Football Italiano presents part three of Rishi Verma’s series of four articles looking into the history that exists between Juventus and the Azzurri.
A Sort Of Homecoming
A revolution took place when Azeglio Vicini took his place as Azzurri Coach in 1986, while Rino Marchesi started his daunting and ultimately unsuccessful reign as Juventus Coach in the same year, followed by an equally unfruitful stint with Juve and Italy legend Zoff at the helm. La Vecchia Signora meandered her way through mediocrity between 1986-1990 with only a handful of players selected for la Nazionale, and as demonstrated on previous occasions, their fortunes mirrored those of the Azzurri – or vice versa. In 1990, however, there seemed to be a spring in both teams’ steps as talk around the peninsula centered on a player who would become the first true superstar of Italian football – Roberto Baggio.
A hugely gifted player who possessed supreme elegance, vision and movement, not to mention an eye for goal, Baggio was the one player the Agnelli family knew could bring silverware back to Turin, and recognised that fact by breaking the world transfer record to bring him to Juventus prior to the 1990 World Cup. His transfer understandably caused a riot in Florence, yet what made matters worse was that his new club had just beaten, quite literally, his former employers – Fiorentina – in the UEFA Cup Final after two violent games! Il Divin Codino was one of five Bianconeri players called up by Vicini, in pursuit of a World Cup win on home soil – the other two being Juve custodian Stefano Tacconi, defender Luigi De Agostini, midfielder Giancarlo Marocchi and striker Salvatore (Toto) Schillaci.
While all eyes focused on Baggio who lit up the tournament starting with an outstanding individual goal against the Czechs in the group stage, Schillaci came in from nowhere to become a national hero. While Donadoni’s missed penalty sent the Azzurri faithful home in floods of tears, the Juve hierarchy were licking their lips at was to come in the 1990-91 season. Like Paolo Rossi eight years previously, an Italian-born Juventus striker had again topped the scoring charts, also with six goals, while Baggio became a media darling and saw his value rocket immeasurably. With the exception of a World Cup triumph, similar comparisons could be made to the victorious 1982 campaign, as eight of the 10 Italian goals were scored by Bianconeri players (Baggio scoring two), and Toto won both the Golden Shoe and Golden Ball awards, mirroring the achievements of Rossi in 1982.
There was a marked difference in fortunes for Baggio and Schillaci soon after, however, as the latter struggled to reach the heights of Italia ’90. Baggio, on the other hand, went from strength to strength as he became the focal point in what were average Juve and Azzurri forward lines. In 1991, Trapattoni was brought back by the Agnelli family to add more silverware, while Vicini made way for former Milan Tactician Arrigo Sacchi. There was a justified sense of optimism as both were hugely successful coaches who would bring out the best in the players they had at their disposal – or so we thought. Il Trap brought in Gianluca Vialli to complement Roby Baggio, and added the likes of Dino Baggio, Moreno Torricelli, Angelo Di Livio, Antonio Conte and the previously mentioned Ravanelli to the squad and blended them together as a team which yielded a third UEFA Cup victory. Due to the success of the all-conquering, multi-national stars from Milan, Sacchi remained loyal to the Rossoneri’s Italian contingent, and shuffled everyone else around them when deciding on team selection. No less than 77 players were selected in 53 internationals, and the main casualties were Juventus players.
Bianconeri players flitted in and out of the Italian squad like it was going out of fashion, and before Sacchi knew it, Italy had failed to qualify for the 1992 European Championships. Despite being named FIFA World Player of the Year and European Footballer of the Year in 1993, Il Divin Codino was criminally undervalued by the ex-shoe salesman from Fusignano, which led to an increasingly fractious relationship between the two. This was none more evident than during the infamous second group game against Norway in the 1994 World Cup. Having already lost the opening game, and with goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca sent off, Sacchi decided to take off Roby – Italy’s best and most dangerous player. In disbelief, Roby mouthed the immortal words “This man is mad!” Despite this gamble, another Baggio from Juve – Dino – scored the winning goal to win the match which allowed Italy to scrape through. Realising his own importance, Il Divin Codino single-handedly carried la Nazionale all the way through to the World Cup final against the workman-like Brazilians. While Roby’s missed spot-kick handed the World Cup to Brazil, he could at least take heart from the fact that he scored five goals, and saved Sacchi’s skin, so to speak.
Despite Juve’s first Serie triumph for nine years in 1995, and their second European Cup win against Ajax in 1996, Arrigo Sacchi continued to tinker with his squads instead of banking on a settled line-up. The powerbase had shifted from Milan, and the squad was now formed by an almost-equal amount of players from various teams. Of the Juve contingent, only Angelo Peruzzi, Torricelli, Di Livio, Ravanelli and a young Alessandro Del Piero made the cut for the Euro ’96 squad. Roby Baggio had since been sold to Milan due to his lack of contribution to the 1994-95 Serie A winning season, and in any case, new Coach Marcello Lippi and the Juve hierarchy already had a replacement in mind in Del Piero, who underlined his promise with some sublime skill and goals.
The 1996 tournament was a total failure, and ultimately sealed Coach Sacchi’s fate. In came Coach in Cesare Maldini, who adopted a more pragmatic and defensive approach than his predecessor without much success. Maldini was soon out of the job, and was succeeded by the ever-serious Zoff. During these times of transition, Juventus were again dominating the domestic and European scene with two Serie A titles and two further Champions League final appearances, and underlined their supremacy by contributing no less than seven players to the Azzurri squad which reached the Euro 2000 final in Belgium and the Netherlands. The Italian side that started the epic final against France contained two Bianconeri players (Mark Iuliano and Gianluca Pessotto), with a third (Del Piero) almost bringing the title home when he should have scored when clean through.
In the final part, we bring the story right up to the present day, and look ahead to the future and the potential for Juventus to continue to provide la Nazionale with players of international class.