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Serie A in the '90s: when Baggio, Batistuta and Italian football ruled the world.


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Channel 4's Football Italia hit our screens in early Sept 1992. This was during a period when Calcio was king. During the 1990s, Serie A teams owned 13 European trophies, six world-record transfers and six Ballon d'Or winners, plus every iconic star from Asprilla to Zidane.

  published September 06, 2022

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Ruud Gullit, AC Milan (Image credit: Getty Images)

 

Pietro Fanna was walking along a corridor inside the Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi, and he could hear weeping. As Verona’s captain got closer, it became clear that all of the noise was coming from the visitors’ dressing room: the dressing room that contained Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan.

A month later, Milan beat Benfica in Vienna to win back-to-back European Cups, cementing their status as one of the greatest club teams of all time. Not until Real Madrid’s 2017 victory over Juventus in Cardiff, 27 years later, would another side retain the famous trophy.

Milan’s 1990 triumph ensured that for the only time in history, all three major European honours were claimed by clubs from the same country. Just as Luciano Pavarotti was starting to loosen his vocal cords, with the nation getting ready to host Italia 90, Gianluca Vialli scored twice as Sampdoria overcame Anderlecht to lift the European Cup Winners’ Cup. In the UEFA Cup, Juventus defeated Fiorentina in an all-Italian showpiece. It was the beginning of a decade of Serie A dominance on the pitch – and in our hearts.

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If any further illustration of Serie A’s strength was needed, none of Italy’s four European finalists won the league title in 1989/90. The weeping noises Fanna heard coming from the Milan dressing room were not tears of joy: they were tears of despair; tears because their dreams of winning the Scudetto were over.

Milan hated playing at Verona. A 5-3 loss there had cost them top spot in 1973, a defeat that became known as ‘La Fatal Verona’. Now they were back for the sequel, level on points with Diego Maradona’s Napoli at the summit of the Serie A standings with two games to go. The Rossoneri had led the table until early April, when Napoli were handed the points from a match against Atalanta that was abandoned when Brazilian midfielder Alemao was hit by a coin thrown from the crowd, the golden age was over. 

But if Maradona leaving affected Napoli badly, it barely dented the continuing success of Italian football. Serie A was not reliant on just one man: the stars were plentiful, and they were everywhere. Ballon d’Or winner Lothar Matthaus was at Inter; the world’s most expensive player, Roberto Baggio, had joined Juventus.

Italy had traditionally been the league with the money to attract the top players – before Baggio’s move from Fiorentina in 1990, 11 of the previous 13 world-record signings had been made by Serie A clubs. Combine that with UEFA’s decision to ban English teams from European competition in 1985, and they had been allowed to steal a march on the field. During the ’90s, Italian sides won 13 of the 30 European titles available, with 25 finalists.

“Serie A was the best and most attractive league in Europe in the 1990s,” recalls Aron Winter, who left Ajax in 1992 to play for Lazio and then Inter midway through a career that delivered 84 caps for the Netherlands. “What Spain is now, Italy was back then. As soon as I started playing in Serie A, I noticed the high level of the league – it was really tough to win matches. It was the country where the best players in the world were all playing.”

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English football fans would start to get a proper glimpse of Serie A in 1992, thanks to one man. Napoli, Juventus and Roma had all been interested in signing Paul Gascoigne following his displays at Italia 90, but it was Lazio who agreed a deal with Spurs in 1991. Asked what it would take to convince him to sign, Gazza jokingly asked for a trout farm, only to be surprised when Lazio agreed.

The knee injury he sustained during the 1991 FA Cup Final delayed the move, prompting a renegotiation of the fee from £8.5 million to £5.5m. A setback in his recovery, when he was attacked while out at a Newcastle nightclub, also put paid to a bizarre plan for Gascoigne to be accompanied in Italy by Glenn Roeder. He had been due to move to Rome to keep an eye on his former Toon team-mate, only to cancel his plans, angered that Gazza had been in the nightclub that evening.

Gascoigne made it to Rome in May 1992 and was paid £22,000 per week – a huge amount of money at the time. The club gave him two bodyguards to look after his home, although that nearly went badly wrong when one of them briefly confused him for a burglar, pointing a gun at his head and shouting, “Don’t move!”

His Lazio debut, at home to Genoa, was one of the first Serie A games shown live on English TV: tapping into Gazzamania, Channel 4 purchased the rights in the summer of 1992. It was a window into a different world for fans who’d previously only been able to watch Italian clubs in the occasional European clash.

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Channel 4’s live screening of a match every Sunday afternoon – all Serie A fixtures used to kick off at the same time back then – would be accompanied by the Saturday morning highlights show Gazzetta Football Italia. The channel originally wanted Gascoigne to present it himself, until everyone realised that was a ludicrous idea and James Richardson – then a little-known junior TV producer – was asked to step in. Millions of people tuned in every week.

Lazio drew 1-1 against Genoa that day, then beat Parma 5-2 before Gazza’s eyes were opened against Milan at San Siro. “I remember thinking, ‘This is good, we should be all right here’,” he once told FFT, reflecting on an encouraging opening 10 minutes. “But then we were demolished. That team was frightening.” Milan won 5-3, following up a 7-3 triumph against Fiorentina a week earlier.

Gascoigne quickly gained cult hero status among Lazio’s fans, helped by a late equaliser in his first Rome derby. He’d grown a ponytail due to an inexplicable desire to look like Mick Hucknall, and was hugely popular with his Biancocelestiteam-mates too.

Bizarre capers were never far away, like the time he persuaded his bodyguards to sneak him and mate Jimmy ‘Five Bellies’ Gardner into a Rome bank vault, where they sat on a mountain of money totalling £50m just for the sheer hell of it. And there was also the time when a terrified Gascoigne killed a snake with a broom at his home, then took it along to training and put it inside Roberto Di Matteo’s pocket.

“He was capable of anything,” former Lazio forward Beppe Signori tells FFT with a smile. “Once he showed up completely naked in the hall of the hotel when we were away on a retreat, and then he did the same thing on the team bus during another trip. When we were going through a dark tunnel, he got completely undressed and went to sit right next to the coach, Dino Zoff!“At the end of training every day, you always had to be very careful with the door handle whenever you got in your car. If it was wet and was not water, it meant he’d been there.”“Paul was standing there, half-naked…”
Winter also has tales of Geordie japes

“I remember my first day at the club – I was in my hotel room and someone suddenly knocked on the door,” the Dutch midfielder recalls. “I opened it and Paul was standing there, half-naked, holding a tray with some champagne to welcome me.

“I have really good memories of our time together. Sometimes I had friends over from Holland and they loved to meet him. One day Paul told them he would score for them in the next game and hang off the crossbar – that’s exactly what happened.

“Another time, I was having lunch with my wife and Paul happened to be in the same restaurant with his girlfriend. I didn’t notice them at first, but when they’d finished, Paul said to the waiter, ‘My friend Aron will pay.’ He called out at me, and when I saw him I raised my hand to greet him, so he said to the waiter, ‘You see, Aron says it’s all right.’ When I’d finished my meal I was a bit shocked at the size of the bill, because I hadn’t eaten that much! The waiter then told me Paul had said I’d pay, and I understood what had happened. I found it all quite funny, and Paul paid me back everything.

“He did drink too much alcohol sometimes – he didn’t like flying so when we travelled with the team he’d order himself a Cognac before the flight to calm himself down. But he really was a good friend, and it saddens me to see the health problems he has faced in recent years. He was an incredible player, and one of the best ever from England.”

In his first season, Gascoigne helped the club finish fifth and qualify for Europe for the first time in 16 years – they had only climbed out of Serie B in the late-1980s. It’d be the first of five consecutive seasons in which Lazio finished above Roma, before the rise of Francesco Totti shifted the balance back in Roma’s favour.

Lazio also had Serie A’s top scorer in 1992/93 – Signori bagged 26 times after arriving from Foggia. He’d be top scorer again in 1993/94 and 1995/96, before spells at Sampdoria and Bologna. He was nearly sold to Parma in 1995, only for thousands to protest on the streets and persuade Lazio to change their mind.

