Monday, January 21, 2019

When Calcio Ruled the Football World-A Personal Journey-Part 15 (1996/97)

At the onset of the 1996/97 season, a new word had entered the Football Lexicon: ‘Bosman’. The landmark ruling was made midway through the previous season but this was to be the very first season that it would go in effect. This would ensure a large contingent of foreign player signings all over Europe and Italy was no exception as the already strong league sought to strengthen itself with a new wave of exciting foreign signings.
Defending Serie A Champions, AC Milan of Silvio Berlusconi were one of the first to exploit this new ruling by signing the Dutch duo of Edgar Davids and Michael Reiziger on a so-called ‘Bosman Free’. This meant that since the players contracts had expired with Ajax, Milan did not need to pay a transfer fee for the players.
The two Dutchmen had been instrumental in Milan’s downfall in the 1995 Champions League. In another attempt to sign a player who had defeated them, they signed French striker Christophe Dugarry from Bordeaux (who had scored twice against them in the previous season’s UEFA Cup and eliminated them).

Photo From: World Soccer, September 1996
(Edgar Davids and Michael Reiziger at AC Milan)

Milan had offloaded many players now surplus to requirements, such as once great Portuguese Superstar Paolo Futre, who rarely featured for the side in the previous season, as he never appeared to fully recover from his serious injury upon joining Reggiana in November 1993. He left the join the new El Dorado of the English Premier League (to West Ham) that was becoming more and more open and attractive to foreign players with Bosman in effect.
Bosman allowed the almost unheard practice of Italian players also to venture abroad and Milan’s Paolo Di Canio departed to Celtic Glasgow.
Another departure (though on loan) was that of once great hope and the World’s most expensive player in 1992, Gianluigi Lentini.
He left to join his old mentor Emiliano Mondonico at Atalanta.
Others to leave Milan included long-serving veteran Roberto Donadoni (to USA’s new League, the MLS and NY/NJ Metrostars) and Gianluca Sordo.
One departure that went un-noticed was that of rarely used young French midfielder Patrick Vieira. He was shipped off without much regret to Arsenal.
Time would tell that Milan had lost out on a future world-class player.
The main departure at Milan was that of Manager Fabio Capello. He had left to manage Real Madrid. Despite winning four Scudettos in five seasons, he was offended in Milan’s requirements in Team Performance related clauses in his contract.
His replacement was Uruguayan Manager Oscar Washington Tabarez, who had achieved solid results at Cagliari in the past.
He was inheriting a good though ageing side that was still led by stand-bearer and Captain Franco Baresi.
The backbone of the team still contained the likes of Maldini, Costacurta, Boban, Savicevic and Simone, with Liberian striker George Weah firmly established after an excellent first season.
Juventus with its Director Triumvirate of Antonio Giraudo, Luciano Moggi and Roberto Bettega in place were firm with their policy of modernization and austerity.
Despite winning the Champions League in the previous season, their aim was to rejuvenate the team to be built around Alessandro Del Piero.
Leader and Captain Gianluca Vialli left the team to join Ruud Gullit’s Chelsea.
His strike partner, Fabrizio Ravanelli also joined the gold rush of the English Premier League and joined Middlesbrough.
Portuguese midfielder Paulo Sousa after an excellent first season (1994/95) had been somewhat disappointing and he was on his way out to Borussia Dortmund.
Veteran midfielder Giancarlo Marocchi signed off to join his previous club Bologna (newly promoted), while veteran defender Massimo Carrera joined Atalanta.
Roberto Bettega had stated that the aim of the new Juventus was to change players before their standards started to slip and these departures confirmed this.
The Management provided Manager Marcello Lippi with a new set of young and hungry emerging players.

Photo From: Football Italia, May 1997
(Marcelo Lippi)

These included Croatian striker Alen Boksic (from Lazio), young striker Christian Vieri (from Atalanta), Uruguayan defender Paolo Montero (also from Atalanta), defender Mark Iuliano (from Salernitana), striker Nicola Amoruso (from Padova) and Raffaele Ametrano (from Udinese).
Their main signing was French midfielder Zinedine Zidane that many were comparing to old Juventus and France great Michel Platini.
His star had been on the rise after Bordeaux had eliminated AC Milan in the UEFA Cup in the previous season.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 94, November 1996
(Alen Boskic at Juevntus)

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 91, August 1996
(Zinedine Zidane signing at Juventus)

He was to join fellow Frenchman Didier Deschamps now firmly established as a vital member of the Juventus engine room after two solid seasons.
Nevertheless, there were some doubts about Zidane’s ability. He had been a shadow of himself in the recent 1996 UEFA European Championships as he had been in a car accident just before the Tournament and did not perform up to his standards. Gianni Agnelli himself questioned the signing after witnessing his performance in the Euros.
After a number of disappointing seasons, confidence was high at Inter. Club president Massimo Moratti had maintained his faith on English Manager Roy Hodgson, now in his first full season in charge.
The club went on a shopping spree of quality players to reclaim their glory. Frenchman Youri Djorkaeff (from PSG), Nigerian forward Nwankwo Kanu (from Ajax). Chilean striker Ivan Zamorano (from Real Madrid), Swiss midfielder Ciriaco Sforza (from Bayern Munich), Dutch midfielder Aron Winter (from Lazio), French defender Jocelyn Angloma (from Torino) and Italian players Massimo Tarantino (from Napoli) and Fabio Galante (from Genoa) joined the new-look Inter.

