Luigi Riva, also known as Gigi (born on November 7, 1944, in Leggiuno), is an Italian sports executive and former football player who played as a striker.
Considered one of the best Italian footballers of all time and one of the greatest forwards in the history of football, Riva began his career with Legnano but spent the majority of his playing career with Cagliari, where he played from 1963 to 1977, a total of 14 seasons. He still holds the all-time scoring record for Cagliari with 207 goals. In the 1969-70 season, he played a crucial role in helping Cagliari win their first and only Serie A championship, also becoming the top scorer of the tournament that season.
Even after retiring as a player, Riva remained closely associated with Cagliari. He briefly served as the club’s top executive in the 1986-87 season and has been the honorary president since 2019.
In 1999, the specialized magazine World Soccer ranked him 72nd among the best football players of the 20th century, and in 2011, he was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame as a Veteran.
With the Italian national team, for which he is still the all-time leading scorer with 35 goals in 42 appearances, Riva won the European Championship in 1968 and was the runner-up in the 1970 World Cup. From 1990 to 2013, he also served as the team manager for the national team.
Luigi Riva was born in Leggiuno, near Lake Maggiore, into a family with limited financial means. His mother Edis was a homemaker, and his father Ugo initially worked as a hairdresser and later as a tailor. When he was nine years old, tragedy struck as his father, while working at a local factory, was involved in a workplace accident on February 10, 1953. A piece of metal from a machine struck him in the stomach, passing through his body, resulting in his father’s tragic death.
His mother found work in a textile mill and supplemented her income by cleaning houses. Luigi, on the other hand, was sent to three different religious boarding schools far from home. He later recalled, “They were very strict, making us pray before giving us bread to eat… they humiliated us because we were poor, and so I ran away more than once.” After his mother also passed away from cancer, Luigi was raised by his older sister, Fausta (1938-2020).
Luigi Riva has two sons, Mauro and Nicola, who were raised in Sardinia.
On February 9, 2005, in the council chamber of the Municipality of Cagliari, Mayor Emilio Floris granted him honorary citizenship. That same evening, before Italy’s match against Russia at Sant’Elia Stadium, Cagliari retired the number eleven jersey forever. This jersey was presented to Riva by Rocco Sabato, the last player for Cagliari to wear it, in a ceremony attended by many players who had won the Serie A championship with him in the 1969-70 season.
Nicknamed the “Thunderous Diamond” by journalist Gianni Brera due to his remarkable shot power and prolific goal-scoring ability, Riva was one of the greatest forwards of his generation. According to Brera himself, he was the best forward in the world in the early 1970s, alongside fellow Italian Roberto Boninsegna.
As a natural left-footer who rarely used his right foot, Riva typically started on the left-wing before cutting inside to take shots at goal. He had a diverse skill set, being physically strong and quick off the mark. He was also adept at acrobatics and excelled in aerial play. Known for his tremendous competitive spirit, he often outpaced his direct opponents with his speed. However, he was less inclined towards intricate dribbling in tight spaces.