When a player has the nickname ‘Rizzi-gol’, one would expect that his career would be littered with Capocannoniere titles and goal tallies that have taken years to beat. With Ruggiero Rizzitelli however, this wasn’t the case. Only one part of his career saw him exhibit the goal-scoring exploits that warrented such a nickname. Despite this, he is still fondly remembered by many who watched Serie A in the 1990s. His talents were not just confined to goal scoring and these abilities were recognised by coaches and his team mates. Throughout his career, his endeavors would help him earn a fortune that one day, he would contrive to lose in an instant.
In 1987, a well-built but reasonably small man (5ft 9”) made his debut for Cesena. Early reports of his career labelled him as rugged, fast, awkward and a powerful forward who boasted a thunderous shot. Not only did he have a powerful strike, but he was also an intelligent player and this soon brought him to the attentionof Roma. He had only scored seven goals in 67 games whilst in Emilia-Romagna and this return only slightly improved whilst playing for the Giallorossi as he netted 29 in 154 appearances.
It was in Rome however, that his qualities were on show for all to see. His adaptability and positional intelligence were instantly recognisable and this helped him form a brilliant partnership with the ‘Flying German’ Rudi Voller. It was Rizzitelli who enabled the German striker to be so devastating as he provided assists playing as a support striker, a winger or a partner. His never say die attitude and his maturity allowed him to sacrifice himself for the team and whilst this may have taken some time for the supporters to understand, he was the players and the coaches first name on the team sheet.
Torino came knocking and wanted to offer the technical but tough striker an opportunity to take centre stage. In truth, it is here that ‘Rizzi-gol’ seems to have been born, although Roma fans also still refer to him in this manner. In Turin, he scored a goal every other game and netted 30 in 60 appearances. Between 1994-96, this Granata team arguably under achieved as the striker did not manage to win any honours despite playing with the likes of Jocelyn Angloma, Andrea Silenzi, Enrico Annoni and the incredible Abedi Pele amongst others.
Rizzitelli’s determination and understanding of his role only increased at Toro and his leadership skills ensured he was made club captain. In 1995, in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, his maturity was noted and also acted as an insight into his character. His team were due to play the great Milan side of the that era and he was not a man who was going to let his team’s plight influence his mind set. He believed his side could take a point from Milan: "I prefer to put on a poor show, play badly and take a point rather than play well, provide entertainment and lose. I wouldn't like to think that we set off for Milan already beaten."
His performances at Toro earned him an opportunity to move abroad to Bayern Munich. This team were a far cry from the machine that often dominates the modern Bundesliga, but they were still a proposition that had been interesting enough to tempt Giovanni Trapattoni to Bavaria from the world’s best league at the time.
Despite starting his Bayern career by coming off the bench on many occasions, his workman like ethic and utilitarianism made him a fan favourite once again. In addition to the Coppa Italia he had won in Rome, he also picked up a Bundesliga title, a DFB-Pokal (German Cup) title and a DFB-Ligapokal (League Cup) title. His career ended in Italy with Cesena in 2001, but whilst his time in Turin was arguably his best in terms of his individual performances, his German expedition earned him silverware and a handsome wage.
Often, when talking about players of this ilk, they remain inconspicuous until they are called upon to talk about an upcoming game or appear on a football show in the media. Ideally, ‘Rizzi-gol’ would have made such an appearance before the Turin Derby, nostalgically recalling the 1994-95 season when Torino completed the double over the Bianconeri, including a 3-2 victory in which Rizzitelli and Gianluca Vialli hit braces respectively, before Jocelyn Angloma netted the winner. Sadly, this would not be the case and Rizzitelli re-entered the public’s consciousness in controversial circumstances.
This controversy was first brought to attention in 2011, when the Maltese authorities along with those in other jurisdictions such as the UK, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Jersey, the Virgin Islands and Bahamas received a special request from Italian investigators. They were looking for what was labelled the ‘treasure’. This was huge a scam that had targeted the wealthy elite in Rome. The Italian media called the scam ‘Il Madoff dei Parioli’, deriving from the name of US fraudster Bernie Madoff and the chic northern district of Rome (Parioli) near Via Veneto.
A rich entrepreneur called Gianfranco Lande was considered to be behind the scam and was arrested and promptly put in the Regina Coeli prison in Rome. He wasn’t alone and four administrators of his fund were also but behind bars. The task facing the investigators was enormous as they would have to examine all deals done by Lande over the past 15 years, a task that may never have seen all the detail come to light.
During these years, Lande had business dealings with 1,300 clients, including some well-known names in Italy. The deals were made through the complicity of Carispaq or the foreign banks. They were made by Lande’s companies, Eim (formerly Egp) and looked to be worth in the region of €300 million. The investigators spoke at the time of huge sums of money that disappeared and thus suspected a huge money-laundering machine to be behind the deals.
Among the famous names the investigators found in the office of Roberto Torregiani, (Lande’s right-hand man) were the actress Sabina Guzzanti, who invested first €275.177 and then €31,434 at a later date; her sister and actress Caterina Guzzanti, who lost €88.121; Roma goalkeeper Donieber Marangon, who invested €49.785; and our man Ruggiero Rizzitelli, who bought shares in Blue Water and Eim Bahamas worth €4.895 million.
The money was deposited in a Swiss financial institution (how original). But when only €6 million was recuperated, brothers Paolo and Giuseppe Piromalli, as well as Antonio Coppola – all part of the notorious Calabrian mafia (the ‘ndrangheta' clan) – began threatening Lande and he ran to the police. This sparked the turmoil.
Rizzitelli and others then also faced investigations. This was because the sums they invested did not figure in their income tax returns. Desperate and shocked, the former Azzurri international said:
Between 1989 and 2000 I invested about 3 million Euros, all I have gained in my entire career as a footballer. I just have nothing left, only a small amount. Roberto [Torregiani] reassured me, I trusted him. It was a family person, we went on holiday together, was also the godfather of my daughter
It was a sad end for a man who was industrious, certainly not work shy and most of all intelligent. He was talented also, admittedly not on the levels of the era’s most illustrious forwards such as Roberto Mancini, Marco Van Basten or Gianluca Vialli, but he fought hard for what he had.
Ironically, on the football field, Rizzitelli’s selflessness and sacrifice was his greatest strength and he rarely let his team down. He was loved for this but in his later years, he lost everything as he once again tried to better himself. This time he trusted in others. Unfortunately, they did not pay him back as he would have them.
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