We have been saturated with retro football coverage on TV during the Covid-19 lockdown as we all pine for the return to football normality.
Part of these trips down memory lane has also seen clips of some of the best action from Channel Four’s fledgling Italian football coverage being shown across our social media platforms.
For ten years, the network brought the glamour of Europe’s toughest league into our living rooms on a Sunday afternoon whilst at the same time, introducing us to players that we would only have otherwise seen at a major summer tournament.
Let’s now take a look at what happened to five former Serie A stars that became a staple of any Sunday lunch between 1992 and 2002.
Before Italia 90, not many people outside of Turin had heard of Italian striker Salvatore “Toto” Schillaci whose great form for Juventus during the 1989-90, helped the Old Lady claim the Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup titles.
When Azzurri boss Azeglio Vicini decided to include him in his World Cup party ahead of their home tournament, little did we know that Toto’s life was about to change forever. The Sicilian front-man had to make do with a place on the bench for Italy’s opener against Austria, but when he came on to replace Andrea Carnevale he scored the only goal of the game and became an instant hit in a country that was riddled with World Cup fever.
Schillaci was at it again in the host’s final group match against Czechoslovakia and his incredible form carried on in the Round of 16 against Uruguay, the quarter-finals v the Republic of Ireland (whisper that one quietly in these parts) and in the semi-final, which Italy eventually lost on penalties, against Argentina. That was, however, to be Toto’s 15 minutes of fame and in the fall-out he was heavily criticised by the tifosi for refusing to take one of the spot-kicks in the shoot-out.
Despite his club form hitting the buffers the following season, Schillaci was runner-up in that year’s Ballon d’Or and had a race-horse named after him in Australia but by 1994, after a difficult spell at Inter, he decided to head to the Far-East to see out his career at Japanese side Jubilo Iwata.
At the turn of the century, Japanese midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata was probably the most famous sportsmen in his country and his 42 billion lira (around 20 million quid) move to Roma in January 2000 introduced Italian football to a whole new audience in the Far-East.
Whilst Nakata was helping the capital club win the Scudetto the following season, Giallorossi shirts were flying off the pegs in sports shops from Sapporo to Nagasaki before the player made a shock move to Parma in the summer of 2001 for a staggering 55 billion lira (you do the math).
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Nakata was a walking clothes horse for some of the world top fashion designers and became only the second Asian footballer to be included in Pele’s FIFA 100 list. He also became the poster-boy for the 2002 World Cup in his homeland.
By 2006, after spells at both Fiorentina and Bologna, Nakata had become so bored with football that he finished his playing career on-loan at Sam Allardyce’s Dad’s Army at Bolton Wanderers before citing his desire to “see what was going on in the world” as the reason for taking early retirement.
Here’s a quick pub quiz question – What does Dundee and Juventus have in common? Answer – they were both former clubs of Italian striker Fabrizio Ravanelli.
The man affectionately known as “The White Feather” due to his head of grey hair is more fondly remembered in Turin than he is in the Scottish city, after helping the Italian giants to what is their only Champions League success to date in 1996.
After four years with the Bianconeri he suddenly jumped ship to join the revolution at Middlesbrough headed up by former England skipper Bryan Robson, but after a year on the payroll on Teesside and having not seen the sun for an entire 12 months, Ravanelli needed Vitamin D badly so he headed to the South of France to join Marseille before returning home to play for Lazio.
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In 2001 he became a free-agent and headed back to England to spear-head the Derby County attack, but the Rams went into financial free-fall and Fabrizio was not prepared to play for free.
Then came that brief sojourn at Dundee who, just like Derby, could not afford to keep him in the lifestyle he had become accustomed to so it was back to Italy to finish off his career where it had started – at his home town club Perugia.
A volatile character, Ravanelli never seemed like the type of guy who would be successful as a manager and despite an encouraging start in the youth ranks at Juventus, spells at French club Ajaccio and Ukrainian outfit Arsenal Kyiv were a total disaster.
The man whose bald bonce could be seen during the opening titles to Channel Four’s Sunday afternoon Serie A coverage, was one of his country’s most recognised players in the early nineties having helped Sampdoria to their title success of 1991. Lombardo, who always looked like an elder statesman even when he was in his early 20’s, played over 200 times for the port city club before moving to Juventus in 1995.
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Injuries curtailed his career in Turin but this didn’t stop new Crystal Palace owner Mark Goldberg taking a punt on him in 1997. Before his first season in the Premier League was over, Lombardo found himself as caretaker player-manager when current boss Steve Coppell moved upstairs and there was more surprises to come when, much to the chagrin of the catering suppliers, ex Swedish international Tomas Brolin joined Lombardo on the bench as an interpreter.
Unsurprisingly, Palace went down but to Attilo’s credit, he did decide to stay for a further season in the Championship before returning home to represent Lazio and Sampdoria once more. Lombardo’s friendship with Samp team-mate Roberto Mancini stood him in good stead and he returned to England as his assistant when Mancini got the Manchester City job. Following spells as an assistant at Galatasaray (with Mancini again), Schalke and Torino, he’s now back with his old mucker at the Italian national team.
Zenga is regarded as one of the greatest Italian goalkeepers ever to have pulled on a pair of gloves and is revered in his home city of Milan, where he spent 16 years at Inter. One league title and two UEFA Cup triumph’s is all Zenga has to show for his time in the Italian top-flight however and he also suffered the heartbreak of a semi-final defeat to Argentina in the 1990 World Cup.
After finishing his playing career in the US, he started life as a coach at the New England Revolution before spending much of the first part of the noughties in Bulgaria and Serbia with Steaua Bucharest and Red Star Belgrade respectively.
He finally returned home in 2008 to take up the reigns at Catania and following a spell in Sicily at Palermo, he packed his suitcase once more and headed to the Middle-East for the next four years.
In 2015, it finally looked as though Zenga had hit the big time after taking over at Sampdoria, but after a disastrous start to the campaign, he was relieved of his duties after just three months in-charge. Worse was to come 12 months later when he arrived at Championship side Wolverhampton Wanderers.
At first all seemed good and by the end of August, the Old Gold looked like the team to beat for a place in Premier League. Zenga proclaimed that he had enough quality in his squad to field two different teams – what he didn’t explain however, was that he meant two different teams in the National League and as the wheels well and truly came off – Zenga vacated his parking space at Molineux before the leaves had fallen.
Having filled his time working as a pundit for Italian broadcaster Rai, the former custodian has spent the past three years back on the bench at Crotone, Venezia and recently replaced Rolando Maran at the helm at Cagliari.
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