Category: Serie A

Fiorentina 1992-93

In the summer of 1990 Fiorentina entered a new era. Having just suffered their worst Serie A finish in over a decade under Italian World Cup-winner Francesco Graziani, it was then revealed that Roberto Baggio would be sold to Juventus for a world record 25 billion lire. The transfer of la Viola‘s star player to its bitterest rivals provoked violent protests on the streets of Florence, coming just two days after Juventus had beaten Fiorentina in the UEFA Cup Final. Even Fiorentina’s headquarters in Piazza Savonarola came under attack, duly prompting the club’s owners, the Pontello family, to hand over operations to film producer Mario Cecchi Gori.

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The team failed to improve in its first season without Baggio, for which Cecchi Gori immediately attempted to make amends. In what was undoubtedly the most significant business deal of his presidency, Cecchi Gori signed young Argentine forward Gabriel Batistuta. The dashing striker had just helped lead his country to victory in the Copa America in Chile, after having scored thirteen goals for Boca Juniors the previous season. He continued this impressive scoring rate in Italy, finding the net thirteen times in his debut season in Serie A. But despite Batistuta’s goals Fiorentina still failed to challenge the league leaders, finishing a mediocre twelfth for a third successive campaign. In the summer of 1992 it was hoped that the arrival of blond German midfielder Stefan Effenberg and elegant Danish winger Brian Laudrup — the latter a freshly-crowned European Champion — would make the difference.

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Luigi Radice, who’d coached Fiorentina to sixth place in 1974, was again at the helm, having replaced Brazilian Sebastiano Lazaroni early in the 1991-92 season. His team started slowly, drawing three of its first four games. Although goals were easy to come by — Fiorentina put seven past a hapless Ancona in week three — keeping them out at the other end proved more difficult, and after five games they’d already conceded thirteen goals, seven of which came at home against a ruthless Milan side. The team from Florence responded well to this setback but impressive victories against Sampdoria, Roma and even Juventus were countered by defeats to Cagliari, Napoli and Atalanta. This loss at home to the side from Bergamo proved Radice’s last in charge, and he was replaced by another former Viola coach, Aldo Agroppi.

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At the time of Radice’s sacking Fiorentina were in a respectable sixth in Serie A. By the time Agroppi was let go following a 3-0 hammering at Juventus, the team had plunged towards the relegation zone, having racked up just two victories (against Pescara and Cagliari) under his reign. With just five games remaining former striker Luciano Chiarugi was handed the unenviable task of rescuing Fiorentina’s season. But the damage had already been already done, and three more draws and a defeat against Atalanta left the team in the drop zone. Yet la Viola were still in with a chance of avoiding disaster as they went into their final game, in which they played host to Foggia. By half-time the home side had galloped into a four-goal lead and looked to have made themselves safe, despite fellow strugglers Brescia winning at Sampdoria. But with ten minutes of the season remaining, Udinese midfielder Stefano Desideri’s spectacular equaliser for against Roma lifted his side above Fiorentina, whose fate was suddenly taken out of their own hands. There was still time for more late goals in Florence (the game finished 6-2) but the final minutes were played in a funereal atmosphere. Despite finishing with the same points total as Brescia and Udinese, and just six points behind seventh-placed Sampdoria, the unthinkable had become a reality: Fiorentina were relegated to Serie B after fifty-four consecutive years in the top flight.

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The man asked to lead the club back to Serie A was Claudio Ranieri. The former Napoli coach decided that Serie B was the perfect place to thrust a handful of promising youth talents — including goalkeeper Francesco Toldo and forwards Anselmo Robbiati and Francesco Flachi — into the first team. These additions joined an already strong squad. Although Laudrup was quickly offloaded to Italian champions Milan, the rest of Fiorentina’s players seemed content to help the side out of the mess in which it now found itself. The likes of Batistuta and Effenberg were commended for showing such loyalty at the risk of losing their places in their respective national sides, and in a World Cup year no less. The Argentine, now known by the Florentine faithful as “Batigol”, again found the net sixteen times during the 1993-94 campaign, atop a scoring chart that also included future Serie A legends Oliver Bierhoff (Ascoli), Enrico Chiesa (Modena), Filippo Inzaghi (Verona) and Christian Vieri (Ravenna).

