also allowed Lazio to have a safety net in case Zeman did not do well.

This was exactly what happened in 1997. Zeman’s reign had come to an end and Cragnotti replaced him with Dino. Zoff steered Lazio from 12th place to fourth. At the end of the season, with Cragnotti having chosen Sven Goran Eriksson as Lazio’s new manager, he went back to being President.

Nazionale again

It was clear that Dino Zoff wanted to be in charge of the Nazionale and the opportunity came after the 1998 World Cup. He replaced Cesare Maldini and prepared the Azzurri for the EURO 2000 qualification. That was achieved with relative ease. In the Netherlands and Belgium, Italy did very well reaching the final and losing only following a golden goal. They were actually winning the match until the last minutes but at the last gasp France equalised and then won in extratime.

After the game Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian Prime Minister and Milan President, harshly criticised Zoff, calling him “unworthy”. Dino as a consequence resigned.

Back at Lazio

In 2000 Lazio won the scudetto. In the winter of that year Eriksson announced that he was going to be full time manager of England at the end of the 2000-01 season. Lazio had not started the season too badly but from then on the team were clearly in difficulty. In January, after losing at home against Napoli 2-1, Eriksson resigned and Dino Zoff was named new manager. Like he did in 1997 he sailed the Lazio ship to a strong position and the Biancocelesti ended in third place. He was confirmed as manager.

The 2001-02 season started badly. In August Lazio had a Champions League playoff with FC Copenhagen. The first leg should have been a warning since Lazio, although dominant for most of the match, had thrown away a victory due to a penalty and an Angelo Peruzzi mistake. However the return leg had settled everything and Lazio went through, even though they were not playing well.

It was really no surprise. During the summer Lazio had sold Sebastian Veron, Marcelo Salas and Pavel Nedved seemingly to cash in desperately needed money. However they also bought Gaizka Mendieta, considered one of the best players in the world at the time, and Jaap Stam, considered one of the best defenders.

The start was slow. Too slow. The team was unmotivated and badly prepared. Zoff had decided to go for a 3-5-2 squad, but the team was not right. The situation precipitated in the second Champions League match against Nantes. The 3-1 defeat at home was the final nail in the coffin for Zoff. He was replaced by Alberto Zaccheroni, former Udinese and Milan manager.

Dino Zoff was manager at Lazio for 202 games (176 in Serie A, 14 in Coppa Italia, 8 in Champions League and 4 in the UEFA Cup), second only to Simone Inzaghi (251).


In January 2005 he was called to replace Sergio Buso at Fiorentina. The Viola had just been promoted and were struggling in Serie A. As he usually did in these situations, he guided the club to safety. At the end of the season he retired.



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