Giuseppe Bergomi is a monument of the game. Able to slot into any position at the back and perform to the same high standards, he was a giant of the defensive arts and a leader of men, who contested four FIFA World Cups™ between 1982 and 1998 and lifted the Trophy at Spain 1982.
Nicknamed Lo Zio (The Uncle), he was a model of loyalty in the club realm, spending his entire career at Inter Milan and making a total of 758 appearances for the San Siro outfit, including 519 in Serie A and 117 in Europe. He was also renowned for his longevity, and after making his international debut on 14 April 1982 went on to collect 82 caps, scoring six goals, before bowing out as Italy exited France 1998 at the quarter-final stage.
Since hanging up his boots, he has worked as a television commentator in Italy, where his expert reading of the game is held in high regard. Speaking to FIFA.com, he gave his thoughts on South Africa 2010 while also looking back at his formidable career.
FIFA.com: What have you made of the organisation and infrastructure of this first FIFA World Cup to be held in Africa?
Giuseppe Bergomi: It's been a pleasant surprise. The lessons of the Confederations Cup have been learned and there haven't been any problems. It's been a good World Cup.
What about the games themselves?
There weren't any great matches in the group stage, but I really enjoyed Brazil-Chile in the last 16. The knockout games are going to be more spectacular. I've also enjoyed the football played by Uruguay, who have changed their style. In general, the South American teams have stood out the most.
Why do you think European sides have had trouble expressing themselves so far from home?
There could be several factors: it's winter in South Africa and teams also have to adapt to the altitude. In addition, the European season was long. There's no doubt that the South American sides have better adapted to the climate. Their qualification system with just one group is more competitive in the sense that there are no small teams. Beyond that, I don't have any explanations as to why the majority of European teams have had difficulties. But let's not forget that the World Cup isn't over yet.
Have any teams impressed you in particular?
Aside from the ones I've already mentioned, I've really liked Germany. After a few tough years, they have a young team who play football very well.
What are your thoughts on Italy's disappointing campaign?
Paradoxically, we were drawn in a group that was said to be too easy, which gave us the impression that we could always claw our way back. I didn't expect such a debacle, though, and it was undoubtedly the worst in our history. I thought we'd reach the quarter-finals at least.
Was Italy's defence to blame?
It's not just a question of the defence. Certain decisions were made that didn't work out. The team was too old. We now need to rebuild.
Which player has stood out for you the most since the start of the tournament?
Without doubt, I'd have to say the Uruguay forward, Luis Suarez. I saw him play for Ajax, but I didn't think he was capable of raising his game like he has.
As a former defender, which team's rearguard have you been most struck by?
Brazil's without doubt. With Lucio and Juan in the middle – not to mention the players on the bench – and Maicon and Michel Bastos on the flanks, they have talent and compatibility to spare.
Who do you think will go on to win the competition?
I don't think individuals will make the difference. Among the favourites that everyone knows, I think the team that's able to balance going forward with the need to defend will lift the Trophy.
It would take too long to recite your entire list of honours, but you were memorably called up by Cesare Maldini for France 1998 at the age of 34, seven years on from your previous cap. Do you think that would be possible today?
I don't think so. It's practically impossible. The game is quicker and training methods have changed a lot, but it's true that it also depends on the trust that a coach might put in you.
What have you been doing since you retired as a player in 1999?
I do commentary on matches for television. It's something I've enjoyed doing a lot, especially when Italy won in 2006. I also trained the youth players at Inter in 2008, and since last season I've been looking after the students at the Monza football school.
You contested four FIFA World Cups. What is your favourite memory of the competition?
It's 1982, of course, because we won it. But I still have emotional memories of 1990, when we were hosts and I wore the captain's armband. Diego Maradona spoilt the party for us, though [Argentina won their semi-final 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw].
You played alongside and against several different generations of footballers. Which player impressed you the most?
In sporting terms, Marco van Basten – without question. He was the most intelligent player and the most difficult to mark. As for my team-mates at Inter, Lothar Matthaus, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Ronaldo.
Who was the best defender you encountered?
He was at Milan, but not with the right team. I think that Paolo Maldini was an exceptional player. I had the fortune of playing with him for La Nazionale and against him during Milan derbies, so I know what I'm talking about.