The 1988/89 season started with Red and Black and especially Orange being the colors of choice. AC Milan President’s gamble on visionary Manager Arrigo Sacchi seemed to have been vindicated. Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten had just capped off a dream season by helping their Nation triumph in the UEFA European Championship.
This was the first season that Three Foreign Imports were authorized and AC Milan, already more than satisfied with two Dutchmen, added a third.
The excellent Franck Rijkaard arrived due to insistence of Arrigo Sacchi.
Photo From: Mondial, new series, issue 103, October 1988
(AC Milan’s Dutch trio: Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Franck Rijkaard)
It must be remembered that Argentinean Claudio Borghi had been waiting in the wings for two years now to join Milan and Silvio Berlusconi himself was very eager for Borghi’s presence. Sacchi was less convinced, as Borghi’s stock had considerably dropped in these two years and his previous season on loan at Como had been disastrous.
A fully fit van Basten may as well have been a new recruit; therefore Daniele Massaro was loaned for one season at AS Roma.
This was also the first season in over two decades that the Serie A represented Eighteen Teams (Two extra teams were added).
This was also the first full season that the serious preparation for the 1990 World Cup started (with respect to the national Team), due to take place in Italy.
Due to the 1988 Seoul Olympics that were to take place in September, the Serie A season was actually postponed until October, but there were many talking points until then.
Naturally Diego Maradona was at the center of every controversy. Napoli had self destructed on their way to a seemingly won Scudetto with a number of senior players leading a mutiny against Manager Ottavio Bianchi.
Those players involved such as Salvatore Bagni, Bruno Giordano, Moreno Ferrario and Claudio Garella were all cleared out.
They were replaced with goalkeeper Giuallino Giulliani (Verona), International midfielder Luca Fusi (Sampdoria) and the Torino pair of defender Giancarlo Corradini and near future International midfielder Massimo Crippa.
As their third foreigner, Napoli also acquired Brazilian midfielder Ricardo Alemao from Atletico Madrid.
As early as July Maradona publicly criticized the team’s transfer policy and the Manager.
He stated that instead of Alemao he would have liked his Argentina teammate Sergio Batista. He also would have liked to retain Bagni, with whom he was very close.
The following day, Ottavio Bianchi replied that if Maradona thought he was the Club President, he should just come down and give him his dismissal papers and furthermore when speaking about him should refer to him as ‘Signor.’
The next day Maradona said that he believed Bianchi would have been dismissed given the events of the end of the previous season, but Club President Corrado Ferlaino must have his reasons for retaining him.
At this point President Ferlaino must have intervened behind the scenes, as the following day (still in July), Maradona publicly apologized to Bianchi and welcomed at the chance for his new partnership with Alemao.
Photo From: Mondial, new series, issue 103, October 1988
(Napoli’s foreign trio: Antonio Careca , Diego Maradona and Ricardo Alemao)
Juventus, still struggling from Michel Platini’s retirement and the Ian Rush fiasco were busy on their quest to get back to the glory days.
Former Star goalkeeper Dino Zoff was appointed as Manager with the task of rebuilding. Initially, Bologna’s Luigi Maifredi had been approached. He was looked upon as a ‘new Arrigo Sacchi’. Maifredi declined since he did not feel yet ready for a team of Juventus’ level.
The Soviet Union was in the middle of the Perestroika movement. This led to the authorization to transfer players abroad. Juventus were one of the first to exploit this avenue. They were able to obtain Alexander Zavarov from Dinamo Kiev. They were also linked with his Kiev and USSR teammate Oleg Protassov, but that deal did not materialize.
Since Dutch players were in fashion, Juventus were also linked with PSV Eindhoven pair of Ronald Koeman and Gerald Vanenburg, but PSV would not release either.
Juventus instead signed Porto’s star on the rise, midfielder Rui Barros.
With four foreigners on board, Juventus initially released Danish Michael Laudrup to make way. However, they recalled him within a week after Ian Rush jumped at the chance to rejoin Liverpool and salvage his career.