Photo From: Panini Italy 1996/97
(Aron Winter and Ivan Zamorano)

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 100, May 1997
(Ciriaco Sforza)

Photo From: World Soccer, September 1996
(Youri Djorkaeff signing at Inter)

Inter offloaded some of their Italian old guard such as Davide Fontolan (to Bologna) and Antonio Manicone (to Perugia). The Brazilian Caio had been disappointing and he was sent to Napoli.
Surprisingly Inter sold Brazilian Roberto Carlos after a solitary season, who would go on to serve Real Madrid for over a decade with titles galore.
Parma, with Parmalat’s backing, were also intent on reclaiming their place after a disappointing season.
Nevio Scala had departed at the end of last season and was replaced with Carlo Ancelotti in his first Serie A managerial post. Ancelotti had been Assistant to National Team Manager Arrigo Sacchi for a number of years. The previous season, in his first sole Managerial job, he had led Reggiana to promotion to Serie A.
Italian veterans such as Alberto Di Chiara and Gabriele Pin departed along with the disappointing Bulgarian superstar Hristo Stoichkov who returned to his old love Barcelona (now that Johann Cruyff had been sacked).
Portuguese defender Fernando Couto also joined Stoichkov at Barcelona, while Fillipo Inzaghi was loaned to Atalanta  (more on him later….).
The new arrivals were younger and ambitious players such as striker Enrico Chiesa, who had shot to fame in the previous season with Sampdoria.
Argentinean striker Hernan Crespo (from River Plate), Brazilian defender Ze Maria (from Flamengo), French defender Lilian Thuram (from Monaco) and Brazilian Amaral (from Palmeiras) gave a new youthful impulse to the side.

Photo From: Football Italia, May 1997
 (Hernan Crespo)

Surprisingly, Parma also picked up French veteran Daniel Bravo (from PSG), who had stood out in the previous season when the French side had eliminated them in the Cup Winners Cup. Bravo had been a promising forward in the early 80s, who had transitioned successfully as a defensive midfielder in his advanced years.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 93, October 1996
(Lilian Thuram and Daniel Bravo at Parma)

Sergio Cragnotti’s Lazio with Walter Zeman still at the helm still had Scudetto winning ambitions.
They had lost Boksic (to Juventus), Winter (to Inter) and Roberto Di Matteo (to Chelsea).
They signed last season’s co-top goalscorer Igor Protti (from Bari) to partner up fellow co-top goalscorer and ever-present Giuseppe Signori.
Lazio signed young Czech Republic midfielder Pavel Nedved (from Sparta Prague) after he had impressed at the recent Euros in England.
Just like Parma’s Crespo, he would forge a love affair with the peninsula that lasts to this day. Nedved appeared to be headed to PSV Eindhoven before Lazio stepped in and changed his destiny.

Photo From: Panini Italy 1996/97
(Pavel Nedved)

South African Mark Fish (from Orlando Pirates) and the Australian Paul Okon (from Club Brugge) were part of the more unconventional signings now feasible and possible due to Bosman.
Lazio completed its signings with solid Italian players such as Roberto Baronio (from Brescia), Renato Buso (from Napoli), Giorgio Venturin (from Cagliari) and promising goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini (from Prato).
Just below the favorites were the likes of Roma and Fiorentina. Roma appointed Argentinean Manager Carlos Bianchi to lead a squad without Captain Giuseppe Giannini, who had departed to the Austrian League (Sturm Graz) after more than a decade of service in the Capitol.
Bianchi had brought Argentinean defender Roberto Trotta, along with him from Velez Sarsfield. Italian midfielder Damiano Tommasi arrived from Hellas Verona along with Swedish striker Martin Dahlin (from Borussia Moenchengladbach).
Claudio Ranieri’s Fiorentina were still dependent upon the goals of Argentinean goleador Gabriel Batistuta.
They made a triple signing from Cagliari to strengthen themselves for Europe and the Cup winners Cup. Brazilian-born Belgian forward Luis Oliveira arrived with former club-mates Vittorio Pusceddu and Aldo Firicano.
The Viola also bought-out the remaining 50% of goalkeeper Francesco Toldo's contract from AC Milan.

Photo From: Panini Italy 1996/97
(Luis Oliveira)

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Sampdoria side were powerless to stop the departures of young Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf (to Real Madrid) and Enrico Chiesa (to Parma), while veteran goalkeeper Walter Zenga departed as well.
Fabrizio Ferron was signed from Atalanta to be the new goalkeeper.
Argentinean midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron (from Boca Juniors) started his Italian adventure with the club. Young up-and-coming striker Vincenzo Montella was signed from cross-town rivals Genoa as a replacement for Chiesa.

