Friday, May 29, 2015

When Calcio Ruled the Football World-A Personal Journey-Part 6 (1987/88)

The 1987/88 season started with Diego Maradona at the top of the World having led Napoli to their first Serie A title, one year after the World Cup triumph.
The ban of acquiring new foreign players had been lifted that led to the arrival on new foreign stars.
Napoli Manager Ottavio Bianchi and President Corrado Ferlaino had made a number of efficient signings to strengthen an already strong squad containing Maradona, as well as,  Italian Internationals Salvatore Bagni, Fernando De Napoli and the newly capped Ciro Ferrara.

Photo From:  Guerin Sportivo, November 18-24, 1987
(Diego Maradona, November 8, 1987, Como 0-Napoli 0)

Brazilian striker Careca, one of the top goalscorers from the 1986 World Cup, arrived from Sao Paulo. Another key arrival was the new International defender Giovanni Francini from Torino. Napoli also signed Maradona’s younger brother Hugo and loaned him to Ascoli.
Juventus, on the heels of Michel Platini’s retirement, made many new signings to replace retiring and ageing players, as former heroes like Antonio Cabrini and Gaetano Scirea were no longer the rocks they had been just a few years earlier.
Welsh striker Ian Rush of Liverpool, who was the most sought after player of Europe’s top teams, finally arrived after having signed over a year before (but still on ‘loan’ at Liverpool, as the borders were still closed to foreigners).
Juventus made a double signing from Verona, International defensive players Roberto Tricella (heir apparent to Scirea) and Luigi De Agostini.
Another defender Pasquale Bruno joined from Como.
Marino Magrin arrived from Atalanta to occupy Platini’s position and midfielder Angelo Alessio arrived from Avellino.
Giovanni Trappatoni in his second season in charge of Internazionale Milano still could count upon veterans such as Alessandro Altobelli, Pietro Fanna and Argentina’s Daniel Passarella. The new foreign signing was the young Belgian sensation Enzo Scifo from Anderlecht. Aldo Serena had also returned from a two-season loan at Juventus.
Nils Liedholm was back at the helm at AS Roma with new signing West German striker Rudi Voeller leading the attack having arrived from Werder Bremen.
Roma also registered the veteran Italian defender Fulvio Collovati , who joined after a forgettable season at Udinese.

Photo From:  Mondial, new series, Issue 92, November 1987
(Rudi Voeller at AS Roma, October 11, 1987, Juventus 1-AS Roma 0)

Brazilian veteran Junior joined newly promoted Pescara from Torino.
Swedish Manager Sven-Goran Eriksson left Roma to manage Fiorentina along with new signing: his compatriot Glenn Hysen joining from IFK Gothenburg.
Other foreign arrivals included the Yugoslavs Davor Jozic (Cesena), Davor Cop (Empoli) and Blaz Sliskovic (Pescara), Austria’s Toni Polster (Torino), Greek striker Nikos Anastopoulos (Avellino), England’s Paul Elliott (Pisa), Brazilians Carlos Dunga (Pisa) and Walter Casagrande (Ascoli) and West German defender Thomas Berthold (Verona).
The most exciting and hyped signings seemed to be those at Silvio Berlusconi’s AC Milan. The Dutch pair of Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten had arrived with a blaze of publicity from PSV Eindhoven and Ajax Amsterdam respectively.
Italian International midfielder Carlo Ancelotti had arrived after many seasons at AS Roma, along with former Udinese midfielder Angelo Colombo.

Photo From: Mondial, new series, Issue 90, September 1987
(Marco van Basten upon his arrival at AC Milan)

They all joined a squad containing Franco Baresi, Mauro Tassoti, Paolo Maldini, Roberto Donadoni, Alberigo Evani, Daniele Massaro and veteran striker Pietro Paolo Virdis.
However, the biggest surprise was the man chosen to lead this squad. A relative unknown named Arrigo Sacchi who had impressed Berlusconi with the untraditional Italian tactic of Zonal attacking Football at Parma in the Serie B.
The significance of this appointment was still not apparent as Napoli started the season as they had left the previous one by setting the pace from early on.
Napoli picked up maximum points from its first five matches. Although one of those matches vs. Pisa, they had actually lost but were awarded full points after defender Alessandro Renica was hit by an object thrown by Pisa fans.
Careca was a successful buy and adapted well to the Serie A, in doing so, restricted Andrea Carnevalle’s opportunities that season. The press would dub Careca’s Association with Maradona and fellow striker Bruno Giordano as (MA-GI-CA).

Photo From:  Mondial, new series, issue 98, May 1988
(Napoli’s Antonio Careca)

While Careca and Napoli thrived, Juventus and Inter were already off the pace, as Rush and Scifo both struggled. By the Fourth Round of matches, Juventus had already lost twice.
By their Sixth, they lost their third by losing to Inter. The knives were already out for Rush, in contrast to AC Milan’s Ruud Gullit who took to the Serie A with delight.
Despite losing their Second Match of the Season (at home) to Fiorentina, Milan  were picking up points behind a runway Napoli.
Marco van Basten was injured early in the season and would miss much of the season, however, veteran striker Pietro Paolo Virdis and Daniel Massaro more than adequately replaced him by scoring many key goals.

