When Gazzetta Dello Sport interviewed Angelo Peruzzi in 2015 he was fishing in Blera, Lazio. This small town is his birthplace and it is where part of his goalkeeping training began. As a boy, he used to catch fish with his bare hands, waiting for them to be still before quickly grabbing one out of the water. This zen-like image resembles an Etruscan version of the Karate Kid rather than that of ‘Tyson’, the explosive custodian who would terrorise his opponents in later years.
Peruzzi doesn’t look like a goalkeeper that you would see today and even in his playing days he didn’t look like a man who was born to play in his position. At 5’11” he was arguably too small and his stocky physique made him look more like a boxer than a man playing in goal. His build however, was only part of the reason he earned the nickname ‘Tyson’; the rest was down to the explosive abilities that allowed him to be not only one of the greatest goalkeepers of his generation, but arguably one of the finest of all time.
Things nearly didn’t work out at all for him in football, as his early career saw him banned for a year in 1990 for doping. He had played 13 times for Roma and was showing promise but whilst on loan at Hellas Verona he was found to be using an appetite suppressant which contained the banned substance Phentermine. Peruzzi certainly regrets this when looking back. “It was the worst sh*t I have done in football, I was wrong to do it, I paid for it with a disqualification and they were absolutely right to give it to me,” he later reflected. “Only the President of Roma defended me at the time and I am grateful for that.”
The keeper soon moved to Juventus and was about to embark on the most successful periods of his career, but there is always a touch of the ‘What could have been in Rome?’. He would one day return to the capital, but not to the Giallorossi.
With Juventus, Peruzzi won three Serie A titles, one Coppa Italia, two Supercoppa Italiana’s, a UEFA Cup, a Champions League, a UEFA Super Cup and an Intercontinental Super Cup. He had the set; he’d completed the album; his work in Turin was done.
During this time his style of play became etched in the memories of all who watched him. His physique allowed him to muscle opposition forwards out of the way with consummate ease. On one-on-ones and crosses (he would always punch the ball), those who challenged him often came off the worse, but this did not mean that his frame made him slow. On the contrary, Peruzzi’s spring was remarkable. For a man of his size and height he would often out-jump opposition forwards and this was only the half of it.
Peruzzi’s reactions (maybe it was the fishing) transformed what on the outset was a rugged brute of a goalkeeper into one of the most graceful and finished articles in world football at the time. His detonation off the line and strength allowed him to gain the height and distance he needed to make use of his lightning-quick reflexes. This was why Juventus put so much faith in him at a time when they ruled Europe. This brought him to the attention of Inter, but after just one year with the Nerazzurri he decided to return to Rome.
His destination was Lazio as he crossed a line few ever dare to, but that his identity was so embedded in Turin somehow alleviated the hate. At Lazio, he would play some of the best football of his career. He had joined a Biancocelesti team who were champions and had an extremely strong squad and, as the light fell on his career, Peruzzi managed to win a Coppa Italia and a Supercoppa Italiana with the Roman team. He played in the Eternal City with Lazio for seven years, amassing just short of 200 appearances for the club. This really was his Indian summer and at times it seemed he was just getting better and better.
However, the dynamic nature of Peruzzi’s style eventually took its toll and in 2007, after a fitting 0-0 draw in the Derby della Capitale, he decided to call it a day. “I made this decision in January. Not only was this my last Rome derby but it could well be my last game in Serie A,” he announced. “I don’t believe I will play the remaining matches this season. I’ve already had to have an injection three times in one of my fingers because of a fracture. I can’t continue with them.” He did come on against Parma for a few minutes in the final home match of that season, but the curtain was now drawn on his career.
While Peruzzi can look back on a glittering career with immense pride, he will perhaps lament the fact that he only played 31 times for the Azzurri. In a career such as his, how can one possibly process that? With the medals he collected, how did he not feature more often? Playing in the same era as ‘Gigi’ Buffon and Francesco Toldo will perhaps do this to you and to this day, it is incredible to think how high the standard of goalkeeping was in Italy during this era. When Calcio Ruled the World, ‘Tyson’ was knocking out his opponents and in turn, always raising the bar.
Words by Richard Hall: @Gentleman_Ultra
Richard is the founder of The Gentleman Ultra and an Italian Football Writer contributing to @Guardian_sport, @FootballItalia, @CmdotCom, @SiriusXMFC and beINSPORTUSA