“The supporters loved me, and they were opposed to my transfer to Parma,” Signori remembers. “They’re things that you never forget. All of my time at Lazio was fantastic. To be top goalscorer in the league three times was a great thing, and I scored more than 100 goals for Lazio in total. I played up front alongside Karl-Heinz Riedle, then with Pierluigi Casiraghi and Alen Boksic. They were able to open the spaces and commit the defence. I finished it off.”

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Signori topped the Serie A goal chart for the decade as a whole. His 141 strikes put him five goals ahead of Gabriel Batistuta, whose relentless scoring achievements at Fiorentina also included a famous Champions League piledriver against Arsenal at Wembley, and led to a statue being erected in his honour in Florence. Neither player would win a league title in the 1990s, though: Batigol won the Scudetto with Roma in 2000/01, but Signori surprisingly never won a major honour and featured only 28 times for his country.

Gazza’s time with Lazio delivered surprisingly few appearances, too – 47 matches in three seasons, a tally restricted by injuries (most notably a broken leg sustained during a challenge with Alessandro Nesta in training), and regular concerns over the midfielder’s weight. Gascoigne joined Rangers in 1995 – although not before he’d turned up at his last training session on a Harley-Davidson, smoking a cigar. Gazza knew how to say arrivederci in style. 

Gascoigne may have been the man who brought English TV viewers to Italian football, but the delay in his arrival meant he wasn’t the first Englishman in Serie A during the 1990s.

Shortly after Gazza agreed to go to Lazio in 1991, David Platt took the plunge, making a £5.5m move to Bari – a provincial side in the south of Italy who’d narrowly avoided the drop the previous season.

“Bari was a way in, I didn’t even know where it was,” Platt recalls. Unable to prevent his new club suffering relegation, the midfielder still managed to score an impressive 11 goals in his debut campaign in Italy, earning him a transfer to Juventus.

“When I looked around the dressing room I thought, ‘I’ve made it’,” he says. With two world-record signings in their ranks - Juve’s £12m purchase of Gianluca Vialli from Sampdoria followed the £8m they spent on Roberto Baggio – Juve beat Borussia Dortmund to win the UEFA Cup that season, although Platt was soon on the move again.

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“I wasn’t playing a lot at Juventus,” he admits. “Their attacking players were just unreal. Antonio Conte ran the midfield on his own and Baggio the forward line – there wasn’t much room for anyone else. Baggio had the same influence that Roberto Mancini had in the Sampdoria team I later played in, but we didn’t have the same sort of rapport. We couldn’t communicate.”

Platt’s rapport with Mancini was established even before he had arrived at Sampdoria – in fact, even before he’d arrived at Juventus. Only months into his time in Italy, Platt received an unexpected call. It was Mancini, who had managed to track down his phone number and wanted the Englishman to join him at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.

Sampdoria were in the middle of their greatest era: after the Cup Winners’ Cup triumph in 1990, they clinched Serie A for the only time in their history in 1990/91, an achievement the squad celebrated by dyeing their hair blond en masse – Attilio Lombardo was bald, so he had to wear a toupee for a week instead. When the players all turned up to meet the Pope sporting their new hairstyles, John Paul II was said to be somewhat confused. Sampdoria then reached the 1992 European Cup Final, but were beaten by Barcelona thanks to Ronald Koeman’s extra-time free-kick at Wembley.

first contact with Platt came during the middle of that European Cup run, but it wouldn’t be the last: he kept calling, ever more insistent that Platt should move to Samp.

“I was honoured, and a little freaked out at the same time,” Platt admits. “I thought, ‘Why is this guy ringing?’ He’s always said that the club didn’t ask him to, which made it even more bizarre. But it’s a measure of the man that he cared so much.

“When I signed for Juventus, you’d have thought that would have been the end of it. Not Robbie. He’d tap me up on the pitch! In the end I gave in. I thought I’d give Italy one last bash.”

It proved to be the best decision Platt ever made. While Des Walker had struggled at the club a season earlier – playing out of position at full-back before returning to England after 30 league games – Platt became a real success. His growing friendship with Mancini turned into an influential partnership out on the field.

“We hit it off right away,” Platt says. “Robbie liked to play a certain way, which is why he stayed at Sampdoria for so long [15 years]. It just worked. The team worked their style around his ideology and, for some reason, he saw me as the perfect player for that ideology.

“His life was the club. Everybody loved him, and he knew it. Fans were eating out of the palms of his hands. He never had any trouble, especially with the female attention! It was like Totti with Roma. He could walk into a bar or cafe and never pay for a thing. He could do what he wanted, but fans always knew he would do right by them.”

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That relationship with the fans led to an unusual incident before a home game against Brescia in May 1995. Sampdoria had just lost the derby to Genoa so, in an attempt to appease angry supporters, Mancini agreed that the squad would run around the pitch ahead of kick-off and allow fans to hurl abuse at them, on condition that there was no unrest during the game itself. Manager Sven-Goran Eriksson even emerged to receive the pre-match boos, and the plan worked.

“I scored twice late on and we won 2-1 – the noise was incredible,” Platt remembers. “Robbie dragged me over to the fans at the end of the game and we lapped up all of the applause. Somehow, he tried to claim the credit, and left the pitch last to make sure he got the final applause! But the fans were all back onside.”

Playing with Lombardo and Ruud Gullit (in an odd period, Gullit left Milan for Sampdoria in 1993, then returned to Milan in 1994 before swiftly signing for Sampdoria again), Platt won the Coppa Italia and help the club to reach the semi-finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup, where they lost on penalties against Arsenal. He still regards his time at Samp as one of the best periods of his life.

“The best players were playing in Serie A,” he says. “Even though English players had gone there in the past, this was well before the days of the internet, YouTube and Sky. We’d heard it was defensive and seen how many clubs had won the European Cup, but been told it was down to the ban on English teams.

“Seeing it for myself was a different story. In Genoa I appreciated what Italian football was becoming. You could watch the matches back home in England, and my friends and family were constantly telling me how popular it was becoming.”

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Platt signed for Arsenal but returned to Sampdoria as manager in 1998, although by then Mancini had followed Eriksson to Lazio. Platt was taking over a side bound for relegation, and lasted only six games amid a wrangle over a lack of the required coaching qualifications. That was bad news for Lee Sharpe, who’d arrived on loan from Leeds United but swiftly found himself out of the first-team picture, just as Danny Dichio had done after moving to Italy from QPR a year earlier. Ex-Nottingham Forest and Newcastle winger Franz Carr had similarly limited success during a spell at Reggiana.

The ball sat before Roberto Baggio on the penalty spot, although the Divine Ponytail wasn’t happy. Three years before his infamous miss in the 1994 World Cup Final, a different spot-kick drama was about to engulf him. Baggio was back at Fiorentina for the first time since being sold to Juventus. Fifty people had been injured in the Florence riots that greeted that sale, and even Baggio was unsure whether he wanted to leave La Viola, refusing to don a Juve scarf at his unveiling.

If that didn’t go down well with the Bianconeri, things were about to get a lot more difficult. Baggio was the Juventus penalty taker, but he didn’t want to step up against his former club. Team-mates tried to persuade him, but his mind was made up. Luigi De Agostini stepped forward instead – and missed. Baggio was substituted soon after, controversially picking up a Viola scarf thrown in his direction on the way to the dressing room. Juve lost 1-0.

Baggio was a perennial conundrum. His medal collection did him little justice but he was arguably Serie A’s most gifted player of the 1990s, and the only man in that decade to break the world transfer record and win the Ballon d’Or while playing the entire year in Italy. Ronaldo had joined Inter for a world-record £19.5m when he picked up the honour in 1997, but his performances for Barça earlier in the year played a major part in winning the award.

Baggio’s annus mirabilis came in 1993, when the UEFA Cup he won alongside Platt & Co. turned out to be the only European trophy of his entire career. He had scored 39 times during the calendar year.

“He was introverted as a person, but was an absolute champion,” Fabrizio Ravanelli tells FFT. “Technically he was wonderful. He always had a solution, a skill only the very best possess.”

Baggio would win his only two Scudettos in successive years, with different clubs. The first came in his final season with Juve in 1995, when he missed five months due to injury but provided three assists on the day that the Old Lady secured the title with victory over Parma.It was also a first Serie A crown for a 20-year-old by the name of Alessandro Del Piero. “He’s got all he needs to be a great player,” Baggio told FFT at the time – and he wasn’t wrong.