Photo From: Panini Italy 1996/97
(Juan Sebastian Veron)

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 98, March 1997
(Vincenzo Montella)

Sampdoria also made a triple signing of French players. Defender Oumar Dieng (from PSG) and midfielders Pierre Laigle (from RC Lens) and Alain Boghosian (from Napoli) arrived to join the already established Frenchman Christian Karembeu.
After his fine work at Cremonese, Napoli had appointed Luigi Simoni as Manager.
Young players such as Belgian defender Bertrand Crasson (from Anderlecht), Brazilians Caio (from Inter), Beto (from Botafogo) arrived along with Italians Massimiliano Esposito (from Lazio) and Mauro Milanese (from Torino).
Cagliari had appointed a new Manager as well. The Uruguayan Gregorio Perez was appointed with the hope that he could emulate countryman Oscar Washington Tabarez’s previous fine work at the Sardinian club.
Cagliari made a double defensive signing from Switzerland of goalkeeper Marco Pascolo (from Servette) and defender Ramon Vega (from Grasshoppers).
Udinese were trying to build momentum from the previous season. German striker Oliver Bierhoff had ended the season on a triumph as his Nations’ new hero when he scored two goals for his Nation in the Final of the Euros.
Albero Zaccheroni, their Manager very much on the rise, was hoping for even more fireworks up front with the signing of Brazilian striker Marcio Amoroso (from Guarani).
Vicenza and Piacenza had generally retained the backbone of the squad and were a stable unit with hopes of extending their Serie A run.

Photo From: Football Italia, May 1997
(Udinese Manager Alberto Zaccheroni speaking with Raffaele Sergio)

Photo From: Football Italia, May 1997
(Marcio Amoroso)

Atalanta’s brief was maintaining their Serie A status. Emiliano Mondonico’s return to the bench was a plus as was Lentini’s loan.
Their most important signing would be that of striker Fillipo Inzaghi (still owned 50% by Parma) who had arrived after a disappointing season at Parma for much needed playing time.

Photo From: Panini Italy 1996/97
(Fillipo Inzaghi)

The four promoted sides included Hellas Verona, who was now yo-yoing between the Divisions.
Bologna returned to the Serie A after five years. Renzo Ullvieri’s side appeared the most equipped to maintain survival at the top and made a number of efficient signings.
Swedish striker Kennet Andersson (from Bari) and Russian forward Igor Kolivanov (from Foggia) arrived to add quality firepower up front.
Italian veterans Giancarlo Marocchi (from Juventus) and Davide Fontolan (from Inter) added much needed experience.
Reggiana had appointed veteran Romanian Manager Mircea Lucescu. Many players were signed such as Belgian defender Georges Grun (Anderlecht, ex-Parma), German defender Dietmar Beirsdorfer (from Koln), Romanian midfielder Ion Sabau (from Brescia), Colombian striker Antonio Valencia (Independiente Santa Fe), Portuguese Antonio Pacheco (from Belenenses) along with Italians such as Gianluca Sordo (from AC Milan), Gianluca Cherubini (from Roma) and Sandro Tovalieri (from Atalanta).
While these were numerous signings it remained to be seen whether they would be enough to keep the side up.
Perugia with volatile owner Luciano Gaucci had grand ambitions. The side with veteran Italian Manager Giovanni Galeone made many signings in the hopes of staying up.
Veteran Italian Pietro Vierchowod arrived from Juventus to anchor the defense. Other signings included Croatian Milan Rapajic (from Hajduk Split), Dutch midfielder Michel Kreek (from Perugia) and other Italian veterans Alberto Di Chiara (from Parma) and Antonio Manicone (from Inter).
Events at the National Team and Federation level were also unstable and changes were on the horizon.
This season would bring forth many changes at the National Team level as well as Administrative level.
After the failure at the 1996 Euros, National Team Manager Arrigo Sacchi’s position was weak as was for the man who had appointed him Federation President Antonio Matarese.
Matarrese resigned shortly after the Euros on August 6th and many predicted Sacchi would follow shortly.
Elections ended in a stalemate on August 12th, as a result Raffaele Pagnozzi was appointed as caretaker President for three months, until a permanent President was chosen.
The action on the field started on August 25th with AC Milan hosting Fiorentina, at San Siro for the Super Cup.
Milan’s loss (1-2) would foreshadow their upcoming season, though at the time this loss was deemed insignificant.
Before the start of the season, Milan’s neighbors Inter were met with a bigger problem off the field. On September 5th, examinations discovered that their Nigerian recruit Nwankwo Kanu had a problem with his heart. Inter’s Team Doctor Piero Volpi even stated that Kanu would never play again.
However, Kanu was defiant to play again and would seek out specialists and would eventually have a surgery at Cleveland, Ohio in USA.
Massimo Moratti stated that the club would stand by the player.
However, as far as this season was concerned, it was over for him.
Italian veteran Pietro Vierchowod also made the news in this pre-season. In Perugia’s friendly loss to Flamengo (2-5), he was so angered by Manager Giovanni Galeone’s tactics that he refused to show up in the second half.
His contract was mutually ended before he had even made a single League appearance for his new club.
At Milan, Baresi was injured and AC Milan took advantage of this and signed the 37-year-old Vierchowod as a stopgap measure.

Photo From: Football Italia, April 1997
(Pietro Vierchowod at AC Milan)

The season proper kicked off on September 7th and 8th.  The defending Champions Milan hosted Verona and comfortably defeated the newly promoted side (4-1).
The highlight of this match was George Weah’s goal that already laid claim as the best goal of the season and one of the most memorable goals in the History of the Serie A that is still referenced to this day.
The Liberian striker got the ball in Milan’s half and went solo from one end of the field to the other to score this memorable strike.