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Fiorentina’s kit from 1991 to 1993 was produced by Lotto, in a design that matched the template worn by the Dutch national team in the same period. In 1991 the club ditched the stylised “F” logo reverted to a traditional kite-shape crest. In 1992 the shirt saw small modifications to the collar and sponsor, which changed from Giocheria (an Italian toy company) to the internationally-recognised soft drink 7-Up. It was Fiorentina’s away shirt that season that drew most attention for its unfortunate swastika-like motif hidden within the purple pattern across the sleeves and shoulders. The shirt was worn in four away games before the now infamous design flaw was pointed out, after which la Viola reverted to a plain white strip. I bought the 1992-93 home shirt from Casa dello Sport, a veritable mecca for football shirt enthusiasts located in Via de’ Tosinghi in the heart of Florence’s centro storico (I later picked up the shorts and socks to match). Fiorentina kept the same look during their season spent in Serie B, although the kit was now manufactured by the German company Uhlsport. When the side returned to Serie A in 1994 a new sponsorship deal was struck with Tuscan ice cream company Sammontana.

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My first ever visit to the Stadio Artemio Franchi occurred while la Viola‘s were languishing in Serie B, in a league fixture against Modena in April 1994. The match was played under a torrential downpour; ironically Fiorentina’s free-flowing goalscoring form had completely dried up, and the game finished goalless. Nevertheless, in the end Fiorentina bounced back to Serie A comfortably, eventually finishing on top of Serie B, five points ahead of second-placed Bari. Sadly Mario Cecchi Gori didn’t live to see the side gain promotion, having died in late 1993, at which point the club was taken over by his son, Vittorio. With Effenberg returning to Borussia Mönchengladbach following promotion, the club now needed to bolster their squad if they were to make an impact in Serie A. Brazilian Marcio Santos arrived from Bordeaux, having just won the World Cup in the United States. But the central defender’s time in Florence was brief, and he moved on to Ajax after a single season in Italy. Fiorentina’s other big signing fared a little better. Manuel Rui Costa had broken into Benfica’s first team as a teenager and was already an established name in the Portuguese national side. To the delight of the Viola fans, the young Portuguese playmaker developed an immediate understanding with Batistuta, who found the net in the first eleven games of the season, beating a record held since the 1950s by Ezio Pascutti of Bologna. With his twenty-six strikes that season, the Argentine also equalled Kurt Hamrin’s record of most goals scored by a Fiorentina player in a single league campaign. But despite “Batigol” more than living up to his nickname, and Rui Costa’s emergence as one of Serie A’s finest number tens scoring, Fiorentina’s form began to slip after the new year, and they eventually finished a disappointing tenth, failing to qualify even for the UEFA Cup.

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Yet the disappointment was tempered with the fact that Fiorentina had finally turned a corner. The nightmare of relegation was behind them, and in Batistuta they’d found a new hero to take over the mantle of Baggio. Over the next few seasons Fiorentina continued to grow stronger, with Batistuta, Rui Costa and Toldo remaining key men in a side that ultimately began to challenge for top honours at home and in Europe. But just when it seemed the club was enjoying its best spell in years, so the fun came to an abrupt halt. The 1990s had been certainly been a rollercoaster of a decade for Fiorentina, but it was nothing compared to what was to come, as la Viola entered the most turbulent and dramatic period in its history.