“We played with three attackers that season – Vialli, me and either Baggio or Alessandro Del Piero,” Ravanelli recalls of the year he won the league with the club he’d supported as a boy, in Marcello Lippi’s first season as boss. “Lippi was so good at reading the game and he knew how to motivate his players. I remember his speech on the first day of training at the start of that season. We had all gathered in the middle of the field and his message was clear: Juventus should not depend on anyone. We were equally important.

“We were strong as a team. We had a cockiness on the field and quality players – there was also Angelo Peruzzi, Paulo Sousa, Didier Deschamps, Ciro Ferrara, Alessio Tacchinardi and Antonio Conte.

“I remember beating Parma 3-1 in January to overtake them in the table and scoring the most beautiful goal of my career – Vialli’s low cross and then a diving header. Wonderful.

“The night before we played Parma again to win the title, I couldn’t sleep. I was tense. But it was a beautiful Sunday and we won 4-0 – I scored two goals and that night there was a party at the home of Umberto Agnelli [the club’s honorary chairman]. I remember the joy.”

There was also sadness: Juventus’s triumph was poignant, coming just weeks after the death of 23-year-old Andrea Fortunato, who was a promising left-back and had made 27 league outings the previous season before being diagnosed with leukaemia. “Everything I won at Juventus, I dedicate it to him,” says Ravanelli.

That included a Champions League crown in 1996: Ravanelli scored in the final as the Old Lady beat Ajax on penalties at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico after a 1-1 draw, before he was surprisingly sold to Middlesbrough. “Juventus had already agreed a deal, I didn’t know anything about it,” he says. “I felt terrible, but I called my agent and we reached an agreement with Middlesbrough.”  

Baggio had left a year earlier. Asked to take a 50 per cent salary cut by Juve, Silvio Berlusconi lured him to Milan for £6.8m – Manchester United and Blackburn had also shown an interest. Baggio scored 10 times to help his new club secure the Scudetto in 1995/96, including a penalty in the title-clincher against Fiorentina.

With both Baggio and Ballon d’Or winner George Weah among their ranks, Milan’s strikeforce looked reinvigorated. Arguably, it had been at its height in the early-’90s: with the Dutch trio of Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard in full flow, the Rossoneri won Serie A in 1991/92 without losing a match – going 58 league games unbeaten from May 1991 to March 1993, the era of ‘Milan degli Invicibili’. It was quite the start to Fabio Capello’s career in management – his only previous coaching experience had been with the Milan U19s.

Following two-time European Cup winner Arrigo Sacchi, who had departed to take charge of the Italian national team in the summer of 1991, seemed a formidable task. However, Sacchi’s emphasis on pressing and a highly technical approach was slowly starting to take a mental toll on the squad.

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“Sacchi transformed our mentality and led Milan to some fantastic levels, especially in Europe,” revered defender Franco Baresi tells FFT. “But it was manic. He was always very quick to point out any errors.

“We needed a break mentally and Capello understood the situation. There was a bit of distrust of him at first – it was his first experience on a bench and Milan had won everything in the years before that. But Silvio Berlusconi was right. Capello freed our minds – there were fewer constraints, there was more room for using our imaginations.”

Berlusconi got the majority of things right in that era. “Silvio was the chairman you would wish for,” Ruud Gullit once told FFT. “Even though he was a busy man, he was there every week – when things were going well and when they weren’t. He wanted success, and he wanted Milan to play in a certain way.”

As it turned out, he got both during that sensational 22-month run without a league loss. “The unbeaten run strengthened our belief, the idea that it was hard to beat us,” Baresi reflects. “It became difficult for our opponents too – sometimes they didn’t reach our goal-line!

“Demetrio Albertini joined Rijkaard in midfield, we had Gullit who was an extraordinary player, and in Capello’s first season Van Basten scored like never before – 25 league goals, his best tally with Milan. He’d have done just as well the season after if it hadn’t been for his ankle problems – he was a great loss.”

It would prove to be a career-ending injury for the 1992 Ballon d’Or winner. Meanwhile, Gullit and Rijkaard both departed, and Jean-Pierre Papin struggled following a £10m world-record move from Marseille. Milan’s next world-record signing, Gianluigi Lentini – a £13m purchase from Torino – was left in a coma in August ’93 when his Porsche crashed in a ditch and then burst into flames. The wideman suffered a fractured skull and, although he did return to the field later in the season, he was never the same player.

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Given those setbacks, it was a minor miracle that Capello’s charges won a third consecutive league title in 1993/94, scoring only 36 goals in 34 games. With Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Mauro Tassotti and Filippo Galli among their defensive options, they conceded a paltry 15 times all season.

“We were a very solid team,” Baresi says. “Capello prepared games according to the opponent we’d be facing – he would watch videos of them and then figure out the best tactics from there. With Sacchi we would focus on maintaining the defensive line, but under Capello it was about direct marking of forwards.

“Many of us played together forever. There was lots of respect and friendship and we would goof around as well – there was ‘the drink’, a cocktail of Coca-Cola, Polase minerals and sugar that Tassotti, Galli and Maldini would prepare before our matches. Moments like those were important – they eased tension.”

Such stress-relieving tactics worked wonders before the European Cup final in ’94. If winning the Scudetto had been impressive, given their problems up front, the 4-0 drubbing of Barça was astonishing.

The 1995/96 Scudetto was Milan’s fourth in five seasons under Capello, but then he exited for Real Madrid and things turned sour in what turned out to be Baresi’s final season.

The campaign started memorably, with Weah netting an incredible solo goal – dribbling from inside his own penalty area to score at home to Verona. But Oscar Tabarez was a poor replacement for Capello and even Sacchi’s return to the dugout could not prevent the defending champions from finishing 11th. Capello came back again for 1997/98, but lasted only one season as Milan improved just one place to 10th.

Yet things turned dramatically back in their favour a season later, when Udinese’s Alberto Zaccheroni was appointed the new coach. Germany striker Oliver Bierhoff followed him to San Siro, scoring 19 times as the Rossoneri won Serie A for the fifth time in the decade.

It was a Scudetto triumph that no one had expected. “Perhaps not even ourselves,” Maldini admitted to FFT. “At the players’ technical level, we were not a strong squad like several of the other teams – but we found something that made it.”

Inter the revolution

August 31, 1997: Youri Djorkaeff emerged from the tunnel for kick-off, then Javier Zanetti, then Diego Simeone. Then the first glimpse of the man everyone wanted to see: Ronaldo.

For the first time since the Nerazzurri signed Danish forward Harald Nielsen from Bologna 30 years earlier, the most expensive footballer in the world played for Inter. Barcelona’s president Josep Lluis Nunez had declared that Ronaldo would stay at the Camp Nou for life after the Brazilian scored 47 goals in his first season at the club.

It turned out to be his only season at the club: talks over a new contract broke down and Inter swooped, agreeing to pay the £19.5m buyout clause in his Barça contract. Rangers were also keen, with Ronaldo’s agent later claiming they had bizarrely suggested he sign for them and only play in their Champions League games.

On the face of it, Ronaldo’s first match for Inter looked like a rather gentle introduction to Italian football, at home to newly promoted Brescia. The forward smashed a free-kick against their crossbar, but then things took an unexpected turn as a teenage substitute by the name of Andrea Pirlo fashioned an opening for Dario Hubner to give the visitors a shock lead. With 10 minutes to go at San Siro, Inter were staring at an embarrassing defeat.

Step forward the debutant: no, not that debutant, the other one. There was rather less fanfare around Alvaro Recoba’s arrival from Nacional, but the Uruguayan promptly stole the show – emerging from the bench and sending an exocet missile into the top corner from 30 yards. Five minutes later, he did it again, rocketing another left-footed effort into the net from a 30-yard free-kick. For Inter, it was enough for a famous victory.

This was a new dawn for the Nerazzurri, whose shock UEFA Cup final defeat to Schalke a few months earlier had spelt the end of Roy Hodgson’s tenure as coach. Pelted with coins and cigarette lighters as he left the pitch, the Englishman swiftly resigned, having failed to win over supporters and the press.

