Former AC Milan and Italy great Gianni Rivera has received the 2011 UEFA President's Award in Milan. The revered playmaker of the 1960s and 1970s was honoured in a ceremony at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, featuring UEFA President Michel Platini and AC Milan vice-president and CEO Adriano Galliani.
Michel Platini began the ceremony by paying tribute to Gianni Rivera. "I think Rivera was one of the first modern players, if we consider today's stars as post-modern," the UEFA President said. "In a period in which football was not always on the front pages of every newspaper, Rivera made everyone talk and write. His 'competition' with Sandro Mazzola for a place in the Italy team – everyone in Italy was discussing it in the squares and bars.
"Rivera was among the first to understand that the ball is quicker than the man and that he had to make the tool do the job," Mr Platini continued. "I had the chance to talk with some of his former team-mates and they told me that Rivera was just telling them to run when he had the ball, because the ball would eventually reach them." Fabio Capello, Cesare Maldini, José Altafini, Ricky Albertosi, Giovanni Lodetti, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger and Kurt Hamrin were just a few of Rivera's former team-mates attending the ceremony alongside Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Giancarlo Abete.
Rivera, who won the France Football Ballon d'Or in 1969, joined Milan from US Alessandria Calcio 1912 in 1960 and helped the Rossoneri to lift two European Champion Clubs' Cups (1963 and 1969) and two European Cup Winners' Cups (1968 and 1973), as well as three Italian league titles and four domestic cups on the domestic front.
"When he won the Ballon d'Or, the France Football headline was: 'Pure class'," the UEFA President said. "We all remember his nice touch on the ball, his light run, his sudden inspiration which could change a game, and also his intelligent words off the pitch. Like the story of football in general, the story of Rivera is a never-ending story. Thank you for what you were and what you still are."
Gianni Rivera played a total of 501 Serie A matches for Milan, scoring 160 goals. Internationally, he represented Italy 60 times, scoring 14 goals. He participated in four FIFA World Cups – 1962, 1966, 1970 and 1974 – and was part of the Squadra Azzurra that won the UEFA European Football Championship in 1968.
"I'm speechless," Rivera said after collecting the award. "I thank all the presidents I have had at club and international level, and especially all my former team-mates. Many are here – I wish they could all be. I thank Michel Platini for this award, especially for the noble reasons behind it. I think everybody would understand if one day he gives this award to himself.
"I thank Milan because it's really a special club and I hope that one day another Italian player will receive this award. I think the only way to do it is to work for quality more than quantity," added Rivera, who is president of the youth and school sector of the FIGC.
Rivera, now aged 68, is the latest in a distinguished group of football greats to be honoured with the UEFA President's Award – a tribute to outstanding achievements, professional excellence and exemplary personal qualities. Recent recipients include Raymond Kopa (2010), Eusébio (2009), Sir Bobby Charlton (2008) and Alfredo di Stéfano (2007). "I'm old enough to remember them all and they are the history of football," said Adriano Galliani. "And Rivera is the history of Milan, one of the major clubs in the world."