In the 1960s there was Jimmy Greaves, John Charles and Dennis Law. In the 1980s, Liam Brady, Graeme Souness, Trevor Francis and Ray Wilkins and in the 1990s, David Platt and Paul Ince. I’m talking of course, about players from the UK and Ireland who’ve graced the battle grounds of Italian football over the past 50 years or so.
But for every jewel in the crown, there are always cheap H. Samuel imitations. So we decided to take a look at five such players and ask: “How the hell did they end up in Serie A?”
LEE SHARPE – SAMPDORIA
By 1998, the “Sharpie Shuffle” had become the “Sharpie Hobble”, such was the former Manchester United star’s tendency to pick up injuries. Having spent a couple of seasons across the Pennines at Leeds United, Sharpe ended up going out on-loan to Italy, joining up with Genoese giants Sampdoria.
The Blucerchiati had struck gold earlier in the decade by bringing England international David Platt to the port city, but they got their fingers well and truly burned when “Platty”, who was Head-Coach of the club at the time, recommended they take a punt on the flying winger from Halesowen.
But blink and you would have missed him – after just three appearances and numerous trips to the Genoa Royal Infirmary, Sharpe hobbled back onto a plane to Blighty to join Bradford City.
DANNY DICHIO – SAMPDORIA & LECCE
Heaven only knows what they were putting in the wine in Genoa at the end of the 90s, because prior to Sharpe’s arrival at the Stadio Luigi Ferarris – and for reasons only known to club insiders – Sampdoria opted to bring in striker Danny Dichio from Queens Park Rangers.
The fact that his father was Italian may have swung it, but the fact that the club were in a state of total disarray around that time may have more to do with it. You can’t even blame Platty, because he had yet to take charge in Liguria. Two goals in his two appearances was Dichio’s legacy at Samp, with the six foot three frontman spending the majority of the 1997-98 campaign on-loan in Puglia at Lecce.
He was back on these shores 12 months later when he signed for Sunderland.
PAUL ELLIOTT CBE – PISA
In 1987 the big defender from South East London went from playing on Luton Town’s plastic pitch at Kenilworth Road to sharing the same dressing-room as Brazilian superstar Dunga, plying his trade at Pisa in what was then the toughest league in Europe.
Elliott played over 20 times for the Tuscan side and in his first season he helped them stave off the threat of relegation back to Serie B, which had become their spiritual home.
Paul could see the big picture however, so it was no surprise that following his retirement from the game in 1994 due to a serious knee injury, Elliott was snapped up by Channel 4, becoming a regular pundit on the network’s Italian football coverage.
MICAH RICHARDS – FIORENTINA
During his brief spell in England playing for Fulham, Italian striker Vincenzo Montella accidentally bumped into big Manchester City right-back Micah Richards outside the dressing-rooms at Craven Cottage. The man nicknamed “The Little Aeroplane” in honour of his goal celebration remembered that day however and when he was put in charge of Fiorentina, he highlighted the need for a hard-working full-back and went back to England to bring Richards in on-loan in 2014.
Florence is a beautiful city and Micah had loads of spare time on his hands to discover its hidden gems after Montella realised that, actually, the Englishman wasn’t very good. Not long after, Richards returned to England to play for Aston Villa and Montella vacated his office at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. He returned halfway through last season, however, and (somehow) is still in charge of La Viola – his current record has seen him win just four times in 23 matches.
RAVEL MORRISON – LAZIO
Sir Alex Ferguson once described Morrison as the “Best young player he’d ever seen”. After a bizarre spell in Serie A with Lazio, the Biancocelesti faithful described him as the “Best player they’d never seen” following three years in the Italian capital where he took on an almost mythical status.
Born in Manchester and growing up in the youth ranks at Old Trafford, Morrison’s early career was fraught with off-field problems so a move to the regimented world of Serie A in 2015 hardly seemed the right place for him to try to get his career back on track.
There was, however, a brief period in 2017 when it looked like he might finally win over the sceptics after a blistering start to pre-season, but any credibility he’d built up was destroyed when Ravel decided to escape from the club’s summer training camp, explaining that he was unhappy at not being allowed to have tomato ketchup with his dinner.
Lazio patron Claudio Lotito decided to put him under house arrest before Queens Park Rangers stumped up the bail money and brought him home.