“There was some criticism that he hadn’t won a prize with such a big team,” says Aron Winter, who swapped Lazio for Inter in 1996 and missed from the spot in the penalty shootout against Schalke, “but personally I found him a good manager. He was a nice man.”

Inter had already won the UEFA Cup twice in the ’90s: German trio Lothar Matthaus, Andreas Brehme and Jurgen Klinsmann fired them past Roma in the 1991 showpiece, before victory over Salzburg in ’94 came in rather more unusual circumstances. That season, with star signing Dennis Bergkamp struggling, Inter came within one point of being relegated for the first time since Serie A’s introduction in 1929.

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Massimo Moratti soon took charge of the club and began to invest – Paul Ince was brought in from Manchester United for £7m, netting 13 goals from midfield in two seasons. Roberto Carlos lasted a year – unhappy that Hodgson insisted on playing him on the left wing – but Ivan Zamorano would also arrive before the biggest statement of intent of all: signing Il Fenomeno.

“Ronaldo really was the best, he really was a phenomenon,” Winter admits. “He was good at everything – not only scoring goals. He was the best player I ever played with.”

Together, they helped Inter put the Schalke defeat behind them by winning the UEFA Cup in Ronaldo’s first season, the Samba striker scoring in a 3-0 victory against Lazio in Paris’s Parc des Princes.

Ronnie netted 34 times in that first campaign but, plagued by knee problems, he scored only 25 times in the next four combined. Baggio also struggled with injuries after joining in 1998, having fallen out of favour at Milan, but then revitalised his career by hitting 23 goals in 33 games with Bologna.

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Inter promptly spent big again in 1999, luring Christian Vieri from Lazio for another world-record sum of £32.1m (80bn lire in Italian money). Incredibly, it was Vieri’s ninth side in nine seasons as a pro, after solitary campaigns playing for Torino, Pisa, Ravenna, Venezia, Atalanta, Juventus, Atletico Madrid and then Lazio – winning one Scudetto at Juventus in 1996/97.

Neither he nor Ronaldo would win Serie A during their career at Inter, though, and the 1990s remains the only decade in the club’s 109-year history in which they failed to secure a single league title.

“I don’t regret going to Inter,” Ronaldo later told FFT. “I have great memories of my time there. They are not to blame for the injuries I had, and neither am I. Who knows what we could have achieved were it not for all of those?”

Arguably one of Italian football’s most famous pictures of the ’90s was taken in Moscow. It featured Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro, Juan Sebastian Veron, Hernan Crespo and more ahead of the 1999 UEFA Cup Final.

It was an astonishing array of talent for a club from a small city in the north of Italy. Yet this was a side who finished in the top six of Serie A for nine consecutive seasons in the 1990s, despite having never previously played in the top flight. They had been in Serie C as recently as 1986, before investment from food company Parmalat.

Tomas Brolin and goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel, who represented Brazil at Italia 90 before winning the World Cup in the U.S. four years later, were two of the first stars to arrive after promotion to Serie A.

“The process of my transfer was unbelievable,” says Taffarel. “The 1990 World Cup had finished for us after our defeat to Argentina in the last 16, and we were on our way back to Brazil, waiting for our flight at Milan-Malpensa Airport. A guy approached me and asked, ‘Do you want to play in Italy?’ I laughed and said, ‘Well yes, but how?’

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“One week later my phone rang and I was asked, ‘Do you still want to come?’ Then I realised it was serious. Parmalat’s representatives came over to Brazil a few weeks later for negotiations with my club, Internacional, and I joined Parma.

“When I arrived, my team-mates were asking for my autograph. I got a bit scared about that. I was thinking, ‘What kind of club have I come to?’ Only one member of that squad had played in Serie A before, but everybody was aware of the opportunity in front of us.

“We had a clear target in the first year: ‘salvezza’ as the Italians would say – to avoid relegation. The club had no training ground so we trained in a public park – we’d train anywhere around town.

“But we had a strong link with the people of the city, and although the majority of our squad had no experience of Serie A, they proved to be good enough for the top level. Parma made good signings, too – Brolin was a fantastic player. We all became a family at Parma.”

Guided by the firm hand of coach Nevio Scala, the Gialloblu lifted the Coppa Italia in their second term in the top flight. They followed it up by winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup a year later, even though star striker Tino Asprilla missed the final against Antwerp, having injured himself during a dispute with a bus driver at home in Colombia. Incredibly, a second European trophy arrived only two years later, in 1995, as Parma beat Juventus in the UEFA Cup final thanks to goals from Dino Baggio.

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Marseille had little chance in that UEFA Cup final against Parma’s most famous side of all, drubbed 3-0 in Moscow in 1999. No team anywhere across the continent could surpass Parma’s tally of three European wins in the 1990s – even if there is sadness from Taffarel that the glory years couldn’t last. Financial problems quickly hit after the turn of the millennium, when Parmalat were declared bankrupt. The club followed suit in 2015, and they suffered demotion to Serie D.

“I was very upset to see what happened,” Taffarel says. “I just hope they can do the right things now and come back to the place where the city deserves to be. I still have a house there – I love that city.”

Passing of the baton

Juventus pressed for a goal, a third European Cup seemingly within their grasp, but the Champions League final then turned on the most unfortunate of deflections. It would be Real Madrid, not the Old Lady, crowned the kings of Europe again.

The year was 1998, and in that very moment the balance of power started to shift in European football. With one ricochet, as Roberto Carlos’s effort was diverted into the path of Predrag Mijatovic for the game’s only goal, the baton had been passed from Serie A to La Liga.

Juventus were favourites that night – the club who’d been in three successive Champions League finals, the club who could name Del Piero, Edgar Davids and the great Zinedine Zidane in their starting line-up. Zizou had helped Juve to win Serie A in each of his first two seasons at the club, but here he was being beaten in a European final for a third year in a row – the Frenchman had lost the UEFA Cup final with Bordeaux in 1996, then been unable to prevent Juventus from suffering a 3-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the 1997 Champions League Final.

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Incredibly, some were starting to suggest that he was a big-game bottler – this, two months before he scored twice in the World Cup final. Not bad for a bottler. The Ballon d’Or would be his by the end of the year. “Juventus was my launch pad onto the international scene,” Zidane later explained to FFT.

But Zizou’s Champions League glories eventually came with Real Madrid, who won their first European Cup for 32 years that night in 1998. Serie A’s incredible streak of appearing in seven consecutive European Cup finals was finally over.

There was one last hurrah in 1999 with Parma’s UEFA Cup triumph and Lazio’s win over Mallorca in the Cup Winners’ Cup, as Pavel Nedved netted the winner at Villa Park. But Italy’s success in Europe dried up. Spanish teams have claimed 17 European trophies since the turn of the millennium to Italian sides’ three.

“The level of Serie A declined in the early-2000s,” says Winter. “The Premier League became bigger, the Bundesliga and La Liga grew, the French league made some steps too.”

The big money was no longer in Italy but in England, thanks to the increasingly lucrative television deals, and in Spain, where the era of the Galacticos had begun. The top players started to move elsewhere and average attendances began to decline. By the 2006/07 campaign, after the infamous Calciopoli scandal, they’d dropped below 20,000.

For a decade though, Serie A was where it was at. Thirteen European cup triumphs, six world-record transfers and six Ballon d’Or winners in the space of just 10 years. There could be no argument: during the ’90s, Italian football reigned supreme.

Additional reporting: Nicola Calzaretta, Arthur Renard, Felipe Rocha, Pete Hall

This feature originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of FourFourTwo.

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When Ronaldo got to Serie A in 1997 Inter broke the transfer record and R9 won the golden ball, he was only 21 years old.

Later on in 1998, Brazil was about to play in the World Cup final and the French team was only talking about him:

At 21 years old everyone was afraid of him, he later on got a tough injury that could have ended his career so for the rest of it the world watched Ronaldo below his real ability, which was equally scary, but there is no doubt that Serie A had some of the best players in the world during that time and the world hasn't seen such a talented young player since.