Photo From: World Soccer, November 1996
(George Weah against Verona)

Photo From: Goal, December 1996
(Diagram of George Weah’s amazing solo goal vs. Verona, September 8, 1996, AC Milan 4-Verona 1)

Rivals Juventus started slowly and were held to a draw at Reggiana (though Vieri scored his first goal for Juventus).
For their part, Inter defeated Udinese at Friuli (1-0) to make a positive start. In a somewhat strange move, Udinese would sue Inter’s Salvatore Fresi for breaking Giovanni Stroppa’s leg in the match.
As early as Matchday 2 (September 15th), Milan suffered their first defeat already as Sampdoria defeated them (2-1).
Juventus earned their first win defeating Cagliari (2-1). Fillipo Inzaghi scored twice for Atalanta in their home tie (2-2) with Fiorentina to give an indication of things to come.
On Matchday 4 (September 29th), Juventus became sole leaders after their win over Fiorentina (1-0). Milan were close behind, while Inter lost a good chance as they were held at Atalanta (1-1), as the now free scoring Inzaghi salvaged a point near the end.
The following day on September 30th, Luciano Nizzola was elected as the League President.
After the International break, Inter took control of the leadership on Matchday 5 (October 13th), after defeating Piacenza (2-0), as both Juventus and Milan suffered defeats. Juventus lost for the first time at Vicenza (1-2), while Milan were comprehensively defeated the day before at Rome (0-3).
On the following week, Matchday 6 (October 20th), Juventus regained the lead by defeating Inter (2-0). This was a significant psychological win over a close rival. After a somewhat slow start Juventus were regaining form and this match also signaled Zinedine Zidane’s reference match with the Bianconeri.
He scored with a wonderful long-range shot to score his first goal for the club and signal his arrival.
Milan defeated Napoli (3-1) to maintain contact with Juventus.
The Uruguayan Gregorio Perez became the first managerial casualty of the season when he was sacked on October 21st. he was replaced by veteran Carlo Mazzone.
At Roma, Argentinean defender Roberto Trotta was failing to adapt and he was sent back to his homeland.
At the Federation front, Luciano Nizzola stated on October 26th, that one of his first tasks would be to dismiss the unpopular Sacchi.
On Matchay 7 (October 27th), Inter responded to the Juventus loss by defeating Parma (3-1). Carlo Ancelotti’s Parma lost for the second successive week and at these early stages the players were somewhat struggling and had not completely absorbed Ancelotti’s game plan with all the newcomers.
Milan lost for the third time (already too much for a title contender) as Fiorentina were victors (1-0).
The win over Parma allowed Inter a joint share of the leadership as Juventus were held at Rome (1-1).
Inter once again took control of the League on the following week (Matchday 8, November 3rd), after a win at Verona (1-0).
Juventus could only muster a draw at home vs. Napoli (1-1) and were now even behind surging Vicenza winners over Lazio (2-0).
Francesco Guidolin’s side would be one of the revelations of the season and surprise many.
Milan fell further behind as they were held at home by Atalanta (1-1) with yet another Inzaghi strike.
At Genoa, Inter were making approaches to sign Sampdoria’s Captain and veteran Roberto Mancini.
The Sampdoria fans protested outside the club’s training grounds and eventually Mancini would turn down Inter.
At Parma, Zola’s days were numbered especially after he criticized Carlo Ancelotti’s tactics on November 8th. Shortly, thereafter, Gianfranco Zola would also jump ship and join the English Premier League at Chelsea.
Parma would offload many others who either past their sell-by date or unable to adapt to the new tactics. Former starting goalkeeper Luca Bucci was now expendable given the brilliance of the young Gianluigi Buffon. He was loaned to Perugia in the new year. Another veteran of the old guard, Lorenzo Minotti was also transferred out to Cagliari (In December).  Massimo Brambilla and the Brazilian Amaral left to join Bologna and Benfica respectively.
In December, Parma would sign Croatian Mario Stanic (from Club Brugge).
Parma registered the return of their former Swedish star Tomas Brolin. His career had never been the same since his serious injury in November 1994 and had in the interim joined Leeds United. He had failed to make an impact there and was loaned back to Parma from the English side.
After setbacks at home and Europe, AC Milan Manager Tabarez would make a tactical switch. Milan would now play in a 4-4-2 formation (instead of 4-3-3). As a result Baggio would be dropped for a new strike force of Weah and Simone. However, this would not have a desired effect and their struggles would continue. Their negative season would trickle in the players’ minds, as the normally calm George Weah would resort to head butt Porto’s Jorge Costa in the Champions League. In the November transfer window, Milan would sign Swedish midfielder Jesper Blomqvist but the struggle went on.
On November 16th, Juventus were dealt a blow as key midfielder Antonio Conte was ruled out for the rest of the season after undergoing knee ligament surgery.
Two days later, Juventus would sign Portuguese defender Manuel Dimas from Benfica.
On Matchday 10 (November 24th), Vicenza took leadership after a win vs. Reggiana (2-0), while Inter and Milan cancelled each other (1-1) in the Milan derby.
On the following day, Reggiana’s Romanian Manager Mircea Lucescu became the second coaching casualty of the season. Francesco Oddo would replace him on November 26th.
At Sampdoria, French midfielder Christian Karembeu’s success had earned him suitors. He was caught in a tug of war between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Karembeu himself wanted to join Real Madrid, but Sampdoria wanted to sell him to Barcelona who were offering more money. This conflict would spill into the following season.
Vicenza’s lead was short-lived as Juventus regained the top spot on the following week (Matchday 11, December 1st). Vicenza were held at Perugia (1-1), while Juventus defeated Bologna (1-0, Zidane goal).
Milan lost once more, this time at Piacenza (2-3) and this sealed Oscar Washington Tabarez’s fate and he resigned (the third Manager to lose his job).
This had been Milan’s seventh defeat in 22 competitive matches.
Inter were held at home by Cagliari (2-2) and lost ground, while Parma were now just above the relegation zone after a loss at Udinese (1-3).
The coaching vacancy in Milan paved the way for the shock return of Arrigo Sacchi to Milan after five years.
The already under-fire National Team Manager resigned from his post on December 2nd.

