di SHAHAN PETROSSIAN
My introduction to the World of Soccer occurred during the 1982 World Cup.
As the months passed my interest grew stronger and stronger.
I was still unexposed to the world of club soccer, however, in the months following the World Cup and into the Fall I started paying more attention to club matches shown on Television, as well as highlights of matches shown.
More often than not these involved the English, West German, Dutch, Italian, French and Spanish Leagues.
I was slowly able to match the names I had learned during the World Cup with the clubs they played for.
Little by little, I noticed Bruno Conti was playing for a team called AS Roma with Brazil’s Falcao as a teammate and Giancarlo Antognoni played for a team called Fiorentina.
To my amazement I learned of a team named Juventus that not only practically contained every Italian National Team player that I had learned over the summer (Zoff, Gentile, Scirea, Cabrini, Tardelli, Rossi), but also France’s Michel Platini and Poland’s Zbigniew Boniek.
To me it seemed unreal that so many national team players were all in one club.
By springtime my interest had developed to such a point that I started buying specialized Sports magazines to follow the teams and the scores.
In the days before wall to wall Television coverage and the internet, the ritual of waiting every week in anticipation to get the latest local Sports Magazine to get the scores and news would remain with me for the decades to come passing through different countries.
Again the bulk of the coverage was on the top European Leagues and I was slowly discovering that the Italian Serie A was THE Top League with the most prestige and stars.
I became a fan of Juventus due to the fact that I actually recognized most of the players.
By the time I started actively following scores and table positions, the season was in full swing and past the halfway mark. By this point AS Roma were League leaders on their way to claim their first title since 1942.
The team behind them was a surprising newly promoted team called Verona and Alessandro Altobelli’s Internazionale Milano (In print the team was always referred as Inter Milan).
Again I was surprised to learn that West Germany’s Hansi Muller that I had discovered during the World Cup was playing for Inter.
Juventus were a distant fourth and were by all accounts having a poor season.
However, a victory vs. League leaders AS Roma (2 to 1) changed things around and from then on Juventus started winning match after match with Platini in superb form.
They overtook Verona and Inter and established themselves in the second position, but their deficit over Roma was too great to overcome and Roma deservedly won the Serie A title.
In the years to come I would learn the names of key AS Roma players such as Roberto Pruzzo, Sebastiano Nela and Agostino di Bartolomei, but for now their names were still foreign to me as I was still familiarizing myself with this newfound interest and back in those days magazines just printed the scores and not team lineups.
I did not even know any coaches at the time, but soon enough the names of Nils Liedholm and Giovanni Trapattoni would be familiar.
Juventus did gain some consolation by winning the Italian Cup at the expense of Verona. But in time I would to learn the unimportance of this competition with matches played before the season had started and the Final (two legged) played after the League season had ended.
One thing was sure, Juventus was going to be my club to support in Italy and I could not wait for the following season (1983/84) to start.
Part Two (1983/84)
The 1983/84 season was the first Football season that I followed from the start as a knowledgeable fan (as knowledgeable as a 10 year old can be).
By now, I was familiar with the various European Leagues and the players and the differences associated with each.
During that summer offseason, a friend of the family who was leaving the country left me his possession of Sports magazines (it was called ‘Donyaye Varzesh’ (World of Sports)). This collection stretched back to the 1980/81 season.
I spent those summer months reading the magazines and like a sponge absorbed the information with great interest and caught up with the last few seasons.
With the new Serie A season on the horizon, Juventus were in a confident mood due to their positive run at the end of the previous season, with Platini at his zenith.
Captain and Inspirational goalkeeper Dino Zoff had retired and Roberto Bettega had left the Serie A for Canada’s Toronto Blizzard in an act of pre-retirement.
The rest of the squad was intact that still included five World Cup winners.
Stefano Tacconi had arrived from Avellino to replace Zoff, while Domenico Penzo arrived from Verona to replace Bettega.
Defending Champions AS Roma, led by World Cup heroes Bruno Conti and Brazilian Paulo Roberto Falcao, had also been active in the transfer market.
They had acquired Brazilian midfielder Toninho Cerezo to replace Austrian Herbert Prohaska.
World Cup winning striker Francesco Graziani had arrived from Fiorentina to partner up Roberto Pruzzo.
Both teams were the title favorites with AS Roma also eyeing the Champions Cup, with the Final to be played at their home stadium.
I was also made aware that the defending League Champions played the following season with a small Italian Flag on their jerseys.
I had noticed that on Juventus’ jerseys the previous season, without realizing its significance. But this season it was AS Roma that had the Italy flag on their shirts.
Another novelty was the promotion of AC Milan, the neighbors of Inter. I had been unaware of them up to that point since they were in Serie B the previous season. Soon enough I would learn of their history and special place in Serie A and would learn of Baresi and Tassoti who would achieve European glory before the end of the decade.
The talking point of the pre-season was the transfer of Brazilian superstar Zico from Flamengo to Udinese. At the time I was puzzled a player of his stature joining a modest mid-table team, but little did I know of the World of Football Finance. Not realizing that he was paid like a king to join such a club.