Photo From: Mondial, new series, issue 103, October 1988(Juventus’ new foreign trio: Alexander Zavarov, Rui barros and Michael Laudrup)
Other new recruits included soon to be International midfielder Giancarlo Marocchi from Bologna, Roberto Galia (Verona) and Inter’s discarded veteran, former Italian International striker Alessandro Altobelli.
For his third season in charge of Inter, it was make or break time for Giovanni Trapattoni. They were busy in the transfer market that off-season.
Aging veterans such as Altobelli and Argentinean Daniel Passarella had been offloaded. Belgian star Enzo Scifo was loaned to France’s Bordeaux after a difficult first season.
Young Italian midfielders Alessandro Bianchi (Cesena) and soon-to-be International Nicola Berti (Fiorentina) came on board, along with West German stars and Bayern Munich teammates Lothar Matthaus and Andreas Brehme.
For a while it seemed like Algeria’s Rabah Madjer would be their third foreigner. However, medical exams showed him to be injury prone and most likely in need of surgery. Inter did not sign him and for some time were eyeing Benfica and Portuguese striker Rui Aguas as a potential replacement. In the end Aguas joined Porto and instead Inter signed Argentinean striker Ramon Diaz from Fiorentina (In Italy since 1982, which included spells with Napoli and Avellino as well).
Photo From: Mondial, new series, issue 103, October 1988
(Inter Milan’s Andreas Brehme, Lothar Matthaus and Walter Zenga)
Some of the other new arrivals included Belgian defender Stephane Demol at Bologna, Brazil’s Carlos Dunga at Fiorentina (after a one year loan at Pisa), Uruguay’s Ruben Sosa at Lazio along with compatriot Nelson Guttierez and Argentinean striker Gustavo Dezotti, Dutchman Mario Been (from Feyenoord) and Belgian striker Francis Severyns (from Antwerp) at Pisa, Swedish midfielder Robert Prytz at Atalanta (joining his compatriot Glenn Stromberg) young Argentinean duo of Claudio Caniggia and Pedro Troglio at Verona, Brazilians Luis Muller and Edu at Torino, along with Yugoslavia’s Haris Skoro, rising young Italian striker Ruggiero Rizzitelli (from Cesena) and Brazilian duo of Renato and Andrade at AS Roma.
Photo From: Mondial, new series, issue 104, October-November 1988
(Torino’s Luis Muller)
Sampdoria registered the arrival of Italian veteran Giuseppe Dossena and Barcelona’s Spanish veteran Victor.
USSR star and former European Player of the Year Igor Belanov was also pursued for some time by newly promoted Atalanta, but when that did not materialize they signed Brazilian striker Evair from Guarani.
With all the transfers out of the way (as well as the Olympics), the Serie A got underway in October.
As for myself, my print press information was restricted to ‘Soccer America’ magazine. The previous year I had stumbled upon the RAI America broadcast of lives matches , as well as the superb highlight program ‘Novantesimo Minuto’. This routine would stay with for at least the following seven years or so.
In the first few weeks on all the big guns seemed in form. But as early as the Fifth Matchday (November 6th), Inter gained sole command by defeating Sampdoria (1-0) from a goal by Berti. From the beginning Inter seemed formidable with all the new arrivals fully integrated including the foreigners.
The following Matchday (November 20th) was significant as it set the pace for the rest of the season. Inter naturally defeated Como away (2-1) to maintain its lead, but two other results spoke volumes. Juventus, at home, were heavily defeated (3-5) by Napoli. Clearly, Juventus were not Scudetto ready and their results in the following weeks confirmed that. Zavarov would turn out to be just as disappointing as Rush and a pale shadow of his Kiev self. This Napoli was scoring at will and just a few weeks before that they had defeated Pescara (8-2). With Giordano out, Andrea Carnevalle was back in as a starter and he would go on to score many goals with Careca and Maradona that season.
AC Milan also showed signs of stuttering and were defeated at home by Atalanta.
Their problems were further compounded the following week (November 27th), when Napoli heavily defeated them (4-1). Their title defense already looked in tatters. By now Napoli were the closest challengers to a seemingly unbeatable Inter.
By Matchday 9 (December 11), AC Milan’s title hopes were over after losing the Milan derby to League leaders Inter from an Aldo Serena goal.
