The 1990/91 season started in the aftermath of the World Cup that Italy had hosted. After exhaustive years of preparations for the Tournament, the Nation could breath somewhat easier now that the World Cup had ended.
The focus would now be shifted back to the Serie A.
Maradona’s defending Champions of Napoli (managed by Albertino Bigon) had retained the backbone of a squad that had served well for many seasons. Striker Andrea Carnevalle had left to join AS Roma and goalkeeper Giuliano Giuliani had also departed.
In a move reminiscent of Juventus’s purchase of Salvatore Schillaci, Napoli had enrolled Serie B’s top goalscorer Andrea Silenzi from Reggiana.
Former AC Milan goalkeeper Giovanni Galli had also been acquired to fill the gap left by Giuliani’s departure.
Giuseppe Incocciati was another new arrival from Pisa.
As always Napoli’s fortunes were dependent upon the physical, as well as the mental state, of Diego Maradona. In the previous season, especially during his faux-departure to Olympique Marseille, Maradona had shown signs of having grown weary of the demanding and stressful Serie A. This season he would go even further (more on that later).
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, October 17-23, 1990(Sampdoria’s Gianluca Vialli)
The Milanese giants of AC Milan and Internazionale Milano (beset by the poor state of the San Siro pitch) had retained the majority of the same bloc of players. The teams managed respectively by Arrigo Sacchi and Giovanni Trapattoni still relied on their Dutch and German (soon to be a reunified Nation) stars.
AC Milan had lost Galli, as well as Angelo Colombo (Bari), Stefano Borgonovo (back with Fiorentina) and Diego Fuser (loaned to Fiorentina).
The arrivals were mostly little-known players that included Sebastiano Rossi (as back-up goalkeeper from Cesena), striker Massimo Agostini (Cesena), Gianluca Gaudenzi (Verona) and Angelo Carbone (Bari).
In a way, a healthy and fit Ruud Gullit could also have been seen as a new arrival.
Inter for their part had acquired Sergio Battistini (Fiorentina), Antonio Paganin (Udinese), Paolo Stringara (Bologna), Fausto Pizzi (Parma) and Genoa’s Davide Fontolan.
Much had been expected of Fontolan, however, he was lost for the season (before the season had kicked off) due to surgery to treat an injury.
The main talking point on that off-season was the dealings on and off the field at Juventus (first season in the new Stadio Delle Alpi). After years of disappointments, the Agnelli clan wanted to build a new and improved Juventus. President Giampiero Boniperti and Manager Dino Zoff had been dismissed, as scapegoats for Juventus’ failings.
Luca di Montezemolo, who had been involved in organizing the World Cup, was brought in as an Executive Vice-President.
Bologna’s star coach on the rise, Luigi Maifredi had been hired as the ‘next Arrigo Sacchi.’
Photo From: World Soccer, February 1991(Juventus executive Luca Di Montezemolo and new Manager Luigi Maifedi)
He was portrayed as a tactical genius and a future coaching great.
As far as the playing personnel, Juventus dispensed of its foreign trio of Portugal’s Rui Barros (to AS Monaco) and USSR duo of Sergei Aleinikov (Lecce) and Alexander Zavarov (Nancy).
Long serving stopper Sergio Brio had retired and others such as Pasquale Bruno and Roberto Tricella were also transferred out.
At the end of the previous season, Juventus had spent a World record fee to acquire Fiorentina’s phenomenon Roberto Baggio, who had also gone on to be one of the successes of the World Cup.
West German midfielder and World Cup winner Thomas Haessler had arrived from Koln, to fill one of the foreigner spots, along with Brazilian sweeper Julio Cesar from Montpellier.
Juventus desperately tried to purchase English defender Des Walker from Nottingham Forest. Brian Clough refused to sell (as a result the third authorized foreigner spot would remain unfilled)
Lazio’s excellent (though controversial) forward Paolo Di Canio, Bologna’s defensive pair (Gianluca Luppi and Marco De Marchi), Brescia playmaker Eugenio Corini and Massimo Orlando (Reggina), all came on board to strengthen a declining side.
The mood was that their rare successes from the previous season, strikers Salvatore Schillaci (still basking on his World Cup exploits) and Pierluigi Casiraghi could only improve with the reinforcements.
Certainly Maifredi publicly gave every indication that Juventus would be victorious and play like ‘Brazil.’
