Lazio take on Inter this weekend with both teams pushing Juventus close for the Serie A title. There will be British & Irish interest too, with England full-back Ashley Young set to feature for the Nerazzurri in Antonio Conte’s starting XI.
It would be great to be able to say that Ashley is carrying on the proud tradition of UK and Ireland exports who have graced these two famous football clubs, but that would be lying (in some cases anyway) as the following will attempt to explain.
PAUL GASCOIGNE – LAZIO
He belched, he had hair extensions and then he got injured – that just about sums up Gazza’s time at Lazio in the early nineties when he was just about the hottest footballing property around.
The England midfielder was set to join the Rome giants at the end of the 1990-91 season but after rupturing his cruciate knee ligaments in the 91 FA Cup Final for Spurs, the move was put on-hold for 12 months while everyone’s favourite Geordie recuperated.
When Paul finally touched down in the Eternal City in the summer of 1992, Gazzamania swept through Italy and he immediately endeared himself to the Lazio Ultras when he belched into an interviewers microphone moments after hitting the arrivals hall.
Gazza wrote himself into Lazio folklore after scoring a wonderful goal in the derby against Roma, but he was the never the same player following the knee surgery and Italian football’s tough training regimes soon caught up with him.
Weekly cameo appearances alongside James Richardson on Channel 4’s Gazzetta Football Italia ensured Gascoigne remained in the public-eye, but when he appeared on one episode wearing ill-advised hair extensions, you sensed he was starting to get bored with life in the bel paese. He is still revered by Lazio fans 25 years after his departure.
PAUL INCE – INTER MILAN
The self-titled “Guvnor” was at the top of his game when Sir Alex Ferguson decided to bin him at Manchester United, accepting Inter President Massimo Moratti’s billions which saw the England star head to the San Siro.
Ince’s no-nonsense style seemed perfectly suited to the lawless world of Italian football’s midfield and despite the Nerazzurri only finishing seventh in his first season, Ince, after a slow start, had won over the fans with his combative approach. Luckily for Channel 4, Ince’s arrival in Serie A maintained British interest in the Italian game enough to allow James Richardson to zip over to the peninsula every week and consume his bodyweight in gelato (ice-cream).
The following season “Incey” helped propel his team to the final of the Uefa Cup where they eventually lost on penalties to Schalke. Never frightened of causing a stir, eyebrows were raised when the former Red Devil headed up the East Lancs Road to join Liverpool after his time in Italy.
LIAM BRADY – INTER MILAN
Republic of Ireland international Liam Brady’s sublime skills in the mid to late 70’s at Arsenal meant he was always destined to grace the pitches of European football’s most glamorous league, so no-one was surprised when he swapped North London for Turin in 1980.
“Chippy” settled into life as a Juventus player very quickly and wearing the club’s iconic number 10 jersey, helped the Old Lady clinch back-to-back Serie A titles. The arrival of moody French superstar Michel Platini in ’82 meant Brady was surplus to requirements, but his love of all things Italian ensured he would remain in the country to represent first Sampdoria, then Inter where unfortunately, he would go on to win f**k all.
His six years in the peninsula made him the perfect fit for you’ve guessed it, Channel 4’s Football Italia coverage where he would often be seen on a commentary gantry alongside you’ve guessed it, James Richardson.
RAVEL MORRISON – LAZIO
To be honest it’s impossible to write a piece about British and Irish players spending time in Italy without mentioning Ravel Morrison. Not many people, including the Lazio fans, even knew that the man Sir Alex Ferguson once described as; “The best young player he had ever seen” rocked up in Italy.
It wasn’t until ‘tomato ketchup-gate’ broke out a couple of years later that Morrison, who by this time had failed to play a single minute in Lazio’s first-team, was thrust back into the public-eye.
The story goes something like this; The Lazio squad had been put in ritiro (a bit like detention for footballers) by Lazio chief Claudio Lotito, after a run of poor results. This basically means the players are holed up at the clubs training base for several days without being allowed home to see their families.
This was the final straw for Morrison, who had already fallen out with his employer over the fact that tomato ketchup had been banned from the club canteen. Ravel decided to break the curfew and nip over the wall for a night out, but was caught and reportedly placed under house arrest by Lotito.
Morrison was officially a Lazio player for four years and to most supporters who make the fortnightly pilgrimage to the Stadio Olimpico, just like the Loch Ness monster, Ravel has taken on a sort-of mythical status.
ROBBIE KEANE – INTER MILAN
It’s the summer of 2000 and the Republic of Ireland’s Robbie Keane is hot property, hot enough to attract the attention of the most handsome man to ever take charge of a football team, Internazionale’s Marcelo Lippi.
Imagine the scene at Keane’s then employer Coventry City, when the chairman gets a call from his opposite number Massimo Moratti (him again) offering around 13 million quid to take the striker off their hands.
Young Robbie looked like a startled rabbit in the headlights as he signed a five-year deal at the San Siro with Lippi proclaiming that; “Inter has a policy of going for young players and Robbie Keane is the best one that I have seen.”
After hearing this, people started to ask if Lippi had been spending too much time in the cellar of his best mate Sir Alex Ferguson (him again) and within three months he was sacked by the Nerazzurri and replaced by Marco Tardelli, who immediately put Keane back on a flight to Blighty where he became a goal-scoring machine at Leeds United.
Imagine the surprise then on Robbie’s face, when Tardelli was appointed the Republic’s assistant manager alongside Giovanni Trapattoni in 2008!