Other new foreign players included the Belgians Eric Gerets and Ludo Coeck at AC Milan and Internazionale Milano respectively.
Young Danish Sensation Michael Laudrup was loaned from Juventus to Lazio, although at the time I was unaware of the loan deal.
Former Watford striker Luther Blisset joined newly promoted AC Milan, but he would endure a nightmare of a season.
Ajax Amsterdam and Dutch striker Wim Kieft joined Pisa and would soon learn the difference between the free scoring Dutch League and the defense oriented Serie A.
Scottish striker Joe Jordan was traded from one Italian club to another (AC Milan to Verona).
As far as Italian players, World Cup Champion and long serving Internazionale midfielder Gabriele Oriali joined Fiorentina.
Just like the previous season, I continued my routine of getting the local Sports Magazine on a weekly basis and trying to catch as much Television coverage as possible.
Essentially most fans were glued to their Television for a weekly sports program broadcast on Friday nights that along other sports also showed European League highlights and goals.
Juventus and Roma started the season confidently and topped the League from early on.
Platini was in sensational form and Paolo Rossi seemed to be discovering his scoring touch.
Platini’s excellent calendar year was rewarded with the Ballon d’Or trophy awarded by ‘France Football’ magazine.
Juventus broke free from the chasing pack on Matchday 13 and would hold on to the League lead despite resistance from Roma.
Zico’s transfer to Udinese seemed to have paid dividends and he was scoring many goals in a very defensive League and Udinese owed their relatively high place due to his exploits.
In fact he was the League’s top goalscorer until Platini overtook him in the second half of the season. In the end Platini scored one more goal (20 to 19).
The surprise for Juventus was the emergence of the young Beniamino Vignola who at first seemed unlikely to break into the first team, but as the season wore on he appeared more and more. His progress earned him a spot on Italy’s 1984 Olympic squad held in Los Angeles that year.
Both Juventus and Roma also reached European Cup Finals, with Juventus topping off their excellent season by triumphing in the Cup Winners Cup vs. Portugal’s Porto, while AS Roma were defeated in a penalty kick shoot-out vs. Liverpool at their home ground of Stadio Olimpico.
Photo From: Onze, Issue 102, June 1984
(Michel Platini, May 16, 1984, Cup Winners Cup, Juventus 2-Porto 1)
In a way this defeat started the decline of that fine Roma squad. In the offseason, Swedish manager Nils Liedholm departed to AC Milan, ending a cycle.
Their only consolation was in winning the Coppa Italia vs. Verona at the end of the season.
At the end of that summer, my family and I left our home for good to live in France for one year (1984/85 season, to be continued…..)
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, June 20-26, 1984
(Juventus squad, 1983/84, Top, left to right: Michel Platini, Gaetano Scirea, Sergio Brio, Stefano Tacconi, Claudio Gentile, Domenico Penzo, Bottom, left to right: Antonio Cabrini, Massimo Bonini, Zbigniew Boniek, Paolo Rossi, Marco Tardelli)
The 1984/85 season started with me living in a different country (France) for the first time.
Fortunately, for me, France was a footballing country with many outlets to follow my sport. In fact the Television and Print access that I was exposed to was superior to what I had been used to up to that point.
In a way this made it easier to cope with all the typical difficulties associated with such a move and culture shock. It also helped that I could at least read in French prior to being there.
As far as magazines, I was already familiar with the monthlies (Onze and Mondial). But I was completely surprised upon discovering the weekly ‘France Football’. This amazing magazine obviously emphasized on the local League scene, however, their international news was just as amazing with local correspondents from each country analyzing the events on and off the field. Needless to say, the coverage of Serie A took slight precedence over the other Leagues. The Serie A had been the Top League for decades, but certainly the presence of their Champion Platini also increased interest for the French Press.
We arrived in France just a couple of months after the UEFA European Championship Finals and at this point Michel Platini was the undisputed number one player in the world.
That summer of 1984 a multitude of foreign stars arrived in Italy. It seemed like every 1982 World Cup star was hired. None was more significant than Argentina’s Diego Maradona joining Napoli in a circus of publicity (not to mention a record fee) after two disappointing seasons at Barcelona wrecked by injury. His compatriot Daniel Bertoni joined him from Fiorentina.
Bayern Munich and West Germany Captain Karl-Heinz Rummenigge left Bayern after a decade and joined Internazionale Milano. Irish Midfielder Liam Brady joined him in Milan, transferring from Sampdoria.
Scotland and Liverpool midfielder Grame Souness, fresh off a Champions Cup triumph, joined Sampdoria, teaming up with fellow Brit, English striker Trevor Francis, who had been at Samp for two years now.
AC Milan, now under old Manager Nils Liedholm back from AS Roma, also signed a British duo. Manchester United midfielder Ray Wilkins and Portsmouth striker Mark Hateley joined a squad already skippered by future Legend Franco Baresi that included Mauro Tassoti, Alberigo Evani and veteran striker Paolo Virdis.
Brazilian Junior arrived from Flamengo, to join an ambitious Torino side that already contained Austrian striker Walter Schachner and a newly arrived young striker from Inter, Aldo Serena.