Serena seemed to be having his best season ever and his goalscoring exploits earned him a way back to the National team.
Photo From: Onze, Issue 157, January 1989
(Inter’s Alessandro Bianchi between AC Milan’s Alberigo Evani, Carlo Ancelotti, Franco Baresi and Franck Rijkaard, December 11, 1989, Inter 1-AC Milan 0)
Photo From: Onze, Issue 157, January 1989
(Inter’s Giuseppe Bergomi and AC Milan’s Paolo Virdis, December 11, 1989, Inter 1-AC Milan 0)
By now Arrigo Sacchi’s job seemed in jeopardy. Ruud Gullit’s early season injury had disrupted the team’s play. In addition Sacchi could not decide on Rijkaard’s true position and he was shuffled between defense and midfield.
He finally decided to use his talents in midfield (too late to salvage the current League season) but as the season wore on , Milan’s play improved.
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 4, May 1989(Arrigo Sacchi)
The only result that saved Sacchi from the sack was Milan’s qualification to the quarterfinals of the Champions Cup. This was achieved after two difficult matches vs. Red Star Belgrade. In fact AC Milan seemed to be headed for a defeat in the return leg, when heavy fog stopped the play and the match was replayed the following day. A much more determined Milan held off Red Star in Belgrade and narrowly won a penalty kick shoot-out. In fact just about all-Italian squads advanced to the quarterfinals of European Cups, except surprisingly Inter who were eliminated in the UEFA Cup by Bayern Munich at home.
As far as Sacchi, the fog seemed to have saved his job. It was even reported that Berlusconi had contacted Johann Cruyff on more than one occasion to manage the team. It was not just the bad results, some believed Cruyff’s arrival would make it easier to keep van Basten at Milan.
Sacchi and Milan would concentrate on the Champions Cup with the Scudetto looking week after week Inter’s to take.
By Matchday 11 (December 31), AS Roma with a goal from the much-improved West German striker Rudi Voeller defeated Napoli and Inter’s away win at Lecce (3-0) gave them a three-point lead.
The top two teams played one another on Matchday 13 (January 15) at Naples. Inter, under true Trapattoni fashion, did what it was required to hold on for a scoreless tie against Maradona’s rampant Napoli and maintain its lead.
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 4, May 1989(Diego Maradona and Giuseppe Baresi, January 15, 1989, Napoli 0-Inter 0)
Inter held onto to its lead until the last day of the first round of matches (Matchday 17, February 12) when they visited Fiorentina. Fiorentina was having a strong season, with Roberto Baggio having come of age and scoring a glut of goals with his striking partner Stefano Borgonovo (who was actually on loan from AC Milan). They both gained International recognition that season, with Baggio headed for superstardom. Fiorentina defeated Inter (4-3) and Napoli’s win vs. Como (3-2) cut Inter’s lead to a solitary point.
However, this was a minor hiccup in Inter’s quest for the Scudetto and they would continue the second half of the season in record-breaking fashion when most rivals were concentrating on European glory.
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, April 26-May 2, 1989
(Fiorentina’s Roberto Baggio)
While Napoli were doing good on the field, matters off the field were as poor as last season. On February 15th, Napoli President Corrado Ferlaino deemed it necessary to impose fines on both Maradona and Manager Ottavio Bianchi, after both had been critical of one another in the newspapers.
With Napoli also concentrating in the UEFA Cup (defeating Juventus in the quarterfinals, after overtime), they also seemed to give up on the Scudetto by Matchday 23 (April 2) after losing vs. Juventus at home (2-4), with Inter winning as usual vs. Como (4-0). Their lead was now a seemingly unassailable six points.
In the following month, AC Milan’s European dynasty in Europe was being born by defeating Real Madrid (5-0) (in the semifinals) and ultimate triumph vs. Steaua Bucharest (4-0) in the Final.
Similarly, Maradona finally triumphed in Europe by helping Napoli triumph in the UEFA Cup by defeating Bayern Munich in the semifinals and Jurgen Klinnsman’s Stuttgart in the Final.
Only Sampdoria failed to make it a clean sweep for Italy, after losing the Cup Winners Cup vs. Barcelona.
Inter just kept on winning in the League and racked up points and goals.