 

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SAMPDORIA AND THE GLORY YEARS OF THE 1990s

www.thesefootballtimes.com

11/01/2015 by CONOR KELLY  
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AS THE PREVIOUS SEASON FADES INTO THE DISTANCE and we embark on a new one, memories of the previous 12 months will intensify. In recent times many of the year-end football high points have been provided by Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, but in 2014, it was another Spanish club riding the wave of glory.

Atlético Madrid’s triumph of will against the two juggernauts of Spanish football was only augmented by a heartbreaking and crushing near-miss against their city rivals in the Champions League final. Despite losing at the final hurdle in Europe, Atleti’s La Liga triumph capped a remarkable two and a half years of unheralded success. Diego Simeone coaxed every last breath of energy and defiance from a squad of mostly unfashionable players, sticking it to the established order in the process.

Atléti’s achievements reconcile the idea that with the right set of circumstances, an unfancied group can upstage the cemented hierarchy. In the modern age of mega-rich superclubs, breaking their stranglehold is ever more difficult. Oligarch owners and enormous commercial money preclude the ambition a great deal of football clubs garner. For clubs who break the glass ceiling, the shelf life of success is limited, as Borussia Dortmund are finding to their chagrin.

Alternatively, Dortmund’s effervescent run to the 2013 Champions League final is fondly recalled, but they weren’t trailblazers in that regard. Rewind to the early ’90s and a middling club on the Mediterranean coastline swept through Italian and European football on a wave of enthusiasm.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, Italian football was in the midst of its golden period. Never before or since has a domestic league had such superiority. Serie A housed the best players, coaches and teams throughout Europe and the world. Giovanni Trapattoni’s Internazionale won the scudetto by 11 points in 1989 and Napoli won only their second title in 1990, as Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan won back-to-back European Cup’s. Inter had the German galácticos Lothar Matthäus, Jürgen Klinsmann, and Andreas Brehme. Milan had the Dutch equivalent in Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard. Juventus had Roberto Baggio, Napoli had Diego Maradona and yet, a great deal of the silverware was won by Unione Calcio Sampdoria.

Traditionally, Sampdoria have rotated between Serie A and Serie B for much of their existence. That changed in 1986 with the appointment of their former player Vujadin Boškov as manager. The cosmopolitan Yugoslavian was a well-versed coach who had spells in charge of Feyenoord, Real Zaragoza and also Real Madrid, who he led to a European Cup final they lost to Liverpool.

Despite managing arguably the most famous club in world football, the insular nature of Italian football hindered his chances of receiving a job at one of Italian football’s giants. So he managed Ascoli before Samp approached him.

Before Boškov, Sampdoria had won just one major trophy, the 1985 Coppa Italia. Boškov reinvigorated Samp and steered them through an extraordinary eight-year journey that culminated in a Champions League final defeat to Barcelona.

In the early 1980s, Sampdoria brought in British and Irish imports Trevor Francis, Liam Brady and Graeme Souness. When they left, Boškov initiated a process of creating a team built around homegrown youth. Gianluca Vialli, Moreno Mannini, Pietro Vierchowod and Roberto Mancini would form the basis of Samp’s team for the proceeding decade. A sixth-place finish in the first campaign began a continuous theme, namely Vialli ending as Samp’s top scorer. The nucleus of a good team emerged and the signing of Brazilian Toninho Cerezo from Roma reinforced their midfield.

In 1988 Sampdoria improved on their previous season, finishing fourth in Serie A. The season is remembered more so for their Coppa Italia glory, just the second major trophy in their then 41-year history. It’s easy to forget that Italian Cup finals were played over two legs until 2007, and Samp won the first leg against Torino 2-0 with goals from Vialli and Hans-Peter Briegel. The second leg in the Stadio Olimpico in Turin was a much tougher affair. A 2-0 Torino win brought the final into extra-time, but Fausto Salsano was the hero for Sampdoria, scoring what turned out to be the winning goal in the 112th minute.

That cup glory opened an avenue into European competition the following season. Back to back Coppa Italia’s were secured, but the lingering disappointment in Europe would be a precursor to future pain. Sampdoria encountered some of Europe’s lesser lights in their run to the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup. IFK Norrköping, Carl Zeiss Jena, Dinamo Bucharest and KV Mechelen fell to the Italians and Barcelona lay in wait in the showpiece. Johan Cruyff’s revolution at Barça was in its infancy and England’s Gary Lineker started the final up front. Samp would have to wait a year for their moment in Europe, Barca winning 2-0 courtesy of goals from Julio Salinas and Luis López Rekarte at the now demolished w**kdorfstadion in Bern.

Their repeat Coppa Italia victory over Napoli again gave them entry to the Cup Winners’ Cup. Boškov strengthened his squad in the summer. Srečko Katanec arrived from Stuttgart, but it was the less conspicuous signings that elevated the team. Attilio Lombardo was brought in from Serie B side Cremonese, the former club of Vialli. 1982 World Cup winner Beppe Dossena was dismissed as too old by sections of the Italian media, but Samp took a gamble on him and were suitably rewarded. The prize was winning the Cup Winners’ Cup, atoning for their defeat in 1989 in a memorable final against Anderlecht. With the game locked at 0-0 in extra time, Vialli scored two goals without reply to deliver Samp’s first continental trophy.

In contrast to their prolific cup strike rate, Sampdoria hovered between fourth and sixth in Serie A during Boškov’s tenure. That all changed in the 1990/91 season when Samp banished their league inconsistencies. In the post-Italia 90 period, when Serie A had attracted the world’s best players, no one dared consider a Samp title tilt, and with good reason. Milan were consecutive European champions, Inter had just signed three West German World Cup winners, a cash-infused Juve were rejuvenated and Maradona was still weaving his magic for Serie A champions Napoli. Sampdoria’s European performances harnessed belief within their squad that they could achieve the unthinkable in the world’s strongest league.

Initially Sampdoria struggled to put together results without primary scorer Vialli. The wheels were set in motion when Samp won 1-0 at Milan with Pelé in attendance at the San Siro. A few weeks later, they would snatch a scarcely believable victory at the San Paolo against Napoli. Thoroughly outplayed for the majority of the 90 minutes, Vialli and Mancini both scored equally delectable volleys in a 4-1 comeback. They encountered harsher times in the latter part of the season, losing back-to-back games to Torino and Lecce to drop to fifth place. Mancini, as he so often did, steadied things with a vital last-minute winner at Parma before they defeated Milan 2-0 to gain a pivotal two points (it wasn’t until 1994 that three points were awarded for a victory in Italy).

Mancini, a classy and sophisticated player, embodied the Sampdoria attitude. His partnership with Vialli was fruitful. Mancini was the creator as Vialli finished as Capocannoniere with 19 goals. The strike duo were imperious, but Vierchowod and goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca were understatedly influential. The title was virtually wrapped up with four games to go, as Samp beat second-place Inter 2-0 in a classic. Inter pounded Sampdoria’s goal, and the attempts were weighted in their favour (24-6). Pagliuca made 14 saves alone, most notably stopping a penalty from the usually unflappable Lothar Matthäus. They won the title in style at the Marassi, dispatching Lecce 3-0. The improbable turned out to be possible.

No Sampdoria ultra would ever have imagined a scudetto, but that’s just what Boškov delivered: “In my life I’ve won but the Scudetto won with Sampdoria was the most beautiful; the sweetest. Because I won it in the most difficult and most balanced league in the world and because it was the first for a club that had yet to celebrate half a century of existence. It is a bit like when your first child is born.  The joy is greater.”

It turned out that 1991/92 would be his last season with i Blucerchiati, yet he almost grasped the biggest prize in club football on his way out the door. Sampdoria stormed through the European Cup, eliminating Rosenborg and Honvéd. They followed that up by topping a group featuring old foes Anderlecht, Red Star Belgrade and Panathinaikos in the final year before the tournament was repackaged as the Champions League. Samp reached their first European Cup final and they would meet a familiar adversary at Wembley, Barcelona.

Cruyff’s Dream Team of Stoichkov, Salinas, Laudrup and Guardiola were pushed to extra time again by Boškov’s resilient band of underdogs. Despite Cruyff instructing his team to “have fun” in his pre-match talk, nerves were frayed and the tension was at times unbearable. It took a thunderbolt free-kick from RonaldKoeman in the 112th minute to finally see off the Italian champions. Barcelona’s first time lifting Ol’ Big Ears set the precedent for their future successes. Similarly, Sampdoria’s crushing close shave commenced a downward spiral.

