When Serie A Ruled The World
There are those football fans who would have you believe that football is all about winning, losing and trophies. That school of thought is, of course, complete and utter bollocks. Results and silverware are secondary to which team has the smartest kits and the players with the best barnets. And nowhere was this more evident than Serie A in the 1990's.
Imagine being arsed about winning league titles when your team wears a purple kit sponsored by an ice cream company and you've got Gabriel 'Batigol' Batistuta lashing 30 yard screamers and thumping headers in every week while Manuel Rui Costa and his lustrous Iberian mane pulled the strings in behind. Or how about fretting over being overshadowed by your rivals for more than a decade but bragging a line up of Ronaldo, Alvaro Recoba, Ivan Zamorano, ROBERTO FUCKING BAGGIO, Diego Simeone and Javier Zanetti and his career long haircut?
As the Premier League clawed back the ground English football had lost on its continental rivals thanks to a ban from European competition between 1985 and 1990, Serie A was thriving. Silvio Berlusconi had set some time aside from throwing orgies in his office to reinvent AC Milan in the late '80s and the 'Rossoneri' were still a joy to behold in the '90s as the Dutch trifecta of Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard made way for George Weah, Marcel Desailly and Zvonimir Boban. Add to this Paolo Maldini's ageless ability to simply charm the ball off doe eyed centre forwards who became besotted with the Italy captain the moment they made eye contact with him and you had a formidable outfit.
In Turin, Italian Paul Newman look-a-like Marcello Lippi was rekindling Juventus' Platini inspired '80s heyday with the help of Fabrizio Ravanelli, Gianluca Vialli, Ciro Ferrara, Moreno Torricelli and a young lad by the name of Alessandro Del Piero. Throw in some Sony sponsored Kappa kits and it wasn't just Italy, but the rest of Europe, who were shitting the bed whenever they had the ill fortune of pitting their wits against the 'Bianconeri'.
Whereas 'The Old Lady' routinely dominate the race for the Scudetto every season nowadays (although they're currently facing stiff competition from Napoli, this campaign), the '90s and early '00s presented challengers from across the Peninsula, with Lazio and Roma hoarding the league title in the capital for two seasons while Parma, with the excessive bankrolling of Parmalat behind them and a young Carlo Ancelotti in the dugout were constantly a part of the conversation. Y'know, rather than being bankrupt and in Serie D.
Fucking hell, even Sampdoria decided they fancied being champions in 1990 and then had the audacity to reach the European Cup final the following year. AND they took Lee Sharpe on loan for three games in 1998.
All this fierce competition, technicolor attire and lavish spending on foreign talent was brought into our homes every Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon by the incomparable James Richardson, usually in a piazza cafe with an ice cream the size of a toddler and a crisp, pink copy of the Gazzetto Dello Sport. For any self respecting football fan, Live and Kicking could get to fuck. Andy Peters and Ed The Duck on BBC1 or highlights of Igor Protti pasting in goals for Bari on Channel 4?
Oh, and then there was the theme tune...
I mean, are we even debating as to whether there's ever been a better theme tune for a football programme? For all the warm sentimentality attached to the Match Of The Day theme, where's the impassioned Italian bloke punching lyrics out before wailing "GOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLAAAAAAAAACCIO!!!" ?
Even the lesser known and provincial teams such as Bologna, Atalanta, Udinese, Cagliari, Piacenza, Genoa and Torino seemed more worthy of our attention than Nottingham Forest, West Ham, Spurs or Sheffield Wednesday ever could, even though, in the cold light of day, they were more than likely absolute shite. But they wore Diadora and Lotto kits and their fans were mental, so that's all that counted.
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While waiting up until half 10 every Saturday night to watch Des Lynam introduce Fergie's Fledglings, Roy Evans' 'Spice Boys' and Kevin Keegan's Newcastle entertainers was undeniably brilliant, it couldn't compare to bearing witness to the glamorous, exotic international superstars who were flocking to Serie A in their droves; Zinedine Zidane, Hernan Crespo, Pavel Nedved, Juan Sebastian Veron, Andriy Shevchenko, Alen Boksic, Vladimir Jugovic, Siniša Mihajlović, Marcelo Salas, Edgar Davids, Christian Karembeu, Clarence Seedorf and the aforementioned Inter Milan and Fiorentina heavyweights all arrived in Italy, as club accountants across the country went into meltdown.
Not only were Italian clubs buying up the best from abroad, they were also developing a generation of players who were as talented as they were handsome. If you want to talk about 'golden generations', how about I throw the names of Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti, Andrea Pirlo, Christian Vieri, Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon, Pippo Inzaghi and Gennaro Gattuso at you? Eight of those nine players lifted the World Cup in 2006 and were it not for a meniscus injury, so would Vieri.
Oh and just for good measure, the ageless generation of Baggio, Maldini, Mancini, Signori, Casiraghi, Costacurta, Conte and Albertini were still kicking around (and in Maldini's case, would be well into the '00s), just in case any of these upstarts had any ideas above their station (nicking Maldini's hairstyle without written permission, serious shit like that).
And finally, it would be remiss to not finish with a love letter to the kits that adorned the above icons. I mean, is anyone going to dare argue with the fact that football as a sport peaked with this picture?
Not that 'Batigol' didn't have some stiff competition when it came to wearing the fuck out of a kit...
It gets even better...
The lads modelling Lazio's '93 vintage...
And if all that wasn't enough, look how on point the tracksuits were. Worth being benched for...
So there you have it. Calcio in the '90s > anything else to ever happen in the history of football.
Featured Image Credit: PA
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