On Matchday 30 (May 28), Inter were to host the new UEFA Cup winners Napoli and a win would ensure them the title with four matches to go.
Napoli scored first through Careca, but an own goal by Luca Fusi, early in the second half evened the score. With seven minutes remaining, Lothar Matthaus scored from a powerful free kick to give Inter the win and the Scudetto with a nine-point lead. This was their 13th Scudetto and their first since 1980.
By Matchday 32 (June 11), Inter’s win over Atalanta (4-2) coupled with Napoli’s loss at Ascoli (0-2) gave Inter an unbelievable 12-point lead.
A bizarre incident at Napoli’s loss vs. Ascoli somewhat undermined their positive campaign. When Careca was injured, reserve goalkeeper Raffaele Di Fusco replaced him. Bianchi blamed the fact that he had no choice since as much as six first teamers were missing. The Federation even reported Napoli to the disciplinary commission for not fielding a strong enough team
An angry Careca declared that besides the UEFA Cup, the entire Napoli season had been a disappointment (off the field that is).
A disinterested Napoli also lost the final of Coppa Italia to Sampdoria, who retained the title.
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 5, June 1989
(Careca scoring vs. Stuttgart, May 17, 1989, UEFA Cup, Stuttgart 3-Napoli 3)
Inter suffered their second defeat of the season on Matchday 33 (June 19) vs. Torino (0-2). The once powerful Torino would suffer relegation, along with Pescara, Pisa and Como.
On the last day of matches (Matchday 34, June 25), Inter defeated Fiorentina (2-0) to win with a record breaking 58 points (beating Juventus’ record dating back to 1960). They had only dropped 10 points all season and won 26 of their 34 matches. They won with an 11-point lead over Napoli, who just edged out a resurgent AC Milan by one point. Juventus finished three points behind Milan. They were an improvement on the previous season but clearly did not have the potential to win a League title.
Aldo Serena was Capocannoniere with 22 goals, ahead of Careca and van Basten. Giovanni Trapattoni won the Scudetto with a second team, after having won the previous six (1977, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1984 and 1986) with Juventus. This would be his last Scudetto win. Inter’s departing veteran Pietro Fanna (due to rejoin former club Verona) became only the fourth player in Serie A history to win the Scudetto with three different teams (Juventus (1978, 1981, 1982) and Verona (1985)).
Aldo Serena would become the fifth in 1992 after winning the title with AC Milan.
All that remained was a final playoff between AS Roma and Fiorentina for the final UEFA Cup qualifying place. Fiorentina’s Veteran striker Roberto Pruzzo ended his Serie A career by scoring the winner vs. the club with which he had spent his best years.
In addition to Pruzzo many others bid farewell as well. While Antonio Cabrini still remained in the Serie A (joining Bologna), he waved goodbye to his beloved Juventus after over a decade.
Fiorentina Manager, the Swedish Sven-Goran Eriksson left Italy after five years and rejoined one of his former clubs, Portugal’s Benfica.
Roma’s Brazilian pair of Andrade and Renato left after a disappointing season.
Brazilian Junior left Italian Football and returned to Flamengo after five years and one final season with Pescara.
Ramon Diaz signed off his Italian career after his most successful season (12 goals) and signed for AS Monaco. He was to be replaced by the much younger and West German striker Jurgen Klinnsman.
Alessandro Altobelli left Juventus and the Serie A, to play one final season as a professional with Brescia in the Serie B.
Ottavio Bianchi finally left Napoli after years of disputes and tension.
Paolo Virdis left AC Milan to play out his final few seasons at Lecce.
Michael Laudrup left the Serie A and joined Barcelona.
Inter’s breathtaking title win seemed unbelievable in a League used to close and tight races. The addition of Klinnsman appeared to make them even stronger. No one would have believed at this point that Inter would not win another title for the next 17 years. Until the Calciopoli Scandal of 2006 awarded them the title and they would go on to win another four in a row.But as always while Maradona was around, controversy was around the corner and similarly the off-season of 1989 would be dominated with his off the field antics (1989/90 season, to be continued…..)
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 6, July 1989
(Internazionale Milano Manager Giovanni Trapattoni)