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 21, October 1990(Juventus’ Salvatore Schillaci, Thomas Haessler and Roberto Baggio)
Going into this season not much was expected of the recent Cup Winners Cup winners Sampdoria. The notable acquisition had been that of Soviet star Alexei Mikhailichenko, to replace the departing Spanish veteran Victor.
They were still regarded as a team that could only do well in Cup competitions and not strong nor consistent enough to last a League Campaign.
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, October 17-23, 1990(Sampdoria’s Roberto Mancini, Gianluca Vialli and Alexei Mikhailichenko)
The mood of its mains stars and stand-bearers Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini was also at an all time low. Mancini had not seen a single minute of action during the World Cup on home soil, while Vialli had been singled out as one of the scapegoats for Italy’s failure to win the World Cup.
He was also suffering from an injury and would miss the beginning stages of the season. As a result the omens did not look good for the Veteran Yugoslav Manager Vujadin Boskov’s squad.
Their Genovese neighbors Genoa had appointed Osvaldo Bagnoli as manager. They had retained only one of their trio of Uruguayans (Carlos Aguilera).
They had acquired Czechoslovakia Striker Tomas Skuhravy, who had scored five goals during the World Cup in Italy. By October, Brazilian defender Branco would also join up.
They would go on to have a wonderful season along with their Italian supporting cast among whom Stefano Eranio and Gennaro Ruotolo would be capped.
Photo From: World Soccer, July 1991
(Genoa’s new Czech striker Tomas Skuhravy)
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, November 21-27, 1990(Genoa President Aldo Spinelli and Brazilian defender Claudio Branco)
AS Roma had appointed former Napoli Manager Ottavio Bianchi as their new manager. In addition to Carnevalle, young rising goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi was back from loan (Verona). The new foreigner on the squad was Brazilian defender Aldair from Benfica (He would remain in Roma for well over a decade).
For Fiorentina, the sale of Roberto Baggio had been Count Pontello’s undoing. He left amid the protests to be replaced by Film Mogul Mario Cecchi Gori.
Photo From: Soccer International, November 1990(Juventus’ Roberto Baggio)
The new management was unable to acquire Brazilian midfielder Valdo, however, his manager during the World Cup, Sebastiano Lazaroni had been hired.
The main foreign arrival consisted of Romanian star Marius Lacatus from Steaua Bucharest. Brazilian midfielder Carlos Dunga and Czechoslovakia’s Lubos Kubik were still on board.
Photo From: World Soccer, April 1991
(Fiorentina and Romania’s Marius Lacatus)
Photo From: World Soccer, April 1991(Fiorentina’s new Brazilian Manager Sebastiano Lazaroni)
Torino had returned to the Serie A after a season in Serie B with Emiliano Mondonico at the helm. They had acquired Real Madrid’s Rafael Martin Vazquez, who was very eager to try his luck in the Serie A.
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, October 17-23, 1990(Torino’s Spanish star Rafael Martin Vasquez)
Cagliari had also been promoted after a seven-year absence. The team managed by a young Claudio Ranieri had acquired Gianfranco Mateolli from Inter, as well as the Uruguayan trio of Enzo Francescolli, Daniel Fonseca and Jose Herrera.
Another newly promoted side (for the first time) was Parma. Nevio Scala’s side would go on to become one of the major forces in the Serie A for the coming decade. They brought in a foreign trio of Brazil goalkeeper Claudio Taffarell, Belgian defender Georges Grun and Swedish forward Tomas Brolin.
Photo From: World Soccer, April 1991(Parma’s new Brazilian goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel)
Photo From: World Soccer, April 1991(Parma’s new Swedish star Tomas Brolin)
Other newcomers to the Serie A included: West German striker Karl-Heinz Riedle (Lazio), young Romanian forward Florin Raducioiu (Bari), Hungary’s Lajos Detari (Bologna), Denmark’s Henrik Larsen (Pisa), Argentinean (then unknown) midfielder Diego Simeone, Brazil’s Mazinho (Lecce) and Swiss striker Kubilay Turkyilmaz (Bologna, in November).
On the bench, Juventus and Roma’s former Polish star Zbigniew Boniek became the new manager of Lecce.
The seasons kicked off on September 9th and from the outset the defending Champions Napoli were struggling. A scoreless tie at Lecce was followed by a home loss vs. Cagliari and another loss vs. Parma.
They managed to pick up their first win on only on Matchday 4.
The first controversy of the season occurred on the Third Matchday (September 23rd), after AS Roma’s win over Bari (1-0).
