Walter Zenga is a retired Italian footballer and current football manager. He was a long-time goalkeeper for Internazionale and the Italian national team. He also holds Romanian citizenship. During his playing career, Zenga was part of the Italian squad that finished fourth at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, United States and was starting goalkeeper for the Azzurri team that finished third in the 1990 FIFA World Cup tournament held in Italy, keeping a World Cup record unbeaten streak. A three-time winner of the IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper Award, Zenga is regarded by pundits as one of the best goalkeepers of all time, and in 2013 was voted the eighth best goalkeeper of the past quarter-century by IFFHS. In 2000, he also placed 20th in the World Keeper of the Century Elections by the same organization. After retiring as a player, Zenga briefly became an actor in an Italian soap opera and also a pundit on Italian TV. He has since became a well travelled head coach and has managed clubs in USA, Italy, Turkey, Romania, Serbia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and England.
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An aggressive and athletic goalkeeper, Zenga was nicknamed Deltaplano (“Hang glider”) due to his shot-stopping abilities, explosive reactions, bravery, and in particular for his speed and agility, which enabled him to produce spectacular saves. Despite his reputation, the media was often critical of Zenga’s penalty-saving record throughout his career, although he stopped penalties against notable specialists, such as Roberto Baggio, Paul Merson, and Michel Platini; he was also criticised by pundits for his unsteady performances when coming out to claim crosses, and performed best between the posts. In addition to his goalkeeping ability, Zenga was also known for his temper and flamboyant celebrations as a footballer. His other nickname, L’Uomo Ragno (“Spider-Man”), is not related to his goalkeeping skills, but rather to a curious circumstance: in 1992, while answering questions about his exclusion from the Italian national team, Zenga softly sang a song by the Italian band 883, called Hanno ucciso l’Uomo Ragno (“Someone killed Spider-Man”), which led pundits and supporters to call him like the Marvel Comics character. Zenga was capped 58 times for the Italy national football team. After featuring in the country’s squads at the 1984 Olympics and the 1986 FIFA World Cup, Zenga became the starter during the 1988 UEFA European Championships. Zenga remained first choice goalkeeper when Italy hosted the World Cup in 1990, and led the team to a third-place finish during which he set a record of five consecutive clean sheets, and a total of 518 minutes without conceding a goal, a record still standing.
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Zenga joined Inter Milan in 1982, after starting his professional career in 1978 in the lower divisions of Italian football (his first team was Salernitana in Serie C1, and he also played for Savona and Sambenedettese). Initially (in the 1982–83 season) he was the substitute of Ivano Bordon, who was one of the top Italian goalkeepers of his era, as he had been Dino Zoff’s reserve in the 1982 FIFA World Cup. However, Zenga played Inter’s matches in the Coppa Italia, impressing enough that the club decided not to buy another goalkeeper after Bordon’s decision to move to Sampdoria during the summer of 1983. Zenga became Inter’s starting goalkeeper in the 1983–84 season, where he conceded only 23 goals, better than any other goalkeeper in that season. The next season would prove to be bittersweet for Zenga: although he continued to play excellently, he didn’t manage to win any trophies. In Italy, Inter was the main rival of Hellas Verona who won the first (and to these days only) Scudetto of its history in 1985, while in Europe he had to suffer two bitter and quite controversial defeats at the hands of Spanish giants Real Madrid, both times in the UEFA Cup semi-finals. However, personal success was growing: he became a fan favourite due to his qualities and his love for the team, his fame was now nationwide thanks to his larger than life personality and he quickly established himself as one of the premier goalkeepers of the country. He was included in Enzo Bearzot’s 22-man Italy squad for the 1986 World Cup. Initially the third goalkeeper behind Fiorentina’s Giovanni Galli and Roma’s Franco Tancredi, his name was taken in consideration by Bearzot before the match against the Michel Platini-led France due to the poor performances of Galli (who, in the end, played also against France). Apart from enjoying the selection for a World Cup, the summer of 1986 proved to be important for Zenga also at club level. In fact, Inter signed Giovanni Trapattoni, who left Juventus after a highly successful 10-year stint, to manage the team. Meanwhile, the