Photo From:  Onze, Issue 142, October 1987
(Enzo Scifo at Internazionale Milano)

By the Ninth Round Juventus’ problems were further compounded when a home win vs. Cesena,  was reversed by the League due to another object  throwing incident.
As for myself, my information was still restricted to ‘Soccer America’ magazine. One day I was able to connect (with poor reception) to a Public Broadcasting Channel based in New York. This Channel broadcast for part of the day ‘RAI America’ that later I realized actually broadcast Serie A matches on Sundays (Early Morning Time in USA). Despite the reception problems (not to mention the Language barrier), I was delighted to see Maradona and the rest ‘Live’. Weeks after that on the same channel I stumbled upon the superb show ‘Novantesimo Minuto’ that showed all the Highlights of the Serie A matches.
By the Eleventh Round (December 13, 1987) of matches, the title appeared to be all Napoli’s. First they ended any Juventus hopes by defeating them (2-1) at home with a Maradona penalty kick near the end. On the same day, AC Milan defeated AS Roma, which was reversed by the League after another incident where Roma goalkeeper Franco Tancredi was hit by firecrackers from the stands. Tancredi was knocked unconscious and actually needed heart massage. Seventeen-year-old Angelo Peruzzi replaced him to make his Serie A debut.
Ruud Gullit’s successful integration at AC Milan, as well as the Dutch National Team’s resurgence was rewarded with him being awarded France Football’s Ballon d’Or in December.

Photo From:  Mondial, new series, issue 95,  February 1988
(Ruud Gullit, January 3, 1988, AC Milan 4-Napoli 1)

It was by the new year on January 3rd, 1988 (Thirteenth Round) that AC Milan made everyone sit up and take notice by convincingly defeating leaders Napoli (4-1) and move into Second place.  By the following week, they defeated a demoralized Juventus at Turin with a Gullit header.

Photo From:  Mondial, new series, issue 96,  March 1988
(Fillipo Galli and Ian Rush, January 10, 1988, Juventus 0-AC Milan 1)

Despite the loss to Milan, Napoli still seemed more than capable of defending its crown with Maradona and Careca scoring freely.
By the Nineteenth Round, Napoli held as much as a five point lead over AC Milan.
On Matchday 21 (March 6th), Napoli suffered a rare home defeat at the hands of AS Roma (1-2), but AC Milan could not take advantage as they were held scoreless at home by Verona and they only narrowed the gap by just one point.
The gap remained the same for the following weeks, however the 26th Round of matches (April 17th) was instrumental in changing the course of the title. Juventus defeated Napoli (3-1) with even Rush scoring. For its part AC Milan defeated AS Roma away (0-2) and Napoli’s lead was cut to two points.
By the following week the lead was cut to a mere point, after AC Milan defeated cross-town rivals Inter (2-0) and Napoli were held by Verona (1-1).
The 28th Round (May 1) was the title decider of sorts as Napoli hosted AC Milan. By now AC Milan’s confidence was greater as they had gained strength as the season had progressed with the Sacchi gamble seemingly having paid off. They were not only winning but also playing a pressing attacking game that delighted the fans used to the Catenaccio culture for decades.
By now Marco van Basten had also returned from his long injury layoff, though he still was not well enough to start, but would make substitute appearances.
The match ended Napoli’s title hopes, while simultaneously starting the great AC Milan story. The match was (1-1) at halftime, with Virdis scoring first and Maradona replying with a free kick. In the second half, the more confident AC Milan took the game to Napoli and scored twice through Virdis again and van Basten with Gullit instrumental in the goals. Napoli pulled one goal back by Careca but clearly Milan had been the better team and deservedly led for the first time in the season by one point with two matches remaining.
AC Milan was held to a scoreless draw for its next match vs. Juventus, but Napoli continued its implosion by losing to Fiorentina and now AC Milan had a two point lead with one match remaining.
The Napoli players issued a statement blaming their end of season loss of form due to lack of communication with Manager Ottavio Bianchi.
AC Milan clinched the title on May 15th by tying at Como (1-1) as Napoli once again lost at home to Sampdoria.
This was the first Scudetto of the Berlusconi era and AC Milan’s first since 1979. The significance of this achievement has been underscored through the decades. This was the first building block on route to Champions Cup glory for the following two decades to come. The tactical revolution this win would bring forth has also been referenced through the years as Sacchi’s success would slowly usher an era of change in Serie A tactics away from the rigid Catenaccio and abundance of scoreless matches.

Photo From:  Guerin Sportivo, May 18-24, 1988
(Arrigo Sacchi after having won the title, May 15, 1988, Como 1-AC Milan 1)

For its part Juventus somewhat salvaged a disastrous season by defeating Torino on penalty kick shoot-out after a scoreless tie for a UEFA Cup playoff spot.
This turned out to be the last season that the Serie A was held with 16 teams, from the following season the Serie A was increased to 18 teams. Also teams were authorized to have three foreigners.
There were many departures, as players such as Rush, Polster, Anastopoulos and Scifo either left Italy to go back home or regroup in a different League.
Napoli’s collapse at the end of the season paved the way for a clear out of the mutineers Salvatore Bagni, Bruno Giordano, Moreno Ferrario and Claudio Garella, while veteran Giuseppe Bruscolotti retired.
Rino Marchesi was sacked at Juventus, soon to be replaced with former legend Dino Zoff.
Alessandro Altobelli left Internazionale after eleven years and joined Juventus.
Many long serving foreign stars left the League such as Denmark’s Klaus Berggreen and Preben Elkjaer, Austria’s Walter Schachner, Argentina’s Daniel Passarella.
The retirees included the likes of Gaetano Scirea, Poland’s Zbigniew Boniek and West German Hans-Peter Briegel.
That summer ended with Gullit and van Basten leading the Dutch with their future teammate Frank Rijkaard in winning the UEFA European Championships.
The future looked Red and Black, as well as Dutch, as a new era seemed to have begun in tactics and mentality. However, Trappatoni still had not said his last word (1988/89 season, to be continued…..)

Photo From:  Guerin Sportivo, May 18-24, 1988
(AC Milan squad, 1987/88)

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