Vincenzo Scifo is arguably the finest Belgian football player ever to grace the World Cup finals.
Born of Italian parents, 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 1980. 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) 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 surprised many by reaching the semifinals of the World Cup in Mexico, and Scifo contributed a great deal to their success.
Showing maturity well beyond his age, he played in all the 7 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 a quarterfinal match against Spain (which went to extra time and penalties), were stopped only by Diego Maradona's Argentina side in the semifinals; eventually also 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.
Anderlecht could not stop him from taking the big step to the Serie A in 1987. Unfortunately his spell at Inter Milan was anything but successful and he was soon transferred to French side Bordeaux. After another miserable season, Enzo was ready to give up football at the tender age of 23.
Guy Roux, the Auxerre manager, saved Enzo’s career and took him under his wings and soon Scifo was back at his best level again.
When Belgium qualified for the 1990 tournament in Italy, many expected them to emulate their achievements 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.
He then returned back to Italy and had a few successful years with Torino where he won the Italian Cup and also enjoyed success at Monaco before he returned back home to Anderlecht after ten years away. He participated also in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups with moderate success. He retired from the national team shortly after the 1998 World Cup in France.
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.