trio formed by Zenga, Giuseppe Bergomi and Riccardo Ferri (goalkeeper-right full back-stopper) was becoming the cornerstone of the team and of the Italian team also. In the 1986–87 season. Inter closely fought Napoli for the Scudetto, finishing third despite a series of injuries which plagued the team in the final weeks of the season (among others, Marco Tardelli, Alessandro Altobelli and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had to watch the final matches from the bench). However, Zenga imposed himself as the best goalkeeper in Italy, finishing the 30 matches-long season conceding only 17 goals and by being picked by new Italy’s manager Azeglio Vicini as the starter in the goalkeeping position. The next season would prove to be disappointing for Inter and Zenga: the team struggled all the season, due to lack of compatibility between the two main forwards (team’s captain Altobelli and the newly acquired Aldo Serena) and between the two offensive midfielders Gianfranco Matteoli and the Belgian Vincenzo Scifo. Plus Zenga, dissatisfied with the way the club was managed, decided to leave Inter and join the then dominant Napoli. However, the move didn’t materialize and Zenga remained with Inter. The highlight of the season for Zenga was the participation in the 1988 UEFA European Championships, where he played all four of Italy’s matches (a 1–1 draw against West Germany, a 1–0 victory over Spain, and a 2–0 win over Denmark in the group stage matches, and a 0–2 loss against the Soviet Union in the semi-final). Here again Zenga was at the centre of controversy: in the first match against West Germany he conceded a free kick inside the penalty area due to having made too many steps while carrying the ball in his hands (an infringement rarely penalised). Andreas Brehme, who would become Zenga’s teammate at Inter only a few months later, scored from the resulting free kick to tie the game for West Germany. However, the next season would prove to be one of the best for Inter and Zenga. The team, reinvigorated by the acquisitions of the young Italians Alessandro Bianchi and Nicola Berti, the Germans Andreas Brehme and Lothar Matthäus from Bayern Munich and the Argentine Ramón Díaz dominated the season, winning the league title with a record haul of 58 points and breaking several other records during the year. Such a performance is even more impressive if the whole quality of the tournament is taken in consideration: in second position there was the Diego Maradona-led Napoli and in third position the star-studded and future European champion Milan. Zenga ended the season conceding only 19 goals, the best goalkeeper again in that respect. The 1989–90 and 1990–91 seasons proved to be bittersweet for Inter: although the team remained a title contender, it didn’t manage to take another success on home soil, except for the victory in the Supercoppa Italiana played in November 1989 against Sampdoria. The 1991 season turned up to be a close fight between Inter and Sampdoria, with the title decided in a match played in Milan, which Inter would lose 0–2 allowing Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini to win the league title. However, Inter won the UEFA Cup that year, defeating, among the others, Aston Villa, Atalanta and Sporting Clube de Portugal on the road to the final against A.S. Roma. Inter won the first match 2–0 and lost only 1–0 in Rome, achieving the first European success since the 1960s. After that match, manager Giovanni Trapattoni left the team, as he decided to return as coach of Juventus. On a personal scale, Zenga experienced in these seasons the peak of his career. For three consecutive years (1989–1991) he was nominated by IFFHS the best goalkeeper in the world, ahead of goalkeepers like Michel Preud’homme, Rinat Dasaev and Andoni Zubizarreta. Zenga was at his best between the posts, as his great explosiveness and sharp reflexes enabled him to make great and spectacular saves. Not known for being a great penalty saver (frequently dropping down to the ground in the middle of the goal), in his career he did however save penalty kicks from Roberto Baggio, Michel Platini and Paul Merson. Zenga continued to play for Inter until 1994, winning the UEFA Cup in 1991 and 1994, his last season with the club. In 1994, Zenga transferred to Sampdoria, and then to Padova two years later. He then moved on to New England Revolution and Major League Soccer. Zenga played in goal for them in the league’s second season in 1997, then left to pursue an acting career (he and his girlfriend starred in an Italian soap opera). During a game versus the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 1997, he celebrated a goal by running to the sidelines and making out with his girlfriend, as the Mutiny barely missed the open net straight from the kickoff. Zenga came back to the Revs in 1999, as a player-manager, but only lasted a year in both those positions.