Tributes have been pouring in for Italy’s 1982 World Cup hero Paolo Rossi, who has died at the age of 64.
Rossi’s wife, Federica Cappelletti, said on Thursday that he died in her arms.
She said Rossi passed away in his sleep in hospital after she promised him she would care for their children and assuring him that he “had already done so much.”
“He didn’t want to go, but I hugged him hard and I told him, ‘Paolo, now go. Enough, you’ve suffered enough. Now leave this body,'” she said. “And then he went to sleep.”
Cappelletti spoke to reporters outside the La Scotta hospital in Siena, where Rossi had been treated over the past year and where family members gathered.
State-run RAI television, where Rossi worked as a sportscaster, said he had been diagnosed with an incurable illness.
Cappelletti had announced the death on Instagram, posting a picture of the couple with the caption “Per sempre”, Italian for “forever.”
In a Facebook post, Cappelletti added: “There will never be another one like you, unique, special, after you there is absolute nothingness.”
Rossi had a remarkable career comeback, leading Italy to the World Cup title after returning from a suspension following a betting scandal in 1980.
He scored six goals at the tournament in Spain, including a legendary hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Brazil and the opening goal in a 3-1 win over West Germany in the final.
He also won the Ballon d’Or award that year as the best player in Europe.
The Italian soccer federation said it would fly flags at half-staff in a sign of mourning.
“We have lost a friend and an icon of our soccer,” federation president Gabriele Gravina said.
“He took an entire country by the hand, which rejoiced in the streets, for him and with him. He is permanently linked to the Azzurri and has inspired generations of forwards with his style.”
Italian president Sergio Mattarella also offered his condolences for Rossi’s “premature” passing.
“I’m so sorry. It was out of the blue,” former teammate Dino Zoff told the ANSA news agency. “It had been a while that we hadn’t spoken, he had said something but we didn’t think it was so serious.”
Rossi won two Serie A titles and a European Cup while playing for Juventus. He also played for AC Milan.
In a statement, Serie A president Paolo Dal Pino said the Italian league was in mourning.
“Paolo Rossi made us feel proud to be Italian,” Dal Pino said. “He was the hero of all of us.”
“I admit it, I am crying,” Rossi’s former Juventus teammate and current head of the Polish football federation Zbigniew Boniek was quoted as saying. “With you I not only won, I also lived.”
In 1982, Rossi’s Italy defeated Zico’s Brazil, a young Diego Maradona’s Argentina and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s Germany to lift the World Cup trophy in Spain.
“Paolo was my friend and an amazing goalscorer,” said Bayern Munich chairman Rummenigge.
Cappelletti said a memorial service was planned for Vincenza and that Rossi’s remains would be cremated, a decision she took in agreement with their children.
“I want to have him near me forever,” she said.