Photo From: World Soccer, January 1997
(Arrigo Sacchi being welcomed back as Manager at AC Milan by Adriano Galliani)

On Matchday 12 (December 8th), Juventus opened a three-point gap at the top with a key away win at Sampdoria (1-0).
Vicenza and Inter’s tied match (1-1) did not help either side, except Juventus.
Former Italy boss and AC Milan Manager took charge for the first time in Milan’s win over Udinese (2-1). It still remained to be seen whether he could turn their fortunes around. He certainly was unable to stop Milan from being eliminated from the Champions League in group play as the die had already been cast for some time.
On December 14th, the Italian Federation (FIGC) finally elected a President. The new President Luciano Nizzola would appoint Cesare Maldini as the new National Team Manager on the following day. The Italian National Team now had a father managing a side with his son the legendary Paolo Maldini as Captain.

Photo From: World Soccer, February 1997
(New National Team Manager Cesare Maldini)

On Matchday 13 (December 15th), Juventus opened a five –point gap after a win over Verona (3-2).
Vicenza were once again held at home (1-1) vs. Parma while Inter lost (3-4) at home to Sampdoria.
On Matchday 14 (December 22nd), Juventus’ lead was increased to six points. Vicenza lost ground after a loss at Sampdoria (1-2). Luigi Simoni’s Napoli caught up with Vicenza at the second spot after a win over Lazio (1-0).
Sacchi’s Milan lost for the first time against Ancelotti’s (his former National Team Assistant) Parma (1-0). This win was perhaps more significant for Parma as it would spark a revival into the second half of the season.
Before the end of the year, Perugia’s Giovanni Galeone became the fourth Manager to be sacked. Former Parma Manager Nevio Scala was appointed at Perugia on December 29th (after Mauro Amenta had managed one match in the interim).
Perugia would also sign former Brazil and Torino striker Luis Muller for their relegation fight.
The New year started with Juventus losing for only the second time against a resurgent Parma (1-0) on Matchday 15 (January 5th). Vicenza closed the gap the top to three points after a win over Bologna (2-0). Milan suffered another loss (0-3) vs. Lazio to further slip down the table. At this juncture even a UEFA Cup qualification appeared beyond the Rossoneri.
The day was remembered for Youri Djorkaeff’s wonderful overhead volley in Inter’s win over Roma (3-1). This has been another much referenced goal in the annals of Calcio.

Photo From: Football Italia, April 1997
(Youri Djorkaef’s goal against Roma)

Many other transfer dealings were also conducted in this first month of the New Year. The arrivals included Russian (actually Ukrainian) midfielder Andrei Kanchelskis who joined Fiorentina from Everton.
French defender Vincent Candela arrived at the capitol to join AS Roma (from Guingamp).
Shortly thereafter, French midfielder Reynald Pedros would join Parma from France’s Olympique Marseille.
The departures included Swiss defender Ramon Vega who left Cagliari to join Tottenham. Inter defender Gianluca Festa also joined the English Premier League and signed for Middlesbrough.
The most significant departure was that of Italy and AC Milan defender Christian Panucci. He was at odds with new Manager Arrigo Sacchi and jumped at the opportunity to join Fabio Capello’s Real Madrid.
The following week (Matchday 16, January 12th), Juventus’ lead was cut to two points after they dropped points at home in a scoreless tie with Atalanta.
Vicenza’s unlikely title challenge was all but over after a loss vs. AC Milan (1-0). Inter (2-1 winners away over Napoli) and Sampdoria (4-1 winners over Cagliari) were now just behind Juventus.
Juventus displayed its dominance away from domestic game as well. Having already won the Intercontinental Cup just before the New Year (1-0 over River Plate), they gave a lesson to Paris St Germain at Paris with an emphatic (6-1) win on January 15th for the first leg of the UEFA Super Cup. The return leg would now be a formality and they won (3-1) on February 5th.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 95, December 1996
(Alessandro Del Piero and Angelo Peruzzi with the Intercontinental Cup)