Vialli moved to Juventus for a record transfer fee of £12.5 million. Boškov vacated his position as manager and joined Serie A rivals Roma. Mancini stayed, but despite the major signings of Ruud Gullit and David Platt, they fell short of previous standards. In the late 90s, Juan Sebastián Verón, Ariel Ortega, Clarence Seedorf and Christian Karembeu all lined out for Samp at various points before departing for major clubs. Sampdoria were relegated in 1999 and were absent from the top flight until 2002. They have flirted with both Champions League qualification and relegation in recent years.

Boškov passed away in April 2014, aged 82. It was fitting that Atlético Madrid won La Liga shortly after his death. While Boškov had no connection to Atleti, the Madrid club’s upstaging of their more illustrious opponents had much in common with his Samp. There were stylistic differences, but it reconnected with the time when a small Genoese football club defied logic to topple the giants of calcio.

By Conor Kelly. 

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JAMES RICHARDSON: THE INSIDE STORY OF GAZZETTA FOOTBALL ITALIA

 

www.thesesetpieces.com

“Campionato… di calcio…. Italiano” – the four words that kickstarted Saturday mornings for many in the 1990s. No football programme better encapsulated the zeitgeist of the decade better than Gazzetta Football Italia.

Each week James Richardson, usually situated in a historical piazza or stylish cafe with a stack of newspapers and a delicious Italian pastry, presented the latest news and action from Italy.

Richardson’s razor-sharp wit, jovial nature and trademark puns was a breath of fresh air on TV. He educated the viewer without insulting their intelligence and became one of the most iconic football presenters of the past 25 years.

Nearly two decades since the show said its final arrivederci on Channel 4, the image of Richardson holding aloft La Gazzetta dello Sport’s famous pink paper while relaying the headlines has adorned mugs, pins, t-shirts, posters and sweatshirts.

 

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Countless love letters have been written about the show’s influence. Often imitated, but never duplicated, the Gazzetta legend grows with every passing year. Yet, what was missing was the show itself. Clips of Gazzetta have been on YouTube for years, but never a complete episode.

However, a cryptic tweet from Richardson in early April revealing he had some video tapes of “specialist interest” got people speculating that perhaps, finally, full episodes of the show might see the light of day.

Several weeks later, episodes began to appear on Richardson’s YouTube channel, JimboVision. For the first time since 2002, there was Gazzetta Football Italia in all its feature-length glory.

“Basically, my mother was moving house and I was helping her clear some things out. She had a whole bunch of old VHS tapes, 1980s keep fit videos, that sort of thing,” says Richardson.

“But among them was a collection of tapes with my name on the label, so I grabbed them and put them in a bag and thought ‘I won’t throw these out, maybe one day I’ll convert them’ and they sat in the back of my car since October.”

“When the [Covid-19] pandemic happened, people were asking Channel 4 to put old Football Italia episodes online, but in the end that didn’t work out,” he says. “So I thought, in the meantime, I could put these ones up. It took a bit of a time to get a VHS player, but eventually I tracked one down.”

Various calls, including a recent petition, have been made down the years for Channel 4 and the production company who created the programme, Chrysalis, to release a greatest hits package of Gazzetta episodes. But Richardson says it’s not as simple as collating all of the old footage, with copyright issues shackling any intention to show them.

With the old episodes locked away in a top-secret vault beneath London’s busy streets, Richardson’s videos provided him with a treasure trove of memories he too hadn’t seen for years.

“It’s like with anything,” he says. “Any old album you dig up and see yourself after 20 years. There are some astonishing wardrobe choices. I really struggled to understand what world I was living in that they seemed like good ideas, but it was a different time and they do things a little differently in Italy.

“By and large, it was really sweet to see that time again. To see Paul Ince with a big smile on his face, to see Paul Gascoigne playing around. There are so many nice elements to the show: the music was great, Kenneth Wolstenholme was great, all the little puns they used on the intros were great. The show still holds up pretty well.”

 

 

Having already chewed through all but one of the episodes, what’s most striking is the show’s remarkable access to the game’s biggest players, a facet Richardson also reinforces.

“I was impressed with some of the big names we got,” he admits. “One week we’d have Gianluca Vialli, the next would be Roberto Baggio and then the following show we’d have George Weah. A part of it was that we weren’t the same people who were bothering the clubs every week, wanting to talk about some tactical issue.

“So, it was slightly exotic, slightly glamorous. The fact we were English, but also that people tended to be more forgiving and a bit more generous with their time.”

The October 1994 episode is particularly noteworthy when Richardson can be seen asking Baggio – the reigning Ballon d’Or winner – for five minutes of his time in the car park of Torino’s Stadio Comunale. Baggio happily obliges, even giving a thumbs up to the camera while Richardson presents in English.

“Baggio was a lovely guy,” Richardson recalls. “A couple of years ago he was in London doing an event and he pretended to recognise me, which was really sweet of him. We did the event and went to dinner afterwards. He was so down to earth and a guy who’s really at peace with himself.

“Whether it’s because of the penalty he missed or the way managers in the era didn’t always understand him, but there’s a certain bittersweet, wistful quality to most people’s recollection of Baggio.”

In the pre-budget airline and internet era, Gazzetta could’ve passed as a travel show. A promotional tool for Italian tourism, with Richardson regularly presenting from inside one of the thousands of quaint piazzas strategically incorporated into every city and town throughout the country. It’s an aspect of the show he’d liked to have delved deeper into.

“If I had my time again, I’d try to do more with the whole lifestyle side of it,” Richardson reflects. “But at the time it was my first presenting job and, living in Italy, it was hard to maintain a perspective on what the show was for people back home. It wasn’t just about football. Maybe I’m doing the show a disservice and maybe we did do all of that, but that’s what I thought years after.

“In terms of the geography, the architecture, the food, the art, Italy’s a pretty special place. To have football in that setting was a dream combination. It’s the greatest backdrop you could have for a show.”

With the UK starved of football on TV back then, Gazzetta averaged 800,000 viewers on Saturday mornings in the first season of the show, with live games attracting more than three million viewers. Surprisingly, the biggest rating wasn’t for a titanic Serie A clash, with a World Cup play-off between Italy and Russia in 1997 drawing in five and a half million on a Wednesday afternoon. Richardson remembers the game well, but not for the viewing figures.

“Channel 4 did a promo where they had a Russian guy pushing an Italian’s face into a plate of pasta – it caused outrage in Italy,” he says. “It got picked up by the Italian newspapers and it was even raised in parliament that Channel 4 had insulted the country.

“I was really upset because I thought ‘this is going to blow any goodwill we might have as a station’. So we filmed one with Pierluigi Casiraghi pushing my face into a plate of pasta. I don’t know where that episode is, but I would dearly love to see it.”

 

 

Gazzetta turned Serie A’s galaxy of superheroes into household names, with Baggio, Vialli and Gabriel Batistuta equally as likely to roll off schoolchildren’s tongues as Alan Shearer, Eric Cantona or Robbie Fowler. Owning a shirt from a Serie A side was commonplace and not the declaration of hipsterdom it is today. However a combination of factors saw appetite for the show diminish by the dawn of the 21stcentury.

“I don’t really think the show was a priority for Channel 4 after Paul Ince left [in 1997] and there wasn’t a big English name to hang it on,” Richardson explains.

“You also have to remember this is an English audience, so there’s always going to be a greater interest in the local league. And with the Premier League performing strongly in Europe, it was an increasingly hard sell to make people interested in a foreign league.

“The whole notion of Channel 4 doing Sunday afternoon Italian football was a little bit hung by the fact the Italian Football Federation introduced more timeslots [in 1999] to put the big games in, so very few of them would be played in the traditional Sunday afternoon timeslot.

“The last game we showed live was Roma winning the Scudetto in June 2001. Channel 4 said to Italian officials we weren’t going to take the live rights anymore, just the highlights. The following season they just showed Gazzetta and Mezzanotte, which allowed them to show premium game on a Sunday night fixture. The Sunday afternoon slot wasn’t what it was 10 years prior.”

