Walter Zenga


Walter Zenga (born 28 April 1960 in Milan) is a retired Italian footballer and current manager. He is a long-time goalkeeper for the Italian national team and Internazionale. He also holds Romanian citizenship. Zenga currently serves as head coach of UAE League team Al-Nasr.

During his playing career, Zenga was part of the Italian squad that finished fourth at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, USA and the World Cup squad that finished third in the 1990 World Cup tournament held in Italy, in which Zenga started every game for the Azzurri.

Club career

Came back to Internazionale in 1982, after starting his professional career in 1978 in the lower divisions of Italian soccer (his first team was Salernitana in Serie C1, and he also played for Savona and Sambenedettese). Initially (in the 1982–1983 season) he was the substitute of Ivano Bordon, who was one of the top Italian goalkeeper of his era, as he had been Dino Zoff‘s reserve in the 1982 World Cup. However, Zenga played Inter’s matches in the national cup, impressing enough the club that decided to don’t buy another goalkeeper after Bordon’s decision of playing for Sampdoria during the summer of 1983. Zenga became Inter’s starter in the 1983–1984 season and at season’s end he would have conceded only 23 goals, better than any other goalkeeper in that season. The next seasons would prove to be bittersweet for Zenga: although he continued to play excellently, he didn’t manage to win any trophy. In Italy Inter was the main rival of the Hellas Verona F.C. who won the first (and to these days only) League title of its history in 1985, while in Europe he had to suffer two bitter and quite controversial defeats by the hands of Spanish giants Real Madrid, both times in the UEFA Cup semifinals. However, personal success was growing: he became a fan favourite due to his qualities and his love for the team, his fame was now nation wide thanks to his larger than life personality and he quickly established himself as one of the premier goalkeeper of the country. Proof was the inclusion of his name in the 22 players-list made by Italy’s manager Enzo Bearzot 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 enjoing 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 F.C. after a highly successful 10-years 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 1986–1987 season Inter closely fought Napoli for the League title, finishing third also due to a series of injuries which plagued the team in the final weeks of the season (among the 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, in which were playing footballers like Diego Armando Maradona and Ciro Ferrara. However, the move didn’t had a positive end and Zenga remained with Inter. The highlight of the season for Zenga was the participation in EURO 88, where he played all 4 matches played by Italy (a draw against Germany, two victories against Spain and Denmark in the group stage and the final loss against the USSR in semifinal). Here again Zenga was at the centre of controversy: in the first match against Germany he conceded a free kick inside the penalty area due to having made too many steps with the football in his hands (an infingment rarely sanctionated).

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 Argentinian Ramon Diaz 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 future European champion Milan. Zenga ended the season allowing only 19 goals, the best goalkeeper again in that respect.

The next two 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 Italian Supercup 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: tired by the long European campaign and experiencing bad luck in the match, Inter was not able to win, losing 0–2 and letting the team of Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini winning the league title. However, Inter won the Uefa Cup that year, defeating, among the others, Aston Villa, Atalanta and Sporting Lisbon 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 Sixties. After that match, manager Giovanni Trapattoni left the team, as he decided to go back to Juventus.

Zenga continued to play for Inter until 1994, winning the UEFA Cup in 1991 and 1994, his last season with the club. After being one of the backup goalkeepers (third choice) at the 1986 World Cup, Zenga became the starter when during the Euro 1988. Zenga was still first choice goalkeeper when Italy hosted the tournament 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. The record was somewhat fortunate, asCzechoslovakia scored against Italy in a first round match, only for the referee to incorrectly disallow it for offside. He finished his international career with 58 caps for his country.

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.

During his playing career, Zenga was nicknamed Uomo Ragno (Spider-Man) due to his goalkeeping skills, especially his agility.

Managerial career

After he left New England Revolution, Zenga retired from active football, choosing to pursue a coaching career.

After a short stint with Milan amateurs Brera Calcio, Zenga moved to Romania in 2002, first managing Naţional Bucharest and then Steaua Bucureşti.

In the summer 2005, after being fired from Steaua before the end of the season, Zenga joined Red Star Belgrade, leading the Serbian team to a double (national league and national cup in Serbia and Montenegro).

In the summer 2006, Zenga was called to coach Turkish side Gaziantepspor; however, after a poor beginning (5 wins in 17 league matches), he resigned in January 2007 in order to accept an offer from United Arab Emirates club Al-Ain.

After just 5 months in charge Al-Ain sacked Zenga, who was announced in September 2007 as new Dinamo Bucharest coach, replacing Mircea Rednic, but resigning only two months later following a 1–0 loss in a local derby lost to Steaua.

He then accepted a job as football commentator and pundit for Italian public broadcasting service RAI.

On 1 April 2008, he agreed to replace resigning boss Silvio Baldini as manager of Catania. He made his Serie A debut on 6 April with a crush 3–0 home win to Napoli, leading them to a dramatic relegation escape during the final minutes of the league, after a 1–1 home draw against Roma.

Confirmed at the helm of Catania for the 2008–09 season, Zenga proved to be fit for the Italian top flight, leading the rossoazzurri to impressive results in the early part of the season, and agreeing a one-year contract extension with the Sicilian club.

Catania’s playing style under Walter Zenga has being made famous due to the coach’s care for free kick schemes; his assistant manager Gianni Vio is known to work exclusively on this particular side of football tactics during the weekly training sessions. He guided Catania to a mid-table finish and the Serie A points record for the Eastern Sicilian side; on the final home game of the season he announced he was parting company with his club by mutual consent.

On 5 June, after being linked with the managerial job at Lazio it was revealed that Zenga had agreed a three-year contract with Palermo to replace outgoing manager Davide Ballardini; the move was hailed as a massive surprise due to the rosanero club being rumoured to be interested in several other managers and the bitter rivalry between Palermo and Zenga’s former team Catania, which are also the only two Sicilian teams playing in the Italian top flight. He debutted with a 4–2 Coppa Italia win to SPAL 1907, and a 2–1 home win to Napoli in the first week of the Serie A season. However, a number of disappointing results followed, ending in an unimpressive 1–1 home tie to Catania that led Palermo chairman Maurizio Zamparini to remove Zenga from his managerial duties on November 23, after only thirteen league games in charge of the rosanero. On 13 January 2010, the coach terminated his contract withPalermo.

On May 11, 2010 he was announced new head coach of Saudi Arabian football club Al-Nassr. He was removed from his position on 24 December 2010 after a string of poor results led Al-Nasr to be overthrown from the top of the league table.

On Jan 6, 2011 Zenga appointed as new head coach for Al Nasr SC In UAE Pro league.

Personal life

Zenga has three children from his first two marriages. He has a son, Jacopo (who later became a footballer himself, and is currently playing in amateur Serie D after spending time with Inter and Genoa at youth level), from his marriage to Marche Elvira Carfagna. From his second marriage, to TV personality Roberta Termali, he has two more sons, Nicolò and Andrea. In 2005, he married 23-year old Romanian woman Raluca Rebedea. On 19 November 2009, she gave birth to their daughter Samira Valentina.

In April 2010, Zenga said that he wants to take Romanian citizenship.

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