Italy v Spain (Wembley Stadium)
Today sees the clash between two heavyweights of the footballing world, with a combined nine World Cup and Euro Championships between them. Despite their combined footballing pedigree, one of them will be heading for the door marked EXIT at the end of the game. Ahead of the Semi-Final fixture, here’s a round-up of five icons of each team whose autobiographies – either already published or which would be worth publishing – would make for a good read.
Gianluigi Buffon – The most capped player for The Azzurri with 176 appearances to his name – and the second-most capped European international – Buffon’s national career spanned some 21 years, in which time he won the World Cup in 2006 and the Golden Glove in the same year. He also has the most appearances for Italy as captain. Domestically, his senior career started in 1995 with Parma, before a 17-year spell, comprising 509 appearances for Juventus, followed by a short spell at PSG before he returned to The Old Lady in 2019. Buffon won a host of awards, just missing out on the Ballon d’Or in 2006, and holds a multitude of records, including most appearances in Serie A and most minutes played for Juventus – his 61,412 minutes for the club equating to some 1,023 hours or 42 days! His autobiography, Numero 1, was published in Italian in 2009, but surely it’s time for an update.
Fabio Cannavaro – Italy has always been blessed with enviable defensive talent – Baresi, Maldini, Nesta, as well as the current crop of Bonucci, Chiellini, Spinazzola and Di Lorenzo, but it was Fabio Cannavaro who captained The Azzurri to their first World Cup triumph in almost a quarter of a century. The centre-back represented his nation across thirteen years, notching up some 136 caps, having already won consecutive European U21 championships in 1994 and 1996. He featured for Italy at four World Cups, two Euros, an Olympics and a Confederations Cup. His domestic career took in Napoli, Parma, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid and he won the 2006 Ballon d’Or. His book – La Nostra Bambina – was published in Italian in 2016.
Andrea Pirlo – Few players enter the football psyche quite like midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo. Starting out at Brescia, his career took him to three of Italian football’s biggest hitters, in Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus, where he did the clean sweep of Serie A, Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italia, Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup. His national career saw him appear at every age range from U15 through to the senior team, for which he made 116 appearances and scored 13 goals and was intrinsic to the 2006 World Cup triumph. He was man of the match in the World Cup Final and finished as the top assist maker in the tournament. His book, I Think, Therefore I Play, was published in 2014.
Gianluca Vialli – The Premier League has welcomed over 70 Italian players since its inception in 1992, including the likes of Dino Baggio, Massimo Maccarone and Fabrizio Ravenelli, but amongst the greatest imports is one Gianluca Vialli, who called Chelsea his home for three years, making 58 appearances and scoring 21 goals. Prior to his move to England, Vialli had represented Cremonese, Sampdoria and Juventus and is the only forward to have won the three main European competitions. He made 59 appearances for The Azzurri across seven years and scored 16 goals, and although there are perhaps more prolific and significant Italian strikers in the likes of Rossi, Baggio et al, Vialli’s health struggles in recent times make his book Goals – published in May – an important read. A previous autobiography, The Italian Job, is also available, whilst La Bella Stagione by Vialli and Roberto Mancini was published in Italian earlier this year.
Mario Balotelli – Mario Balotelli may not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of Italian strikers, but let’s be honest, if there is any footballer with a story to tell it’s surely this former Man City maverick. His stats for Italy are fairly impressive, with some 14 goals in only 36 appearances, in which time he featured at Euro 2012, the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup and, interestingly, he is both the Azzurri’s joint top scorer in the European Championship and Confederations Cup. In his domestic career, Balotelli has played in three of Europe’s biggest leagues, as well as representing two of English football’s biggest hitters in Manchester City and Liverpool. Whilst an autobiography is yet to be published, if you’re looking for something to fill the void, Francesco Totti is not a bad replacement and his book, Gladiator, is slated for publication in English in September.