The final episode of Gazzetta – available on Richardson’s YouTube channel – aired on 4 May 2002, although tentative talks had started over renewing their deal until 2005.

“Channel 4 were in negotiations for the next cycle,” he reveals. “They said to Serie A they were just going to buy the highlights and not the live rights. And the league said ‘no, you have to buy everything’. So Channel 4 made them a very low offer for everything, based on what they wanted to pay for the highlights.

“The league rejected the offer, believing they’d get more money elsewhere and, of course, they didn’t. They pretty much gave away the rights to Eurosport midway through the 2002/03 season because no one was showing it.”

What legacy does Richardson believe the show left behind?

“The shows love of the Italian game did pass on to a lot of younger viewers and understandably so,” he says. “What a glamorous, impossible league it all seemed at the start; full of sunshine and cheekbone, Latin types going at it in towering cathedrals of calcio. On a personal level, an unexpected legacy is that I’m still presenting football on TV.”

With an official release highly unlikely, perhaps in the distant future someone, somewhere, will stumble across more episodes in a dusty attic and, just like its presenter, digitise them for a further fix of ‘90s TV gold.

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Some fabulous teams in those years. Italian football really propelled itself as the best league in the world after English football had a down period with English sides banned from playing in Europe following the Heysel disaster.

AC Milan under Sacchi and Capello. Berlusconi pumped a lot of money into Milan but they were a brilliant team to watch.

Juventus under Lippi were a formidable force. Should have won another Champions League or two in the late 90s.

Inter with Ronaldo leading the attacking force was exciting to watch.

Even sides such as Napoli, Parma and Sampdoria were all strong sides in their own right.

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2 hours ago, Jezz said:

Some fabulous teams in those years. Italian football really propelled itself as the best league in the world after English football had a down period with English sides banned from playing in Europe following the Heysel disaster.

AC Milan under Sacchi and Capello. Berlusconi pumped a lot of money into Milan but they were a brilliant team to watch.

Juventus under Lippi were a formidable force. Should have won another Champions League or two in the late 90s.

Inter with Ronaldo leading the attacking force was exciting to watch.

Even sides such as Napoli, Parma and Sampdoria were all strong sides in their own right.

Heysel definitely changed the footballing world.  It took English teams 15 years to catch up after the 5 year hiatus. 

Edited by charierre
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I remember Juventus playing Glasgow Rangers in the Champions League in 1995/96. Juventus were easily a class or two above a decent Rangers side. And being very surprised when they lost to Dortmund in the 1997 Champions League Final.

I remember Sampdoria being unfortunate in a Champions League Final, that of 1992  Going down to Barcelona at Wembley.

Parma of the mid to late 1990s also had a very good team.

They had amongst others.Buffon, Cannavaro, Thuram, Crespo, Chiesa and Veron.

They won the Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup double in 1998/99.

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 FOOTBALL ITALIA, THE CHANNEL 4 YEARS 

 
www.football-Italia.net
 

 

Following the release of his book Golazzo : The Football Italia Years, The former Gazzetta Football Italia producer Jonathan Grade had a catch-up session with Susy Campanale, as they remember working on the Channel 4 show

Their conversation covered James Richardsons ice cream, why you’d never get David Platt driving with a cigar now, covering live football in the age before the Internet and espresso-addicted statisticians.

Why is the Channel 4 coverage of Football Italia still so beloved many years later?

Back then, there wasn’t any competition on a Saturday morning, so any football fan would start their weekend by putting Gazzetta on at 10am and I don’t think a show like that has been replicated since. It was a magazine show, we had so much going into it. If you want to interview a star now, it’s all agents, press officers at the club, they are all media trained. I think we did an interview with Roberto Baggio on international duty, must’ve been 1994, and literally James grabbed Baggio as he was leaving and got a five-minute interview. Now, you have a whole cavalry around players. I think the fact James did his charming act with these clubs, that his Italian was so perfect, it meant they really warmed to the production. It was going out in England, it wasn’t a big deal for them, and James got what he needed from these clubs.

You got Attilio Lombardo to do the lambada. Did he just leap straight into that or need coaxing?

It was at the training ground, they had the sound guy dancing with Lombardo, it was such a funny link. Would you get that now? It’s all about image and social media, it was a very different time.

And you had Paul Gascoigne.

Oh my God, some of the stuff… I was looking through old videos and he was riding around on a motorbike in his garden, we had him doing a fake arrest by the police in the middle of Rome, we had him doing links with his head in a massive chocolate Easter egg. We got David Platt to do a sort of hard guy opening link where he’s screeching around in his car, with a cigar in his mouth, a bandana around his neck, doing Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions. We could get away with it then! Players know now if they do anything controversial, 10,000 people will have seen it in minutes on social media.

Every now and then you’d have famous people turn up at the stadium.

I know, Elvis Costello… He went to a game in Florence that weekend, we got in touch with him and he said yes, he’d love to come on. It was amazing. When James went through the half-time scores, every single score he went through had a reference to an Elvis Costello song, so Olivera’s Army, Accidents Will Happen when there was a red card, we were in stitches.

Paul Heaton turned up as well at one point.

He did, there was such an interest in the programme, because people watched it, they really got into the whole Gazzetta thing. It was the only live football on terrestrial TV and people loved watching it, because it had the best players and Channel 4 was bringing it to you every week in its pomp.

It got a new following that wouldn’t have got into Italian football otherwise and people just loved the shows. I think a lot of it also was when we got the contract originally there was this perception of football being negative, but the first game was Sampdoria -Lazio and it just went on from there. It was so entertaining and people loved it.

How do we get rid of this cliched idea that Serie A is boring, when even this season it’s had more goals than any other top five league?

People have their preconceived ideas. Being the sad stats person that I am, I did research and out of the 10 years, Serie A had a higher goal per game average, overall outscoring the Premier League pretty much through that time. It blew that theory away, because we had some fantastic matches. When we were off air, we watched some Premier League games and some of them were just dire. People grew to realise that this league wasn’t boring, it had star players, incredible attackers and was exciting to watch. It was the place to be. If you were a top star in European football at that time, you were playing in Serie A.

Not to mention the glamour of the location, which also helped, and you tried to put that into the show with James Richardson and his settings. Everyone wants to know, did he eat the ice cream?

I don’t know. It was done to make it look like a continuous flow, but obviously it wasn’t done in one take. A lot of people loved it because you’d see the world go past while he was doing his news and it brought a bit of Italy to everyone’s living room, I think. We were in Sardinia, Venice, Verona, Bari, and that was part of the attraction, going to places the average English viewer wouldn’t normally see or even think of.

James had a run-in with some Fiorentina fans, didn’t he?

Yes, it was Fiorentina-Lazio in 93 or 94, and Lazio scored after the 90th minute. Fiorentina aren’t the calmest, certainly not then, and they literally smashed up the crew car, which had a Roman number plate. I guess they assumed it belonged to Lazio fans. The back window was smashed with a baseball bat. We filmed it and used the shot in all manner of features after that. There were some traumatic times, as we were covering the Genoa - Milan match when Vincenzo Spagnolo was murdered outside. It was half-time, the Genoa fans were ever angrier and wanted the game called off, but we didn’t know why. There was no social media, we didn’t know what was going on, we just saw thousands of irate Genoa fans behind the goal. Nobody had a clue someone had been killed.

Not even in the stadium?

No, nobody knew. We were filling with God knows what, chatting and chatting, in the end it was announced the match was off and we came off air.

When I was doing the voice-overs, I was only there for one year, but I had two or three different producers and they all had different ways of doing things. One wanted me to pronounce things very Italian, like putting on an exaggerated accent, then more natural and someone wanted me to just really Anglicise everything.

That was the first year in Leeds, wasn’t it? We were literally finding our feet and it was a completely different way of working. We were starting on a tapeless environment, but everything in the archive was on tape, so we had to feed it into the machine.

Wasn’t it the same studio as a soap opera, I seem to remember Emmerdale actors wandering around?

Possibly, yes. Ken Wolstenholme did it for many years and then you did it, but he was an impossible act to follow. Impossible.

