The Juventus Catastrophe - How A Modernization Attempt BackfiredWritten by Shahan Petrossian
By 1990, the once all-conquering Juventus had not won a league title in four years and were at best the fourth team in the nation. They were lagging behind Diego Maradona’s Napoli and the Dutch and German inspired Milanese clubs of AC Milan and Internazionale. The era of Platini, Tardelli, Zoff, Bettega and Furino had given way to a team whose only reliable players were Captain and goalkeeper Stefano Tacconi and defender/midfielder Luigi De Agostini, the only player with any significant presence in the national team.
The foreign player experiments of Welsh striker Ian Rush and Soviet midfielder Alexander Zavarov had been fiascos. Since Giovanni Trappatoni had left for Internazionale in 1986 after a decade, neither Rino Marchesi nor former Captain Dino Zoff had been able to make headway. However, there was a glimmer of hope during the 1989/90 season with the emergence of Salvatore Schillaci from Messina and his young strike partner Pierluigi Casiraghi. Juventus managed to win both the Italian Cup and the UEFA Cup, but were off the pace in the league. Schillaci’s high-scoring first season had earned him a place in Italy’s 1990 World Cup Squad, for which he became the star and revelation. By 1990, Juventus and Fiat owner, Gianni Agnelli, had had enough and planned a facelift for a Juventus of a new era. Long-time President Giampiero Boniperti was dismissed, with Michel Platini being one of his most vocal critics accusing him of having squandered Agnelli’s money. Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the manager of the organizing committee for the 1990 World Cup, came on board as executive Vice President.
Also gone were the foreign trio of Portuguese Rui Barros and Soviet pair of Zavarov and Sergei Aleinikov. In their place, the new foreign players were the talented German midfielder Thomas Haessler from FC Koln and Montpellier’s Brazilian Central defender Julio Cesar. As far as Italians, Pasquale Bruno, Roberto Tricella, Sergio Brio, Antonio Cabrini and Alessandro Altobelli departed to new directions. The eccentric and talented Paolo Di Canio was signed from Lazio. The Bologna pair of Gianluca Luppi and Marco De Marchi were added as defensive reinforcements. Eugenio Corini and Massimo Orlando joined from Brescia and Reggina respectively.
To top it all off, Juventus spent a then world record of 13 million dollars and signed Roberto Baggio from Fiorentina, which caused uproar and unrest with Fiorentina fans. To manage this group, Luigi Maifredi of Bologna was appointed to succeed Dino Zoff. He had transformed a modest Bolgna squad into a team good enough to qualify for the UEFA Cup. He had initially been approached in 1988, but at the time he had refused since he did not feel ready to manage a team of Juventus’ standing. He came with the label of “the new Arrigo Sacchi” and was thought to be the ideal manager to take Juventus into the new decade. He tried in vain to acquire Fiorentina’s Brazilian midfielder Dunga, but Fiorentina refused after the furor caused by the sale of Baggio to the same team. Therefore, Juventus played with only two foreign players, instead of the authorized three.
In the pre-season, Maifredi was very confident and had boasted that Juventus would play like the great Brazil. He had even predicted a points total tally of 53 to become champions. He remarked that there’s us (Juventus), Napoli, AC Milan, Inter and Sampdoria and all other teams (13 in total) are inferior. So that’s 52 easy points, so assuming they collect 45, he was confident that Juventus could win four of its home matches vs. the big teams for eight points, giving him a total of 53.
All these statements would haunt him at the end of the season. Juventus’ first half of the season was solid, short of being spectacular. By the end of the first round of matches, they were in a four-way fight for the title with Sampdoria (eventual champions), AC Milan and Internazionale. However, the first signs of trouble were already apparent, as Baggio had not exactly set Turin alight, while the World Cup’s top goalscorer Salvatore Schillaci was going through a goal drought. He had managed to score only four goals in the first half of the season. Schillaci also made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. In a match against Bologna in December, at the conclusion of the match he was accused by Bologna’s Fabio Poli to have taken a dive to win Juventus’ Penalty and eventual winner. A shouting match ensued during which Schillaci was overheard to threaten Poli that he would “have him shot.” This outburst led to a one-match suspension from the Federation.
In the Cup Winners Cup, Juventus had progressed to the quarterfinals after defeating Bulgaria’s Sliven and Austria’s FK Austria Vienna in rather easy ties. The Juventus freefall started from a loss in the fourth round of the second half of the season vs. Sampdoria. From this point on, they only won three more matches for the rest of the season and managed to lose six more matches. After being eliminated in the Italian Cup at home by AS Roma, they were soundly defeated by Johann Cruyff’s Barcelona in the semi finals of the Cup Winners Cup. Juventus went from being title challengers to eventually finishing seventh and not even qualify for the UEFA Cup. This was the first time they had not qualified for any European competition in 28 years.
Schillaci only managed one more goal in the second half of the season for a paltry total of five and even lost his starting position for the Azzuri. He was dismissed as a one-season wonder. Luigi Maifredi stated himself that if he were the president he would renew his contract. Luca di Montezemolo said that he would not wish this season on his worst enemy. At the conclusion of the season, the Juventus management recalled Boniperti back to the fold and more importantly re-appointed former manager Trappatoni. Thomas Haessler was transferred to AS Roma. Similarly Italians Dario Bonetti, Daniele Fortunato and Nicolo Napoli also left. German defenders Stefan Reuter and Jurgen Kohler (both from Bayern Munich) and Bari defender Massimo Carrera were signed to provide much needed defensive cover. Luigi Maifredi returned to his old club Bologna (now relegated) and never managed to live up to the pre-season hype of a tecnico of the future.
On paper, this Juventus was a solid team, which promised much but did not deliver. Somehow, the Sampdoria loss in February was the catalyst for their collapse but the signs were already there in the early stages of the season. Di Canio, while brilliant with Lazio, was a peripheral figure in Turin. Haessler was unable to reproduce his Koln and Germany displays for Juventus.
Pierluigi Casiraghi showed some promise, but was still not the finished article yet. While Captain Stefano Tacconi was nearing the end of his time at Juve, Roma’s Angelo Peruzzi was being courted as his heir apparent. Baggio and Schillaci were unable to reproduce their successful World Cup partnership. In his first season, Schillaci seemed hungry and obsessed with success. This season he was perhaps suffering from the World Cup hype and extra attention of opponents. He never managed to find his first season form and was eventually transferred to Inter and finally Japan. As far as Baggio, his contribution was largely in being Juventus’ penalty kick taker. In retrospect, it seems as if he never really wanted to leave Florence. For the away match vs. Fiorentina in April, he even refused to take Juve’s penalty kick (missed by De Agostini) and was substituted and left the field in jeers. As he was leaving the field he picked up a Fiorentina scarf and wrapped it around his shoulders. Not having a consistent goalscorer cost Juventus many points.
Trappatoni steadied the ship for the next three seasons and achieved two creditable runners-up finishes against an AC Milan squad that was probably the best in Europe. Marcello Lippi was hired as manager in 1994 and he, along with emerging stars like Alessandro Del Piero, finally started the Juventus renaissance.
© Words Shahan Petrossian/ ZANI Media