Continuing Football Italiano’s Azzurri coverage, Rishi Verma presents the second in his series of four articles looking at the relationship between Juventus and the Italian national team.
Il Ciclo Leggendario (The Golden Cycle)
After Italy were taught a footballing lesson by Brazil in the much-feted 1970 World Cup final, confidence was at an all-time low. They lost their tag as reigning European Champions by failing to even qualify for the 1972 European Championships, and compounded their misery by missing out on qualification for the 1976 edition, sandwiching a poor showing in the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. Despite losing only six matches in eight years, controversial Coach Ferruccio Valcareggi soon departed. After their dormant period in the 60’s, more Juventus players were being called up to the national squad, and there seemed to be a shift in power towards the Bianconeri as their domestic dominance gathered momentum. Under the stewardship of Čestimír Vycpálek and bicycle-kicking expert Carla Parola, players such as Dino Zoff, Fabio Capello and Franco Causio won three Serie A titles in four years, and soon formed the spine of the Italian teams of the early-to-mid 70’s.
1976 proved to be a landmark year in the history of both Italy and Juventus as new Tacticians were brought in which would bring untold success. Italy replaced Valcareggi with Enzo Bearzot, while Juve hired former player Giovanni Trapattoni. Il Trap, as the latter was widely referred to, started a winning cycle that had not been witnessed since the dominance of the revered Torino side of the 1940’s. In a six-year period, la Vecchia Signora won four Serie A titles, one Coppa Italia and her first international trophy by defeating Athletic Bilbao in the final over two legs to win the UEFA Cup. These successes were not only attributed to the organisation and guile of Trapattoni, but to the players he had at his disposal, which reads like a Who’s Who of Italian football: Dino Zoff, Antonio Cuccureddu, Francesco Morini, Antonio Cabrini, Gaetano Scirea, Franco Causio, Giuseppe Furino, Claudio Gentile, Sergio Brio, Pietro Anastasi, Romeo Benetti, Marco Tardelli, Roberto Bettega and Roberto Boninsegna. Most of these players were called up to the Italian squad for the 1978 World Cup where they would be joined by a future Bianconeri legend in Paolo Rossi. After a decent showing where they finished a creditable third in Argentina, and fouth-place in the 1980 European Championships they entered the Spain ’82 World Cup as one of the favourites to win – no doubt due to Europe’s fear of Juventus whose players’ confidence and swagger dominated the Italian squad.
By the time the tournament started, Rossi made the switch from Vicenza to Juve, having served a two-year ban for his part in the Totonero betting scandal while on loan to Perugia. Out of form, and in poor shape, Bearzot still took him to Spain as he knew his predatory instincts would return given the opportunity. Loyalties were repaid at both ends as Rossi stunned the mighty Brazilians with a memorable hat-trick in the second group stage, and followed up that performance with a brace against Poland in the semi-final and the opening goal in the final, with West Germany providing the opposition. Italy lifted the World Cup on a barmy night in Madrid, and Rossi topped the scoring charts with six goals. To highlight their influence on the Italian squad, the Bianconeri provided six of the 11 players that started the final, with former midfielder Causio coming on as substitute. Juve captain Zoff lifted the World Cup as Italy captain, and nine of the 12 goals scored by Italy in the tournament were scored by Juve players.
Individual players have dominated World Cups – think Maradona in Mexico 1986, but never has a club side team dominated a World Cup as much as Juventus before or since.
Azzurri Cold Turkey
In the aftermath of that World Cup triumph, reality bit, as many of the Bianconeri players who contributed so much to the success in Spain either retired from the game, wound down their careers at Juve, or simply moved onto pastures new. The latter two scenarios were of particular relevance due to the lifting of the ban on foreign players, or stranieri, in Italy at the time. This did not have much of an impact on Juve’s stranglehold on the domestic scene and growing emergence as a European force as they were able to replace some of the World Cup-winning players with high-quality purchases such as Zbigniew Boniek, Stefano Tacconi, Michael Laudrup to name a few. It did have a major impact on the Azzurri, however, as replacements could not live up to the quality of their predecessors, which forced Bearzot into constantly changing his squad to find the perfect ‘fit’, unlike his successful squads of the late 70’s and early 80’s which more-or-less remained constant throughout. The hangover from 1982 continued into 1984 as they failed to qualify for that year’s European Championships – Bearzot desperate to recapture the spirit of Spain. By this time, Scirea and Cabrini were the only survivors from the Juve contingent of 1982, and Italy prepared for the Mexico ’86 World Cup qualifiers as reigning World Champions, but not playing like them. While they crashed out to a Michel Platini-inspired French side in the first knockout stage in Mexico, Platini himself was still polishing off the European Cup he won with the last great Juve side of that era in 1985. Just as Bearzot and Il Trap took up their respective positions in 1976, they too left their places in 1986 with their reputations intact and their place in history secured. As they say, all great cycles come to an end – and with their departures, that is exactly what happened.
Next week, we investigate Italy during the nineties, including the 1990 World Cup held on home soil, and one of the greatest players ever to pull on the Azzurri jersey.