Just as their lead appeared to be dissipating, Juventus increased it to four points on the following and midway stage of the season (Matchday 17, January 19th)
Juventus picked up a key away win at Lazio (2-0), while Inter lost (0-2) at home to Bologna and Sampdoria dropped points at Fiorentina (1-1).
Parma won its fourth straight match (1-0) over Verona to be on the top four.
The second half of the season started on January 26th (Matchday 18) with Juventus maintaining its four-point lead over Sampdoria.
This Matchday would bring bad luck to Lazio Manager Zdenek Zeman, whose side lost to Bologna (1-2). He was sacked on the following day to become the fifth sacking of the season.
On January 30th, Lazio President Dino Zoff resigned temporarily to take over as caretaker Manager until the end of the season.
On the following week (Matchday 19, February 2nd), Sampdoria cut Juventus’ lead to two points after an away win over AC Milan (3-2) as Juventus were held to a scoreless draw at Cagliari.
However, once again Juventus’ nearest challenger failed to capitalize and on their following week (Matchday 20, February 16th), Sampdoria lost at home to Roma (2-1) as Juventus defeated Perugia (2-1) and their lead was now up to five points.
At Milan, Sacchi’s arrival had hardly calmed the state of affairs. Just like in the latter stages of their National Team relationship, Sacchi had no confidence in Roberto Baggio and continued to bench him.
On February 19th, Baggio even demanded a personal meeting with Silvio Berlusconi to discuss the situation. Baggio was now being linked to Napoli among other teams. Baggio famously likened his situation, to that of a Ferrari being driven by a traffic warden.

Photo From: Football Italia, May 1997
(Roberto Baggio)

Photo From: Football Italia, May 1997
(Napoli fans protesting Sacchi in hopes of signing Roberto Baggio)

As far as Lazio, their coaching situation for next season was clarified after Sampdoria Manager Sven-Goran Eriksson agreed to manage them.
He had been linked with Blackburn Rovers and seemed set to join them but he officially informed them on February 21st that he would not be joining them next season.

Photo From: Football Italia, April 1997
(Sven-Goran Eriksson)

By Matchday 22 (Match 3rd), Juventus’ lead was up to seven points after a win over Vicenza (2-0). Sampdoria’s challenge appeared over after another home loss (1-2 vs. Bologna).
Inter and Parma were now the joint challengers.
On the following week (Matchday 23, March 9th), Inter failed to capitalize as they hosted Juventus and had to settle for a scoreless draw.
Juventus defender Moreno Torricelli suffered a season ending injury in this match to join Antonio Conte on the sidelines.
Parma took advantage to place themselves five points behind Juventus after a win at Perugia (2-1).
On the coaching front after Sven-Goran Eriksson’s recent refusal, English side Blackburn Rovers had approached Inter Manager Roy Hogdson for the next season. Hodgson had agreed as his position in Inter was becoming unstable and he was losing the faith of the fans.
Massimo Moratti had been active in the search for a Manager and was openly eyeing Napoli Manager Luigi Simoni to become the manager next season.
Parma further staked their claim on the following week (Matchday 24, March 16th) after defeating Inter (1-0).
On March 22nd, young strikers and the season’s revelations, Fillipo Inzaghi and Christian Vieri were rewarded by being called up to the National Team by new Manager Cesare Maldini for matches against Moldova and Poland (Vieri would celebrate with a goal vs. Moldova).

Photo From: World Soccer, June 1997
(Christian Vieri)

After the International break, the League resumed on April 6th (Matchday 26) with a headlining match-up between defending Champions AC Milan and Juventus
Juventus handed Milan its worst defeat at San Siro. The (6-1) scoreline summed up the season for the respective teams.
This Juventus display was even more impressive given the absences of Del Piero, Deschamps, Montero, Padovano, not to mention Conte and Torricelli (out for the season).
This was the nadir of AC Milan’s season and perhaps of the entire Berlusconi era. It clearly signaled the end of an era, while also heralding a new era for the much younger Juventus side. At this point, the Bianconeri appeared to be the best side in Europe. This display confirmed to many that Juventus were on their way to become champions despite Parma’s valiant effort (now six points behind).
French midfielder Zinedine Zidane had fully adapted now and two-goal scorer Christian Vieri was now seen as Italy’s striker of the future and his value had skyrocketed.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 97, February 1997
(Zinedine Zidane)

In contrast, Franco Baresi had never looked so old and this match may have indicated to himself that perhaps his time was up.
Much of the blame was laid on Arrigo Sacchi. He had been unable to get Milan out of their slump. Many questioned his suitability for rebuilding a side in midseason.
Upon his departure in January (because of Sacchi), Christian Panucci had attacked Sacchi by accusing him of transmitting his anxieties to the team. Given their performances not many could question his analysis. Many observers felt the Milan players looked uneasy and nervous in matches.
This scoreline against Juventus confirmed this and questioned the wisdom of Sacchi’s recall.

Photo From: World Soccer, June 1997
(Arrigo Sacchi)

Photo From: World Soccer, June 1997
(Scoreboard AC Milan 1-Juventus 6)

On the same day, Roma’s loss at Cagliari (1-2) led to the sacking of Argentine Manager Carlos Bianchi (becoming the sixth Manager to lose his post).
On April 8th, Roma’s 1983 Scudetto winning Swedish Manager Nils Liedholm came out of retirement to help out his former side.
Carlos Bianchi would later (rightly or wrongly) blame xenophobia for his sacking. He remarked that 5 out of the 6 Managers sacked were foreigners.
The following week (Matchday 27, April 13th), Juventus came down to earth after a heavy home loss (0-3) vs. Udinese.
Zaccheroni’s Udinese had been an improving side with the attacking trident of Bierhoff-Amoroso and Poggi in fine form.
Their lead was cut to three points as Parma won at Rome (1-0).