Brazil Captain Socrates joined Fiorentina from Corinthians to join fellow South American and Argentina Captain Daniel Passarella.
West German midfielder Hansi Muller, now a surplus to requirements at Inter joined newly promoted Como, along with Swedish Dan Corneluisson who had just won the Bundesliga title with Stuttgart.
Newly promoted Atalanta registered two Swedes, Lars Larsson and Glen Stromberg from Benfica who would stay with them for eight seasons.
1970s Polish star Wladyslaw Zmuda joined newly promoted Cremonese in a bid to avoid the already predicted relegation spot.
The most significant and key foreign signings turned out to be those of Verona. West Germany’s hard man Hans-Peter Briegel arrived from Kaiserslautern and Denmark striker Preben Elkjaer-Larsen joined from Belgian side Lokeren after starring in the recent Euros.
The previous seasons’ big two, Juventus and AS Roma held on to their foreign players already on their books (Platini, Boniek, Falcao and Cerezo).
Udinese were also satisfied with their Brazilian pair of Zico and Edinho.
As far as Italian players, Juventus’ long serving defender Claudio Gentile left and joined Fiorentina. In his place arrived Luciano Favero from Avellino. Striker Domenico Penzo also left ‘La Vecchia Signora’ and joined Napoli, he was replaced by Genoa’s Massimo Briaschi.
Veteran midfielder Franco Causio left Udinese and joined Inter, while Salvatore Bagni joined Maradona at Napoli from Inter.
Former AS Roma captain Agostino Di Bartolomei rejoined his Manager Liedholm at AC Milan.
The addition of all these World stars such as Maradona, Rummenigge, Socrates, Junior, etc., only increased the hype and prestige surrounding the Serie A. It was unquestionable at this point; the Serie A was THE destination of the World’s best.
A few weeks into the season, the importance of the Serie A was exemplified by ‘France Football’ devoting an entire page that was taken from ‘La Gazzetta dello Sport’. It featured every match with lineups and player ratings as taken from the Italian newspaper, along with the commentary from the local journalists. One must remember such an undertaking and analysis was very rare at a time when magazines just showed the scores and table positions with a written commentary on the week’s events.
The television coverage was just as strong; the highlights of Italian League matches were regularly shown.
In fact, Platini himself hosted a weekly show with journalist Bernard Père called ‘Numero 10’. The program covered the League matches of England, West Germany, and Spain with special emphasis on the Serie A, with most of the matches’ highlights shown.
As far as the season itself, the usual contenders from the previous seasons, Juventus and AS Roma, were having poor seasons, probably burnt out after so many closely contested campaigns.
As Roma had to contend with the new methods of new Swedish Manager Sven-Goran Eriksson who had arrived from Benfica with the hard act of following fellow Swede Liedholm. Brazilian star Falcao’s serious injury also disrupted their season and he was never the same player afterwards.
At Juve, Platini was still scoring regularly despite the team’s overall poor campaign, he would end up as the League’s top goalscorer for the third year in a row with 18 goals.
Zbigniew Boniek was still inconsistent in the League while performing better in the European Cup stage.
With the two giants having poor seasons, the chasing pack took advantage.
Napoli, despite all the fanfare of Maradona’s arrival, was still a work in progress and would endure an average season, though there was a promise of a brighter future specially when Maradona performed better in the second half of the season. Fiorentina also had a disappointing campaign, the early season injury of Giancarlo Antognoni robbed them of their most creative element, while Socrates was a fiasco and never settled in the Serie A. Zico would also endure a poor season, in sharp contrast to his previous season, and would be relieved to rejoin Flamengo at the send of the season.
Verona, Torino and Inter fought it out for the Scudetto. Verona led the pack from virtually the very first match of the season (3 to 1 win vs. Maradona’s Napoli). The veteran Manager Osvaldo Bagnoli had assembled a fine squad and many of the Italian supporting cast would earn caps in the near future. These included Pietro Fanna, Roberto Tricella, Antonio Di Gennaro and Giuseppe Galderisi.
Inter reinforced by Rummenigge and Brady were Verona’s main rivals for most of the season, the team included many current and future Italian national team players such as Walter Zenga, Giuseppe Bergomi, Riccardo Ferri, Giuseppe Baresi, Antonio Sabato and Alessandro Altobelli. In the end they finished third behind a strong Torino squad with an impressive Junior.
Sampdoria and AC Milan rounded out the top five and European spots.
Sampdoria won the Coppa Italia (long after the season had ended) by defeating AC Milan.
In the end Verona’s consistency earned them a deserved Title. They had the best defense and only lost two matches the entire season.
Juventus and Roma finished 6th and 7th respectively. Juventus saved its best for the Champions Cup they desperately wanted to win after the heartbreak vs. SV Hamburg two years before. Unfortunately the triumph vs. Liverpool would be stained by the tragedy of Heysel.
It also must be noted that Paolo Maldini made his debut for AC Milan that season as a 16 year old. He would be a fixture for the next 24 seasons.
At the end of that summer, my family and I once again left and emigrated to the United States as our permanent residence (1985/86 season, to be continued…..)