Milan 1990-91

Success was so swift and so absolute for Silvio Berlusconi’s Milan, that it’s easy to forget when he had taken over the presidency the once prestigious club found itself ridden in debt, having spent two seasons in Serie B in the early 1980s. Though the team already boasted some talented local youngsters including Baresi, Maldini, Donadoni and Evani, their foreign stars were aging. Milan lacked that special player — a Maradona or a Platini — necessary to make the extra leap to domestic and European glory. In the summer of 1987 Berlusconi’s finances (funded at the time by his growing media empire) helped secure the talents of young Dutch stars Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten. That season Milan pipped Champions Napoli to the Serie A title, their first scudetto in nine years. Later that summer Gullit and Van Basten proved instrumental in Holland’s first major trophy, the European Championship, and after the tournament their international teammate, Frank Rijkaard, joined them at Milan.

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Berlusconi’s influence was not only economical. He insisted his side produce attractive, attacking football, and his power wielded an unprecedented control over transfers, team selection and technical aspects of the side’s preparation. In Arrigo Sacchi he found the ideal coach, an eccentric but brilliant man, who, despite fielding an imperviously strong back four, represented the antithesis of catenaccio. By the end of the decade Milan were once again the dominant force in Europe, winning back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990, a trophy which had eluded them for twenty years. They topped those victories off on both occasions with successive triumphs in the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo.

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Through regular visits to Italy and my burgeoning fixation with calcio I’d become fascinated by Sacchi’s Milan side, and in 1991 I bought the famous maglia rossonera from a store in the northern Tuscan town of Aulla. Given the quality of its domestic league football in Italy was remarkably uncommercialised in those days. All the shirts in the shop were folded in their manufacturers’ plastic wrappers and stacked up to the ceiling; after inquiring about the Milan kit a lady climbed to the top of a ladder to retrieve my size. The shirt was only available with long-sleeves, which seemed impractical to me at the time (it was July) but wholly appropriate once I recalled images of San Siro shrouded in a thick fog, the rossoneri carving out victories from its frosty turf.

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Milan had changed kit manufacturer in 1990, switching from Kappa to adidas, but the shirt had remained essentially unchanged for the last four years. The sponsor was still Mediolanum, Berlusconi’s own insurance company, named for the Latin word for Milan (the city). Above it on the right was the gold star which is earned after ten scudetto wins, beneath which sat an embroidered European Cup celebrating the fact that Milan were the current holders of that trophy (a nice initiative which never caught on). In the 1990-91 season Milan finished second in Serie A, a full five points behind scudetto winners Sampdoria, to whom they lost twice. A defeat to lowly Bari in the penultimate match of the season effectively ended their title hopes.

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Milan’s good domestic showing was marred by a disastrous European Cup campaign. The rossoneri were aiming for a record-equalling third straight triumph in the competition, and came up against a talented Olympique Marseille team in the quarter-final. The first leg at San Siro ended 1-1; in the return match Chris Waddle had given the French champions the lead on 75 minutes when deep into injury time the floodlights at the Stade Velodrome failed. When power was restored after several minutes Milan refused to return to the pitch – a gesture which most interpreted as a desperate attempt to seize the opportunity for a rematch. Either way the tactic backfired: UEFA awarded a 3-0 result to Marseille, while Milan were banned from all European competition for the 1991-92 season.

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His time at Milan having clearly run its course, Arrigo Sacchi left the rossoneri that summer to take over the Italian national team. Under his replacement, Fabio Capello, Milan galloped to a record-breaking Serie A season, becoming the first side to win lo scudetto without defeat. Van Basten finished the season as top scorer with 25 goals. The shirt remained unchanged from the previous season, although since Milan were no longer holders of the European Cup, its presence on the shirt was replaced by the Intercontinental Cup; when Red Star Belgrade took this title away from them in December 1991 they reverted to a traditional Milan logo (incidentally the first appearance of the club crest on the rossoneri jersey).

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Milan collected three successive Serie A titles with Capello at the helm, and with success on the pitch changes to the kit remained subtle over the next few seasons. In 1992 a new sponsor arrived in the form of local dessert company Motta, and the following year a new kit deal was launched with the Italian sportswear manufacturer Lotto. Milan re-established their relationship with adidas in 1998, by which time they’d begun a long-term sponsorship by the German car giant Opel.