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, October 17-23, 1990(Pietro Vierchowod and Julio Cesar, September 30, 1990, Juventus 0-Sampdoria 0)
On October 8th, it was revealed that AS Roma teammates Angelo Peruzzi and Andrea Carnevalle had failed their Drug tests. On October 13th, they pair were banned for one year.
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, October 17-23, 1990(AS Roma’s Angelo Peruzzi and Andrea Carnevalle and Club President, Dino Viola)
In the meantime, the other leading squads were picking up points without impressing much. At this point it was difficult to see which team(s) was going to break out of the pack.
On Matchday 6 (October 21st), the first big encounter of the season occurred with struggling Napoli taking on AC Milan.
This was a must-win match for Napoli to jump-start the defense of the League title. They struck first through a penalty kick by Maradona and seemed headed for a rare win, when Ruud Gullit tied up the match in the dying stages.
Photo From: World Soccer, February 1991(Franco Baresi and Diego Maradona, October 21, 1990, Napoli 1-AC Milan 1)
The following week (Matchday 7, October 28th) saw Juventus defeat Inter (4-2), where Schillaci scored his first goal of the season. On the same day, Sampdoria gave a sign of its title ambitions by defeating AC Milan at San Siro with a goal from Brazilian veteran Cerezo. Sampdoria became League leaders for the first time in the season.
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, October 31-November 6, 1990(Toninho Cerezo, Roberto Mancini and Franco Baresi, October 28, 1990, AC Milan 0-Sampdoria 1)
As for Napoli, Diego Maradona would continuously express his desire to leave the Serie A in radio and magazine interviews.
In addition to the pressures of Calcio, he also had to contend with an ongoing paternity case from a few years back.
During the season he was fined a number of times by the Federation for dissent and indiscipline. He would also train at Napoli according to his own wishes and on many occasions skipped training sessions.
On November 5th, Maradona continued his antics. He locked himself in his home and refused to fly to Moscow with his teammates for a Champions Cup encounter with Spartak (He eventually joined up via a private plane, but was unable to avoid his team’s elimination via penalty kick shoot-out).
The following week (Matchday 8, November 11th), Sampdoria held on to the lead by defeating Pisa (4-2). The match was significant as Gianluca Vialli (now healed) scored his first goal of the season.
Juventus defeated Bologna with a penalty kick by Roberto Baggio. The match highlighted Salvatore Schillaci’s difficulties post World Cup. The penalty kick was awarded after a foul on Schillaci. At the end of the match, Bologna’s Fabio Poli accused Schillaci of diving. The pair continued quarreling to such a point, that Schillaci threatened Poli that he would have him ’shot.’
This would lead to his suspension in a nightmarish and forgettable season for himself (and his club).
The following week (Matchday 9, November 18th), the limelight was on the Milan derby (won by Inter), but the more significant match (as far as the rest of the season) took place at San Paolo between Napoli and Sampdoria.
Sampdoria proved that their win vs. Milan a few weeks earlier was no fluke and hammered the defending Champions (4-1) away from home with both Vialli and Mancini scoring twice.
This was considered by many as a reference match for Sampdoria, that showed they might have a legitimate chance to win the Scudetto (while virtually eliminating any last hope Napoli had of defending their title).
The following Matchday (Round 10, November 25th), Inter inflicted more misery on Napoli (2-1 win) and leveled at the top with Sampdoria, who lost to neighbors (and improving and attractive Genoa side).
For Inter, Lothar Matthaus was having an exceptional season and he would be rewarded with France Football’s Ballon d’Or at the end of the year.
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, June 5-11, 1991(Internazionale Milano’s Lothar Matthaus)
The stage was set for the pacesetters to face one another on Matchday 14 (December 30th) at Genova. Sampdoria, with a resurgent Vialli and Mancini, deservedly defeated Inter (3-1) to take control of the League. On the same day, AC Milan defeated a lackluster Juventus.
However, in their next two matches, Sampdoria showed a sign of nerves and lost at home to Torino and away to Lecce.
Gianluca Vialli in an interview some time later explained that following the Lecce defeat, the players got together and hashed out all their differences. The squad became unified in its quest to win the elusive League title. The defeat at Lecce would be their last one of that season.
These setbacks had allowed their closest rivals, Inter, AC Milan and Juventus within touching distance.
On January 19th, AS Roma’s President Dino Viola (who had presided over the 1983 Scudetto) passed away at the age of 75 to end an era for the club.