Anyone who followed Ken would be torn apart, so I didn’t take it personally when there was criticism, because of COURSE there’s no comparison. He was a legend, but he had to retire because he wasn’t well. Thank goodness we didn’t have Twitter back then. 

Well, exactly. Nowadays, if you’re doing a live game, you get teams all over social media an hour before kick-off. Our only way of getting team line-ups was to call the floor manager in the stadium with James and she’d literally read them down the line half-an-hour before kick-off. Peter Brackley was asking what are the teams, and it was the only way we could get them! There was no Internet, no social media.

Try telling people that today and they won’t believe you.

I know, that’s literally what it was like! Our stats guy, Ray (Della Pietra), he knew pretty much who was playing.

Tell our readers about Ray, please!

His knowledge is unreal. He was an absolute one-off, he just knew everything, from tactics to all these ex-players, coaches, he was like a Bible of Italian football.

He was also chain-smoking and constantly had an espresso in his hand, as I recall.

Yeah, four sugars.

Didn’t he used to feed the commentator statistics and stuff in the gallery during games?

Yes, he’d feed Brackers stats and whatnot. Peter got a lot of information fed through from Ray, because he knew whoever played for in the past and scored a goal against, so he was brilliant.

I’ll tell you another story, we were doing Parma against Juventus in 1998 and Parma went 2-0 up. It was 2-1, and the feed went. We were like, what are we going to do? In the end, we got the unilateral camera that we had in the stadium for James to cover the match, single-camera, and while we were doing that, Inzaghi equalised. You can see this camera panning around showing Inzaghi, then the players run back to the centre-circle, but there were no replays! Brackers was commentating and we were just covering these players slowly walking back to the centre-circle. That is how we covered that game for about 5-10 minutes and there was a goal when it happened.

Sometimes the feed went and we’d get our camera in the stadium to provide coverage of the match instead of just apologising for lack of pictures.

The most amazing version of that was in 2000, when Juve lost the title in Perugia and there was that big delay for the rainstorm.

I wrote about that in the book. I remember that like it was yesterday. We showed the first half and it was 0-0, Lazio were 2-0 up against Reggina, so they were always going to win easily. Then it just started raining at half-time and it was the archetypal biblical storm. It came just a week after another controversial Juventus incident with the Cannavaro header for Parma.

Which was disallowed.

So obviously there was a lot of anger, Lazio were going for their first title in 25 years or whatever.

Lazio had threatened to pull out of the league.

Yes, (President Sergio) Cragnotti threatened to do that. So we were following the pictures, (Pierluigi) Collina kept coming out and trying to bounce the ball, just dropping it into this soggy turf. Then eventually they make the decision that Lazio would have to continue playing. Rome and Perugia aren’t that far away, but in Rome it was the most beautiful summer’s day and in Perugia it was something you’d never seen.

So they decided to finish the Lazio game, they won 3-0, and then we eventually restarted in Perugia. I don’t think they would’ve restarted if it hadn’t been the final day. There were moments in the coverage where if two players went into a sliding tackle, the water went everywhere. It was crazy, then (Alessandro) Calori scored that goal, and Juventus just couldn’t get back into it. The conditions were so bad and the irony is that the Perugia coach was Carlo Mazzone, the massive Roma fan, who ultimately won Lazio the league. The ultimate irony.

Did you have to put off the next programme? It was a long delay.

It was about an hour and a quarter. Channel 4 knew they couldn’t take us off the air 45 minutes before the end of the season, so we kept going over to Rome, seeing what was going on. Every so often, they’d show images from the Stadio Olimpico, with these Lazio fans sitting in the glorious sunshine expecting a goal to go in for Juventus at any time. Juve needed a goal in that second half for a play-off. The whole thing was an absolute farce, but it’s one of those things when the Almighty decided Juventus wouldn’t get the title on a mad day. Mad day. Then the shift of power moved to the Capital, Roma won it the next year and it was a big change.

And then there was the famous three-way battle on the last day in 2002. How do you cover three different games all connected?

That last season we weren’t live, as Channel 4 pulled the plug on us after the 2001-02 season. We had La Partita, which was an hour of highlights. That day we did it as live and it didn’t work out as complex as it might’ve done, because Juve were two goals up in the first 10 minutes against Udinese, so that basically ruled Roma out, so it was a Juventus- Inter battle. Inter went 2-0 up at Lazio and completely fell apart. We had that image of Ronaldo  in tears on the bench, another mad finish. That game, I’m sure you remember, Lazio ultras were telling everyone to wear Inter shirts, wave Inter flags, they couldn’t bear Juventus winning the League.

Or Roma…

I think they were going for a UEFA Cup place, but it was such a strange day and Inter completely collapsed. Such a weird day. I don’t think anyone saw it happening, we thought finally it was going to be their first league win since ’89 and it all went up in smoke. I’ve written in the book is the irony is that Diego Simeone scored basically the goal that secured it for Juventus and he scored the goal two years before that kept Lazio in the title race.

And now his son is playing in Serie A. Doesn’t it feel weird seeing the sons of these players we used to watch? We’ve got Enrico Chiesa’s son, who runs exactly like him, sort of hunched over. We’ve got the third generation of Maldini playing now.

It’s quite scary, because I remember their Dads playing. We’re all getting so old now.

I remember when Gigi Buffon made his debut, that was on Channel 4 too.

That was in ’95 against Milan and he had an absolute blinder. Everything Milan threw at him… Actually, the highest-rating game we ever had on Channel 4 was the World Cup play-off in Russia. We went to Moscow and it got five million viewers. I think the highest Serie A one we got was three million, Gazzetta got 600-700,000.

What would you like to tell people about working in that environment?

My role changed from being a runner to a junior associate producer and upwards, and on matchdays it was so busy, I’d be up doing replays, analysis and whatnot in the edit. Things could change rather dramatically. If there was a late goal, it wasn’t like now in a television gallery where you turn it around within seconds, we literally had to edit a goal. If someone scored in the 93rd minute, we’d go into the edit suite and edit while we were doing replays from earlier. It was a completely different way of working back then to it is now. Some days, it was so stressful, because we were turning stuff around with seconds to spare before it was needed. It was really challenging, but good fun with a complete adrenaline rush.

Then I started producing the show, we moved up to Leeds and it was all really good fun. It was such a unique show to work on, we had all these stars on every week, from Batistuta to Totti, Del Piero, Vialli, Shevchenko, Weah, Ronaldo even Zola doing his funny links in broken English. It was one of the best jobs to work on, because it was football, but different and nothing like football as it is now.

And still appreciated all these years later in your book.

It’s a lovely look back at a great time, so will bring back a lot of memories for Italian football fans. The whole time we had on air was never really summed up, so all these years on I thought it’d be nice to reflect on such a popular show and bring people back to an amazing period of broadcasting sport on TV.
The thing that really pushed me to do this was I went to Peter Brackley’s funeral a couple of years ago and thought, we should honour Peter, Ken and Tom Docherty, our director who sadly passed away a few years ago, and it was nice to pay tribute to them. It was a golden era and they shouldn’t be forgotten.

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On 28/10/2022 at 22:06, Gol15 said:

When Ronaldo got to Serie A in 1997 Inter broke the transfer record and R9 won the golden ball, he was only 21 years old.

Later on in 1998, Brazil was about to play in the World Cup final and the French team was only talking about him:

At 21 years old everyone was afraid of him, he later on got a tough injury that could have ended his career so for the rest of it the world watched Ronaldo below his real ability, which was equally scary, but there is no doubt that Serie A had some of the best players in the world during that time and the world hasn't seen such a talented young player since.

 

Just to finish on Ronaldo's time in Inter FC, that team was trying to win the title for the first time since 1989 in 2001-02'. I remember the final match of the season as yesterday as I really wished this Inter team to win the title, the last match was against Lazio in Rome. People from all over Italy took trains and busses, that day whole Rome wanted Inter to win as the Olimpico stadium was full and that included the Lazio fans that very much prefered Inter to win over Roma or Juventus.

lazio-inter-4-2.jpg

maxresdefault.jpg

Inter finished 3rd after this loss in the final round and Juventus won their 26th title, Ronaldo left Inter after this season but became a legend at the World Cup in Japan&South Korea.

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