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As Berlusconi ventured into politics his desire to create a European supersquad had resulted in the arrival of some big names — Savicevic, Boban, Papin, Raducioiu, Lentini — all of whom now competed for positions in Milan’s line-up. As Capello struggled with the challenge of keeping his bloated roster of big names happy, the Dutch trio’s dominance became undermined and was effectively broken up. The last time the three played together was the 1993 European Cup final in Munich, a 1-0 defeat by old rivals Marseille. That summer Rijkaard returned to Ajax and Gullit unexpectedly left for Sampdoria. Van Basten stayed at Milan, unaware he’d already played the last game of his career. He remained on the sidelines throughout the 1993-94 season, missing out on the team’s European Cup triumph and that summer’s World Cup, before finally announcing his official retirement in 1995 at the age of 30.

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The same summer I bought my Milan shirt I also obtained a giant poster of a young Paolo Maldini wearing the same kit. It was free from the local supermarket in exchange for the purchase of several packets of apricot jam-filled Kinder brioche (my brother got Baggio). Something about the lighting always made me believe the photo was taken at the San Paolo in Naples (the ball is correct, Paolino wore short-sleeves in that fixture, and there’s clearly an ad for Mars in the background). Either way the poster hung pinned on my bedroom wall for over a decade, and now hangs framed in my apartment in New York, just feet from where I sit as I write this. A few years ago adidas relaunched the 1990-91 shirt as a limited edition replica, presumably for fans who now regretted not getting their hands on it the first time. Yet somehow the remake wasn’t quite the same. The sponsor was too large and the slightly bulbous adidas logo had been corrected. The material was too glossy, too well-made. It was as if the memories of both the shirt’s manufacturer and its consumer had been warped by the team’s own legend. Milan weren’t perfect, and nor was their shirt. But both came mighty close.

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Sampdoria 1992-93

The port city of Genova is home to Serie A’s oldest and youngest clubs. Genoa Cricket and Football Club were founded in 1893; in contrast it wasn’t until August 1946 that two existing teams, Andrea Doria and Sampierdarenese, merged to form Sampdoria. The club spent its early years in the top flight without ever challenging for lo scudetto, and by the time oil trader and entrepreneur Paolo Mantovani took over the presidency in 1979 Samp had fallen to mid-table in Serie B. But in a few short seasons under Mantovani, Sampdoria were transformed into one of the top sides in Italy, and then Europe.

Perhaps the first key development in the Mantovani era was the purchase of two of Italy’s most talented forwards, Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli, who arrived from Bologna and Cremonese respectively to form a formidable long-term partnership at Sampdoria. Prolific goalscorers for the club, the “gemelli del gol” or “goal twins” each scored in the second leg of the 1985 Coppa Italia final against Milan to secure Samp its first ever trophy. They were victorious in the competition twice more in the eighties, and by the end of the decade had become a force in Europe, losing the final of the Cup Winner’s Cup to Barcelona in 1989, before winning the same trophy the following year against Anderlecht.

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Yet still lo scudetto eluded Sampdoria — indeed their best result in Serie A had been a fourth place finish back in 1960-61. But they had every right to dream big. Traditional title challengers Juventus were enduring a slump in their domestic dominance, and while northern giants Milan and Inter were building highly competitive sides, in recent seasons both Verona and Napoli had become first-time league winners.

Coached by the wily Serbian Vujadin Boskov, the 1990-91 Sampdoria squad was a healthy blend of domestic and foreign talent, enthusiasm and experience. Goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca provided a steady and spectacular presence behind rock-solid defenders Pietro Vierchowod and Moreno Mannini. In midfield Srecko Katanec and Alexei Mikhailichenko partnered with veteran Brazilian Toninho Cerezo, a survivor of the ’82 World Cup, while the glistening pate of prematurely balding winger Attilio Lombardo became a familiar sight along the flank.