Photo From: Panini Italy 1996/97
(Oliver Biehoff and Paolo Poggi)

As in previous instances with Vicenza, Inter and Sampdoria, Juventus nearest challengers were unable to take advantage just as Juventus appeared vulnerable.
Parma was no exception and on the following week (Matchday 28, April 20), they lost to Udinese (0-2) at home as Juventus were winners away at Bologna (1-0) and the lead was back to six points.
On April 21st, Napoli Manager Luigi Simoni was sacked after a loss vs. Atalanta (0-1) (becoming the 7th sacking of the season).
Just days prior on April 18th, Massimo Moratti had confirmed the open secret of Luigi Simoni’s arrival.
Many believed he was sacked mostly because he was Inter-bound rather than for technical reasons (as Napoli were to play in the Coppa Italia Final in weeks time).
His detractors believed that he was more concerned in making arrangements for his upcoming departure to Inter rather than concentrating on Napoli’s upcoming objective of the Coppa Italia.
He was replaced by youth coach Vincenzo Montefusco.

Photo From: Football Italia, April 1997
(Luigi Simoni)

The following week (Matchday 29, May 4th), Juventus’ lead was once again cut to four points as they were held to a home scoreless draw by Sampdoria, while Parma picked up yet another win at Atalanta (2-1).
Inter squandered a big chance as they lost at home to Vicenza (0-1).
On Matchday 31 (May 15th), Juventus took one step closer to the title after a win over Piacenza (4-1) as Parma were held (1-1) by AC Milan. The gap was back to six points with three matches remaining.
Parma’s final chance to stop Juventus was on Matchday 32 (May 18th), when they hosted the Turin side. The tie scoreline (1-1) all but guaranteed the title as Juventus maintained their six-point lead with two matches remaining. Only a catastrophe could stop Juventus now.
As far as the chasing pack, Lazio had improved in the second half of the season and were now in their place challenging for the UEFA spots.
Juventus officially secured the title on the penultimate match of season at Atalanta. The tie (1-1) scoreline gave them the point needed to be unreachable , as now they had a four-point lead with a single match remaining.
On May 23rd, Inter Manager, the Englishman Roy Hodgson resigned with two League matches left in anger after being pelted with coins and lighters by Inter fans. Inter had just lost out in the Final of the UEFA Cup to Schalke and the Inter fans had vented their frustration in such manner.
He would be replaced with Inter’s goalkeeping coach Luciano Castellini for the final matches.

Photo From: Football Italia, April 1997
(Roy Hodgson)

The title out of the way, the final round of matches (Matchday 34, June 1), the focus was shifted on Inter’s faint hope to overtake Parma at the second place for the Second Champions League spot (from the following season, second placed teams were to gain entry to the new expanded Champions League).
In the end Inter could do no more than a share of the spoils at Bologna (2-2), while Parma were defeating Verona (2-1). Inter, Lazio and Udinese had to contend with the UEFA Cup, while AC Milan had ended up in mid-table mediocrity with not even UEFA Cup qualificatiob after a decade of glory. They finished their worst season since the dark days of double relegation from the early parts of the last decade.
Arrigo Sacchi had arrived in 1987 to herald a decade of domestic and European glory. He was departing the same club a decade later with his reputation in tatters following his dismissal as Commissario Tecnico and his inability to change Milan’s fortunes. An era had ended it was clear for all to see that wholesale team changes would need to be made.
Inspirational Captain Franco Baresi saw the writing on the wall and retired on June 23rd at the age of 37, after nearly two-decades of flawless service. It was a shame that it had to end that way for him after such a miserable season.

Photo From: World Soccer, June 1997
(Franco Baresi)

The departure of his defensive partner, veteran right back Mauro Tassoti was more un-noticed as he had been displaced first by Christian Panucci and later by Michael Reiziger in the previous seasons. It nevertheless represented a changing of the guard. Milan’s entire policy was questioned; Davids, Reiziger nor Dugarry had met expectations, while the signing of Vierchowod was always intended as a short gap purchase.
Christian Panucci’s mid-season departure to Real Madrid benefited the player only and not Milan. He left a poisoned atmosphere given his relationship with Sacchi and ended winning the League Title with Capello.
George Weah had fallen off his pedestal following the head-but incident in the Champions League vs. Porto’s Jorge Costa.
Sacchi was out and Berlusconi and Galliani turned back to Fabio Capello, not happy at off-field dealings in Madrid, despite basking in the glow of a League title.
At this point the Milan hierarchy perhaps believed that he was the iron hand needed to whip the team back into shape as the old were to make for newer and more exciting arrivals (including Patrick Kluivert…more on that on the next edition).
Reiziger and Dugarry would be shipped off to Barcelona after solitary seasons.
Capello would tell Baggio and Savicevic to look for new destinations (eventually Savicevic would stay).
Baggio would join Bologna to resurrect his career.
As far as Juventus, Lippi’s team had after a relatively slow start, picked up steam and forged ahead at home and in Europe.
In contrast to the 1994/95 Scudetto winning squad, this team had won due to its strong defense and ability to pick up points away from home.
The additions of Montero and Iuliano in defense had been successful as had Vieri’s explosion at the front. However, Vieri’s success would be to his detriment as Juventus would cash in on him after a solitary season and sell him to Atletico Madrid. Juventus had another replacement in mind, Fillipo Inzaghi (Atalanta) had much to most observers surprise ended as capocannoniere with 24 goals.