Less than three months later on April 13th, Giuseppe Ciarrapico, a mineral water millionaire, bought controlling stake from widow of Dino Viola, to become the new President of AS Roma.
By the halfway stage of the season (Matchday 17, January 20th, 1991), Inter had taken control (24 points).
Parma’s surprise ascent was exemplified by their win over a fading AC Milan (2-0) on that Matchday. Alessandro Melli, who scored both goals, was part of the new wave of Italian stars that many predicted a bright future.
Similarly, this was the season that Torino’s Gianluigi Lentini would break through and be capped by the Azzuri.
AC Milan had been disappointing despite their high position in the League. There were reports that Sacchi and Marco van Basten were at loggerheads.
Marco van Basten felt that Sacchi’s tactics stifled him. By now Sacchi was employing a 4-5-1 formation that left van Basten alone and isolated upfront with no support striker to assist him. Many others also felt that Sacchi’s tactics were becoming too predictable in the Serie A and suggested adjustments.
Photo From: World Soccer, February 1991(AC Milan’s Marco van Basten)
On Matchday 19 (February 3rd), Sampdoria and Inter were level on points following Sampdoria’s win (Fiorentina 1-0) and Inter’s scoreless tie at Bologna (26 points each).
Maradona’s troubles continued and intensified in the New Year. In February, he was linked to drugs/prostitution scandal related to the Camorra (Napoli’s crime syndicate).
Magistrates questioned him on February 15th and March 25th. (His greatest troubles still lay ahead).
On Matchday 21 (February 17th), Sampdoria took full control of the League by defeating Juventus with a penalty kick by Vialli. The loss effectively ended Juventus’ title aspirations and they took a free fall from that point on.
By Matchday 24 (March 10th), Sampdoria and Inter broke away from the chasing pack. While Inter defeated a demoralized Juventus, Sampdoria defeated AC Milan (2-0). Following the defeat, AC Milan President Silvio Berlusconi ruled his team out of the running. Milan’s poor season (by their standards) was compounded days later by their elimination in the Champions Cup by Olympique Marseille (Having walked off after Stadium Lights failure).
On the following Matchday (Round 25, March 17th), Sampdoria pulled one point ahead after winning in Pisa (3-0) and Inter being held scoreless at Parma.
However, the most significant news of the Matchday concerned the aftermath of Napoli’s win over Bari (1-0) that would be revealed in the coming days.
On the following Matchday 26 (March 24th), Sampdoria pulled three points clear (39 points) by defeating Napoli at home (4-1).
The soon to be suspended Maradona scored his final goal in the Serie A from the penalty spot. During this eventful Final season, all his goals had been from the penalty spot, further underlining his decline.
On March 28th, it was reported that Maradona had failed his Drug test for the match vs. Bari on March 17th. The test had shown traces of cocaine.
On April 1st, he left Italy for Argentina with his family. He would be banned for 15 months.
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 21, October 1990(Napoli’s Diego Maradona)
AC Milan, with less pressure now that they were out of Europe and out of the title race, seemed re-invigorated and produced better performances for the rest of the season. They defeated Inter in the Milan derby that helped Sampdoria.
By Matchday 28 (April 7th), Inter had gained one point over Sampdoria (41 vs. 39) after defeating Bari (5-1) and Sampdoria being held at home by Cagliari (2-2).
By Matchday 30 (April 21), Sampdoria once again pulled three points clear (45 vs. 42), after defeating Bari (3-2) and Inter being held scoreless at Fiorentina.
The match of the season took place the following week (Matchday 31, May 5th), with Inter hosting Sampdoria. Inter HAD to win to have any chance of winning the title. Sampdoria performed heroically and won (2-0) with goals by Giuseppe Dossena and Vialli (not to mention Gianluca Pagliuca saving a Matthaus Penalty kick) to effectively pave the way for the Scudetto. They were now 5 points clear of Inter (47 vs. 42). Inter’s loss allowed their neighbors AC Milan to take the second spot (43 points) after defeating Juventus (3-0) in Turin.
Inter effectively gave up and tried to concentrate for the Final of the UEFA Cup (that they would end up winning defeating fellow Italians, AS Roma).
This summed up their performance the following Matchday (Round 32, May 12th), when they lost (0-3) at Genoa.