Iker Casillas – With 167 caps to his name across a 16-year stint, Iker Casillas is the second most capped player in Spain’s history and amongst the most iconic goalkeepers of a generation. Representing La Roja at U15 level all the way through to the senior team, he captained the side at the 2010 World Cup, where he led them to their first ever World Cup triumph, picking up the Yashin Award for best goalkeeper en route. He picked up two European Championship wins in 2008 and 2012, whilst at club level he won all major trophies in almost two decades at Real Madrid. With 1,119 appearances in his career, he is one of only some 32 players to have played over 1,000 times and has the record for the most clean sheets in the Champions League. No autobiography has yet been published but would be on the list for any football fans.
Sergio Ramos – Despite being dropped from the Euro 2020 squad, Sergio Ramos remains the most capped Spanish player of all time, with 180 caps to his name, and 23 goals, and was the youngest Spanish player to reach 100 caps. Representing La Roja at four World Cups and three Euros, he has won one World Cup and two Euros trophies. Whilst his domestic career started at Sevilla, Ramos became a figurehead at Real Madrid, where he played some 469 games across a 16-year spell, winning five La Liga titles, two Copa del Reys, four Supercopa de Espana, four Champions Leagues, three Super Cups and four Club World Cups. Having been surprisingly let go from Madrid this summer, his future is yet to be determined, but perhaps a move to the Premier League could prove his swansong and add a nice chapter to a potential autobiography.
Santi Cazorla – It’s practically impossible to choose between the incredible midfielders that Spain have been endowed with in the last decade alone. Where do you start in separating the likes of Xavi, Fabregas, David Silva, Xabi Alonso, Juan Mata… But when it comes to personality to match their talent, Santi Cazorla is perhaps in a league of his own. Despite competing against these Spanish heavyweights, Cazorla achieved 81 caps for La Roja, scoring 15 times and was Spain’s Player of the Year in 2007. His domestic career took in Villareal, Recreativo Huelva and Malaga in Spain, but he made his name in the Premier League in a six-year spell at Arsenal, where he faced a career-threatening injury. Whilst Juan Mata is the only one of these midfield options to have an autobiography to his name (Suddenly a Footballer), Cazorla et al are surely each worthy of their own tomes.
Andres Iniesta – One man missing from that midfield list is none other than Andres Iniesta – a player who won La Liga’s Best Spanish player in 2009, was five times La Liga’s Best Midfielder, featured in nine consecutive FIFA FIFPro World11’s, six UEFA Teams of the Year, the 2010 FIFA World Cup Dream Team, won UEFA’s Best Player in Europe Award in 2012 and the Euro Player of the Tournament in the same year… you get the drift. With Spain, Iniesta won the World Cup and two Euros, being named man of the match in the 2010 World Cup Final and the Euro 2012 Final, and notched 131 caps for La Roja, scoring 13 goals across a 12-year spell. His domestic career was spent predominantly at Barcelona, where he made 442 appearances, and won 35 trophies, including two trebles, in 2009 and 2015. His autobiography, aptly named The Artist, was published in English in 2016.
Diego Costa – While Raul and Fernando Torres may take the accolades as Spain’s top strikers in recent years, the mercurial Diego Costa is an autobiography dream. His international appearances may have been limited to only 24, but he managed 10 goals in that time. Meanwhile, his domestic career has seen him traverse Portugal, Spain and England, moving from Braga to Atletico Madrid to Valladolid, back to Atletico, before heading to Chelsea, and returning once more to Atleti. Despite his nomadic career, he’s racked up two La Liga triumphs, a Copa del Rey, Europa League success, three Super Cups, as well as two Premier League titles and a Football League Cup, and interest (and controversy) has followed him along the way. Fran Guillen’s book, Diego Costa: The Art of War, perhaps sums up the image of the man, but it would be fascinating to get a more personal insight into his character. And in terms of a head-to-head, it doesn’t get much better than him and Balotelli.