MILAN – Insolent. But also "God's left foot", "Mandrake", "Mad Birago", "Mariolino". If you go back through time, through reports and interviews, through the articles written by Gianni Brera and Gianni Mura, you could create an anthology relating to Mario Corso’s nicknames. It was Gyula Mándi, the Head Coach of Israel, who initially bestowed divine status to his left foot. He did so on 15 October 1961, when Italy came from behind to secure a 4-2 victory following a late brace from Corso: “We played well, but God’s left foot beat us.”
Mario. It was difficult to assign him to a particular role. And even today, it’s impossible to find the words that would adequately describe the flair he possessed, the special presence he had on the football pitch, his ability to invent with that wonderful left foot.
Sarti, Burgnich, Facchetti, Bedin, Guarneri, Picchi. The first names on one of the greatest teamsheets that football has ever seen. Corso, the Nerazzurri’s no.11, was the 11th name: Jair, Peirò, Mazzola, Suarez, Corso. He didn’t have defenders behind him, but rather colossi. Captain Picchi and Giacinto, who remain in our hearts. And then there were Aristide Guarneri and Tarcisio Burgnich, both of whom, with their voices cracking with emotion, told us what it was like to be teammates with such an extraordinary footballer.
Guarneri was the first to describe Corso: “More than anyone else, I got to know him from up close. Perhaps not everybody remembers, but Mario and I lived together when we played for Inter. We stayed in Porta Romana, with the property belonging to a widowed lady. We slept in a big room with two beds and ate in the nearby restaurant. He didn’t speak a lot, but he’d be ready to come out with a joke, a remark that could upset a few.”
Like we said: insolent. But he certainly wasn’t lazy: “No, it was impossible: Herrera was uncompromising with everyone during our training sessions, you weren’t allowed to slow down. It was true that not everyone was blessed with Jair or Facchetti’s physicality, but, in his own way, Corso was always ahead of the others thanks to his brain and left foot. I would always say to him that he was able to make the ball arrive at its intended destination in one pass instead of two. In the final 40 metres of the pitch, he lit up the game, quite literally.”
And then there were his free kicks: “We had a number of players who were capable of taking free kicks: Suarez to name just one. You also need to consider the balls that we used in that era, especially when they were wet. But when there was a set piece, Mario would step up and his work would begin. Like against Liverpool, for example.”
That game remains one of the most incredible matches in the Nerazzurri’s history: “We needed to win 3-0, and in our minds were the taunts of the Liverpool fans, who continuously sang the tune 'When The Saints Go Marching In' at Anfield, replacing ‘Saints’ with ‘Reds’. We scored at the right times at San Siro: first through Peirò, then Corso’s free kick, and finally Giacinto’s strike. And something that we’ll never forget is what Mazzola did: he brought a record to the stadium and gave it to the radio service officer before kick-off. He said to him: ‘If we make it through, play this song’. We came off the pitch with 'When The Saints Go Marching In!’ blaring in the background!”
Mario was everybody’s friend, as confirmed by an emotional Tarcisio Burgnich: “He had his own way of doing things, he teased you a bit but I never argued with him, not once. He was an exceptional player, hugely gifted on a technical level. He had more of a free role on the pitch but put in the work in training. Even today, he would have been one of the best players in the world. He was at the time. He was the best.”