Vincenzo Scifo is arguably the finest Belgian football player ever to grace the World Cup finals.
His history is strange, full of soaring highs and frustrating lows. Even though his amazing talent took him to Inter Milan, Bordeaux, Auxerre, Torino and AS Monaco, Scifo only won five real trophies: four Belgian league titles with Anderlecht and one Ligue 1 success with Monaco. He played in two Italian cup finals and one UEFA Cup final with Torino. But it is Scifo's World Cup career that stands out.
Tons of flair and skill, accurate passing, great vision and a good shot saw him participate in a total of 17 games, scoring three goals from midfield. He is one of only 16 players to have actually played in four World Cups. This puts him in the company of, among others, Paolo Maldini, Andoni Zubizarreta, Diego Maradona, Gianni Rivera, Pele and Lothar Matthaus.
It all started at La Louviere, where young Enzo scored an incredible 432 goals in four seasons as a junior, a feat which earned him the nickname 'Little Pele'. Giants Anderlecht snapped him up at the tender age of 14. In August 1983, he made his first-team debut against Barcelona, showing remarkable skill and irreverence when he nutmegged Diego Maradona not once but twice.
Belgium fell in love with the 17-year-old and Scifo became the hottest property in Europe. Anderlecht coach Paul Van Himst (another Belgian legend, who even appeared in a Hollywood picture, the atrocious Escape to Victory) was convinced and promoted his young charge to first-team status. Scifo duly won Belgium's highest football accolade, the Golden Shoe, after his first season. A Belgian passport was soon arranged so he could participate in Belgium's bid to qualify for the 1986 World Cup.
Belgium made it to the finals in Mexico and went on to go further than the country had ever been before, helped in no small measure by young Scifo, still only 20. Showing maturity well beyond his age, he played in all the games, bossing the midfield and scoring two goals. One came in a scintillating game against Russia, which Belgium won 4-3 after extra time.
Belgium, tired after another round against Spain went to extra time and penalties, were stopped only by Diego Maradona and ten other Argentines in the semis, losing the game for third place 4-2, again after extra time, against France. Upon their return, Belgium were welcomed as heroes on Brussels' Grande Place. Some of the biggest cheers were for Scifo, who had picked up the Young Player Award, putting himself more firmly in the limelight.
When Belgium qualified for the 1990 tournament in Italy, many expected them to repeat their performance of 1986, with a team including some of the players who had done so well in Mexico and some fresh talent added. Belgium made light work of the first round, beating South Korea 2-0 before demolishing Uruguay 3-1, with a stunning goal for Scifo. A narrow 2-1 loss against a strong Spain side in the last game meant Belgium were paired with England for the second round match in Bologna.
Scifo is perhaps best remembered by most England fans for that incredible game at the Renato Dall' Ara on June 26, and Belgium could and maybe should have won, having had the better chances. Scifo again was outstanding, capping his performance with a tremendous effort off the woodwork. FIFA again acknowledged Scifo, including him in their team of the tournament. The Italian fans were also impressed. One banner read: "Inter, ecce Scifo!" ("Inter, look at Scifo!"). Inter supporters had been dismayed that Scifo had not been given more time at the club when they sold him after one season in 1988.
After David Platt had taken his place in Belgian football history with his 119th-minute winner, another figure of hate presented himself at the 1994 World Cup in the USA, when Swiss ref Kurt Rothlisberger denied Belgium a clear penalty in the second-round game, which Germany won 3-2. The first two games of the tournament, against Morocco and Netherlands, had resulted in two 1-0 wins for Belgium, but they got a taste of their own medicine in the last game, losing 1-0 to Saudi Arabia courtesy of Saeed Al-Owairan's famous goal. Scifo again played a big part in every game, commanding the midfield and spreading good passes around.
He also featured in 1998, when Belgium failed to survive the first round, drawing all three games, against Netherlands, Mexico and South Korea. Within a less inspired team and under a manager in Georges Leekens who had less time for his type of player, Scifo never made a real impact.
He retired from international football soon after the World Cup and played for Anderlecht until 2000. After a short spell playing at Charleroi, he moved into management at the same club. He has been out of a job since leaving his position as manager of Mouscron, but few doubt that he will return at some point. He is among the names currently being mentioned in relation to the Belgium job after the sudden departure of Dick Advocaat. Only a fool would bet against Scifo adding to his status as a World Cup Legend.