Enjoy the glory days of Italian football - you'll miss them when they're gone

For every Mel Sterland in England, there was a Fabio Cannavaro during the glory days of Italian football  
Neil Loughran


Lazy Sunday afternoons putting off the maths homework that’s due first thing the next morning. Batigol, Beppe Signori, Bobby Baggio – for most of the1990s, Serie A was the place to be.

Best of all, of course, was James Richardson. Leisurely parked up on the fringes of some picturesque piazza, a caffe lungo on one side, an imaginatively decorated gelato on the other, with all the day’s newspapers resting in between, Richardson would bring the familiar pink pages of Gazzetta dello Sport to life every weekend.

English football was a backwater in comparison. For every Mel Sterland, there was a Fabio Cannavaro. For Gavin Peacock, Demetrio Albertini. Mike Sheron and Dean Saunders? Try George Weah and Ronaldo for size.

Italy was the place to be, and for the early part of the ’90s at least, AC Milan were head and shoulders above anything else in world football. Poise, power, panache – they had the lot.

So what of the Rossoneri now? In fact, what of Italian football? Roles have been reversed with England. Italy is now the poor relation. How could the mighty have fallen so far?

The day Danny Dichio booked his flight to Genoa was the beginning of the end.

Sky Sports are showing the Coppa Italia this year, so what better time to return to those halcyon Sunday afternoons, albeit on a Tuesday night, as the great Meeelan take on little old Alessandria from Lega Pro Primo Divisione, or Division Three in old money.

With Milan 1-0 up from the away tie, the second leg at the San Siro promised much. Excited by the prospect of pre-match chat with Ray Wilkins and Paul Elliott, I tuned in early. I needn’t have bothered.

Despite this being Sky, there was a distinct Eurosport/Premier Sports feel to the production as the broadcast started with the players walking out of the tunnel.

Straight down to business, and commentators Ian Crocker and Gary Birtles were clearly psyched, with Crocker revealing: “Alessandria went bankrupt in 2003, reformed a year later then were relegated in 2011 after a betting scandal.”

Ah, magic of the Coppa, there you are.

There was still an overwhelming sense that something was missing. Where were the flares? The smog? The motorbikes coming over the third tier of the stand? The good players? You’ve changed Italy, and not for the better.

After a bit of resistance early on, Alessandia fell behind to a strike from Jeremy Menez before the Frenchman added a second, Milan’s third, in the 39th minute before the break after some nice work by Poli, or Ulster University as he prefers to be called these days.

The half-time analysis consisted of showing the three goals on a loop, either side of ad breaks. A far cry from those Channel Four glory days.

Aside from a chance missed by Bonaventura, whose brother Ace was a decent player back in the day, plucky little betting scandal hit Alessandria were holding their own after the break before goals from Alessio Romognoli and Mario Balotelli put the seal on a 5-0 win.

“There's got to be a reaction when you score a goal like that - have a smile on your face, run to the corner flag, celebrate with the fans or something,” fumed Birtles as ‘Super Mario’ walked sullenly back to the halfway line.

“You're a long time out of the game. Enjoy those years when you've got the opportunity.”

Too true. Enjoy those years, like we all enjoyed the glory days of Italian football - because you’ll miss them when they’re gone.


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