Photo From: World Soccer, July 1997
(Filippo Inzaghi)

Juventus would sign him up for the next season. Croatian striker Alen Boksic would be returned to Lazio, along with Yugoslav midfielder Vladimir Jugovic.
The world seemed to be Juventus’ for the taking and a second successive Champions League victory would have been the icing on the cake for a near perfect season.
However, Juventus’ Champions Cup/League curse would strike (and it has to this day for another four finals) and they lost the Final to Dortmund (1-3).
But with Milan’s dynasty seemingly over, Lippi’s Juventus were the team of the era (at least domestically).
Given their difficult start many would have tipped Carlos Ancelotti to get the sack at Parma. However, the team vastly improved in the second half of the season. Had they been in form sooner, who’s to say they would have pushed Juventus even harder for the title or even overtake them.
Youngsters like Buffon in goal and Cannavaro in defense were established members of the squad, while new signings such as Thuram, Crespo and Chiesa had adapted well. Frenchman Thuram was even considered as one the best player of the League that season by the prestigious ‘La Gazzetta dello Sport’ sports paper for his marks.
For the first time in the Moratti era, Inter were a title challenger and that was a step up. The team appeared to be on the verge of being a League winning side .
Moratti had ambitions matching his father’s era and he made his intent clear by signing Brazilian striker Ronaldo in the off-season. Ronaldo had in one season at Barcelona become the greatest and the most sought after player on the globe.
Lazio had also been in the running for the Brazilian, but Moratti got his man, whom he believed would be the missing link in making Inter champions.
His appointment of Luig Simoni as Manager with Ronaldo seemed a good match.
Vicenza had been the feel-good story of the season. Francesco Guidolin’s Provincial side had exceeded expectation and for a number of weeks given the big boys a run for their money. The Uruguayan pair of Gustavo Mendez and Marcelo Otero spearheaded a side containing Italians such as Gabriele Ambrosetti, Roberto Murgitta and veteran Domenico Di Carlo.
They capped off a memorable season by winning the Coppa Italia by defeating Napoli in the Final and qualify to European competition (Cup Winners Cup).
As for every end of the season there were many goodbye. While Baresi’s was historically the most significant, there were many other noteworthy ones.
Another era ended when Roberto Mancini left Sampdoria after 15 years to join Sven-Goran Eriksson at Lazio.
The once teenage sensation from Bologna was entering the autumn of his career at Cragnotti’s big spending Lazio.

Photo From: World Soccer, April 1997
(Roberto Mancini)

Inter’s Englishman Paul Ince followed Roy Hodgson and waved goodbye to the Serie A and joined Liverpool.
Swedish striker Martin Dahlin also failed to succeed at Roma and in fact joined Hodgson at Blackburn Rovers.
His compatriot at Roma, Swedish midfielder Jonas Thern also left the Serie A after five years.
Fiorentina Manager Claudio Ranieri left his post. Likewise, Nevio Scala left the relegated Perugia and decided to try his luck abroad and joined Borussia Dortmund.
Bosman allowed more Italians to leave their borders. Apart from Vieri, Marco Simone left AC Milan after eight years to join Paris St. Germain, while Stefano Eranio also left the Rossoneri to join Derby County in the English Premier League.
Attilio Lombardo left Juventus to join Crystal Palace. Juventus defender Sergio Porrini joined Rangers Glasgow.
French defender Jocelyn Angloma left Inter to join Spanish side Valencia.
Gianluigi Lentini would exit the Serie A, and return to his former side Torino to help their promotion push.
As far as Cagliari, Perugia, Verona and Reggiana, it was life in Seri B. From that season’s promoted sides only Bologna managed to remain in the top. Cagliari was back to Serie B for the first time since promotion in 1990.
Despite all the newcomers on their way, the only transfer at the end of that season was that of Ronaldo. Never since the days of Maradona, had there been such hype for the arrival of a single player. It was the year of Ronaldo; ‘Il Fenomemo’ was on his way to the peninsula. This was further proof that despite Bosman, the Serie A was still the place to be (1997 / 98 season, to be continued…..)

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 100, May 1997
(Juventus squad)

World Soccer, September 1996
World Soccer, October 1996
World Soccer, November 1996
World Soccer, December 1996
World Soccer, January 1997
World Soccer, February 1997
World Soccer, March 1997
World Soccer, April 1997
World Soccer, May 1997
World Soccer, June 1997
World Soccer, July 1997
World Soccer, August 1997
Onze-Mondial, Issue 93, October 1996
Onze-Mondial, Issue 95, December 1996
Onze-Mondial, Issue 99, April 1997
Football Italia, April 1997
Football Italia, May 1997

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