Sampdoria mathematically won the Scudetto on the penultimate Matchday (Round 33, May 19th), when they hosted and defeated Lecce (3-0). Brazilian veteran Cerezo, who had an excellent season, started off the festivities by scoring the opening goal. Gianluca Vialli scored Sampdoria’s third and his personal and League Leading 19th goal to end a memorable season.
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 30, July 1991(Toninho Cerezo during the title deciding match, May 19, 1991, Sampdoria 3-Lecce 0)
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, June 12-18, 1991(Sampdoria’s Brazilian star Toninho Cerezo)
The Final Matchday of the season (Round 34, May 26th) was irrelevant as far as the title race, but was significant in other aspects. Genoa capped off an exceptional year for the city of Genova by qualifying for the UEFA Cup. Nevio Scala’s Parma also qualified for Europe to start a Legacy at home and Europe for the years to come.
Juventus ended one of its most nightmarish seasons ever by failing to qualify for Europe for the first time in nearly three decades.
Luigi Maifredi left in disgrace and rejoined his former club Bologna (now relegated to the Serie B).
Ginaluca Vialli believed that his and Mancini’s negative experiences during the World Cup the previous summer had been the motivation to win the League and perform in exceptional fashion.
By springtime, the duo was back as starters in the National team as well.
Photo From: Calcio 2000, Issue 22, August 1999(Gianluca Pagliuca and Gianluca Vialli during the title win celebrations, May 19, 1991, Sampdoria 3-Lecce 0)
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 30, July 1991(Roberto Mancini during the title win celebrations, May 19, 1991, Sampdoria 3-Lecce 0)
Arrigo Sacchi ended his four-year adventure with Milan. He had placed AC Milan at the zenith of the European game and along the way changed the mentality of Italian Soccer by making it more attack minded and attractive. He officially resigned on May 31st.
His last season had been a disappointment in no small part due to his ongoing feud with van Basten.
It was an open secret that he was due to take over as National Team Manager within months.
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, June 5-11, 1991(AC Milan Manager Arrigo Sacchi)
His replacement at Milan would be Fabio Capello, who was still an unknown quantity as a Manager. Many had viewed his appointment as a sign of Berlusconi wanting someone more malleable to his suggestions.
While Inter Manager Giovanni Trappatoni left after five years and returned to his old love Juventus, who were desperate to get out of the rut.
Trappatoni’s arrival (still under contract) would come at a price (the loan of newly acquired Dino Baggio (from Torino) to Inter for one season).
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 29, June 1991(Internazionale Milano Manager Giovanni Trapattoni)
His replacement at Inter would be Corrado Orrico, from Serie B’s Lucchese.
Former Juventus Legend Antonio Cabrini also called time on his career. He had spent his last two seasons at Bologna.
Photo From: World Soccer, March 1991(Bologna’s Antonio Cabrini)
Former AS Roma legend Bruno Conti retired in somewhat anonymity. He had been part of Roma’s squad, but did not play in this final season.
AS Roma’s German defender Thomas Berthold left Italy after four seasons to join Bayern Munich.
Predictably, Napoli Manager Albertino Bigon was fired and replaced with Cagliari’s young up and coming Manager Claudio Ranieri.
The Soviet Alexei Mikhailichenko (Probably the only disappointment in Sampdoria’s season) left to join Rangers Glasgow.
Inter veteran Aldo Serena left Inter for good (after three different spells) and joined cross-town rivals AC Milan (his second spell there).
Lothar Matthaus also expressed his desire to leave Inter and join Real Madrid in the off-season. He was finally persuaded to stay by Inter President Ernesto Pellgrini.
But it was not the players’ comings and goings that mattered in that summer of 1991, but all the managerial changes. AC Milan, Juventus, Inter and Napoli were to start the following season with new managers. All bets were off with no clear favorites.
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, October 17-23, 1990(Sampdoria President Paolo Mantovani and Gianluca Vialli)
There were some who suggested that Sampdoria had been the beneficiary of World Cup hangovers. They believed the Big three (Juventus, AC Milan and Inter) had been uncharacteristically vulnerable and jaded, while Napoli was beset with all the problems related to Maradona.
There was clearly no sign of a dynasty being built, but more like a one-off event such as Verona’s title in 1985.
We were about to enter the Post-Maradona era after seven (mostly) glorious years (1991/92 season, to be continued…..)
For a more detail account of Juventus’ season, please see:
Photo From: (Magazine Source unknown) / Contribution From a blog viewer(Sampdoria squad 1990/91)