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In the second half of the season the Sampdoria failed to lose a single match, beating their direct rivals Juventus, Milan and Inter before finally clinching the title with a home win against already-relegated Lecce. It was a popular victory for the neutral in Italy, though some claimed Samp’s triumph was assisted by Juventus’ woeful season and Napoli’s self-combustion following the suspension of Diego Maradona. Coincidentally, Sampdoria’s city rivals Genoa enjoyed their best season in Serie A for almost fifty years, finishing fourth in the table.

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The following year Boskov’s champions failed to repeat their scudetto success, finishing a disappointing sixth. Perhaps their attention was focused on their European Cup campaign, a thrilling odyssey that took them all the way to a final against Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona at Wembley in May 1992. As was typical of the era, a tight but absorbing affair offered scant goalmouth opportunities. Nevertheless Hristo Stoichkov hit a post for the Catalans while Vialli, in his last match for the club, was unlucky not to score at least once in the second half. The contest was settled deep into extra-time by an unstoppable free-kick off the right foot of Dutch defender Ronald Koeman. Sampdoria had lost the biggest match in its history, but it was a victory that Barcelona had coveted for much longer.

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Sampdoria wore white shirts that night at Wembley, identical to the one in these pictures but for the scudetto shield, missing sponsor and commemorative embroidery (not available on commercial models). The shirt was essentially a preview of their 1992-93 away strip. By now the ERG sponsor had become something of a trademark for the club, almost as much as their horizontal stripes (from which derives the nickname blucerchiati) and symbol of a pipe-wielding sailor, known locally as Baciccia. I bought this shirt in the summer of ’92 from a tiny shop in my friend’s town. The friend in question already had the long-sleeved home version of the previous season’s scudetto-winning shirt. I haven’t seen him in almost twenty years and I sometimes wonder if he still has it.

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Later that summer Vialli was sold to Juventus for four billion lire. With the extra cash Mantovani brought in gifted youngsters Vladimir Jugovic and Enrico Chiesa, plus England defender Des Walker. Sampdoria already had a successful track record when it came to British imports, with Trevor Francis, Graeme Souness and Liam Brady all enjoying happy spells at the club in the mid-eighties. But Walker, frequently forced to play out of position by new coach Sven Goran-Eriksson, endured only a single wretched season in Genoa, in which the team finished seventh in Serie A. The following October president Mantovani died suddenly, leaving his son Enrico to handle the running of the club. While the Mantovani era wasn’t technically quite over, Sampdoria’s best days seemed to be behind them.

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The club did its best to pull its weight in Serie A through the remainder of the nineties, but despite winning another Coppa Italia in 1994, never really challenged for the top prizes. England captain David Platt arrived from Juventus, faring much better than his international teammate Walker had in Genoa, becoming something of a local hero. But Vierchowod, Jugovic and Lombardo eventually all followed Vialli in the opposite direction to Turin. In the period that followed Sampdoria seemed to be solely a port of call for players on their way up (Chiesa, Mihajlovic, Karembeu, Seedorf, Veron, Montella) or on their way down (Gullit, Zenga, Ferri, Evani, Klinsmann, Signori). Mancini clung on to the captaincy until 1997, when he left Genoa after fifteen years, finding scudetto success again in 2000 with Lazio as a player, and later as coach of Inter and Manchester City.

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Following Mancini’s departure Sampdoria were relegated in 1999 and spent the next four seasons in Serie B. They returned to the top flight in 2003 and after heroically reaching the preliminary stages of the Champions League in 2010, slipped back into the second tier the following season. This time Samp bounced back immediately, but so far their current season has been nothing if not turbulent.

Incredibly, Sampdoria’s fortunes can be tied to its famous ERG sponsor. Just as the club’s finest successes had arrived following the introduction of the petrol giant’s logo to its shirts, so its form tanked after the acronym sponsor was replaced in the mid-nineties. When Riccardo Garrone took over the club presidency in 2003, just as Sampdoria were returning from a spell in the wilderness, so the club became reacquainted with the company Garrone’s father had founded as Edoardo Raffinerie Garrone back in 1938. In January 2013 the popular Garrone died after a long illness, effectively terminating Sampdoria’s long-standing connection with the company and also briefly illustrious past.