ITV has turned the clock back 24 years to take us on a journey to the summer of 1996 when “Football came home”.
The network is replaying all the games from Euro 96 and to old duffers like myself, it’s manna from heaven looking back at a time when the game seemed more innocent and Kevin Keegan could not pronounce his “H’s” if his life depended on it.
That tournament also signalled that start of the foreign invasion into the Premier League as we take a look at five players who made the switch after (spoiler alert) Germany lifted the trophy.
The Czech Republic striker struck gold after helping his country to the runners-up spot at Euro 96 and by the start of the 96-97 campaign, he was lining up in a Liverpool team that had just been beaten by a last-minute Eric Cantona goal in the FA Cup Final the previous term.
Berger’s smouldering good looks seemed to fit well in a squad already christened the “Spice Boys” due to the fact that David James, Jamie Redknapp and Stan Collymore were already established members of the team. Things started well for Patrik and at the end of September he was voted Player of the Month, but as the season progressed, his relationship with manager, uncle Roy Evans started to deteriorate, with the boss accusing him of being a lazy ba****d.
The arrival of Gerard Houllier saved his bacon however, and as Roy slipped quietly out of the back door, Berger became a regular under the tutelage of the French tactician. He won an FA Cup and UEFA Cup winner’s medals with the Reds before bidding farewell to Anfield in 2003 to join Portsmouth.
Just down the East Lancs Road, Berger’s international team-mate Karel Poborsky made hay why the sun shined by securing a dream move to Manchester United. The tricky little winger with the candy-floss hair had had a superb summer and had made probably the greatest full-back in history, Italy’s Paolo Maldini, look like a pub player in their group encounter at Anfield.
Unfortunately for Karel, David Beckham was about to take the footballing world by storm which saw his appearances limited and by the end of October, he must have wondered what the hell he’d walked into as United capitulated firstly at Newcastle, then a week later at The Dell against Southampton were Fergie decided to change the kit at half-time.
It was Poborsky however, that came to his rescue the following week when he scored the only goal in a home win over Arsenal as United steadied the ship before going on to retain their league title. By the start of 1998, Poborsky’s Premier League odyssey was over and he headed out to Portugal to become a fans favourite at Benfica.
About the same time football was coming home, North-East businessman Steve Gibson was investing heavily in his hometown club Middlesbrough, to try to attract the best stars throughout Europe. He left the keys to his kingdom in the…er, capable hands of former Manchester United and England star Bryan Robson who, while working on Terry Venables’ England coaching staff, used Euro 96 as a scouting mission to try to cherry-pick the best players for the following campaign.
Boro fans must have wondered what their gaffer was up to however, when he signed Danish frontman Mikkel Beck who’d only played two games in the tournament and had hardly succeeded in setting the world alight. Despite helping Boro reach the FA Cup and League Cup Finals the following season, Beck saw his side relegated due to the fact that they got a three-point deduction for failing to fulfil a fixture at Blackburn.
To be fair, the Danish frontman stayed loyal to his employer and helped propel them straight back to the top-flight the following year.
Of course, what Robson hadn’t told Middlesbrough fans when he signed Beck was that he had, to quote Vanessa Williams, “saved the best for last” when he incredibly convinced Italian hit-man Fabrizio Ravanelli to swap Turin for Teeside.
Boro fans couldn’t believe it when the man nicknamed “The White Feather” due to his premature grey barnet, touched down in the North-East and they were still pinching themselves when Ravenelli helped himself to an opening day hat-trick against Liverpool.
The Italian, who in the previous season had opened the scoring for Juventus as they lifted their first and to date only Champions League, went on to score 17 goals that season despite Boro’s relegation, but could he do it on a wet Tuesday night in Blackburn? Well, we’ll never know will we.
The Romanian striker had a reputation for being a little difficult, but that didn’t deter Harry Redknapp from signing him for West Ham United after he’d scored just a solitary goal for his country that made an early exit from Euro 96.
By the time Florin had racked up at Upton Park he’d already represented six different clubs, which included a miserable spell at Italian giants AC Milan. During the contract negotiations there had obviously been a breakdown in communication because the Romanian thought he was only required to play in Premier League games.
When he failed to appear for a League Cup tie away at Stockport, Redknapp was furious and he was apoplectic when he was informed the following day that his player had preferred to go shopping at Harvey Nicks than turn out at Edgeley Park. That was the final straw for “H” who decided there and then that this guy had to be sent back from where he came and the lovable old rogue has always maintained that the Romanian was one of his two worse ever signings.
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