Remembering when Serie A was the best league in the world

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By , Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert


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    It may seem unimaginable to fans of a certain vintage, but there was a time in the recent past when Italy’s Serie A was undoubtedly the best league in world football.

    Is Italian football on the brink of a renaissance? Eighteen-time domestic champions AC Milan seem hell-bent on a revival, going on an incredible summer spending spree in a bid to end Juventus’ six-year stranglehold over Serie A.

    The signings of Portuguese starlet Andre Silva, Turkish schemer Hakan Calhanoglu, Swiss dead ball specialist Ricardo Rodriguez and defensive reinforcements Andrea Conti and Mateo Musacchio – not to mention the arrival of highly-rated loanee Franck Kessie – would have been enough to suggest the Milanese giants mean business.

    But it’s the stunning swoop for long-time Juventus stalwart Leonardo Bonucci that has Italy abuzz, with the defender capped 70 times by his country making the switch to San Siro in an audacious €42 million move.

    It’s got fans of the Rossoneri dreaming of a return to their halcyon days and a first Scudetto since their most recent title win in 2010-11.

    It didn’t used to be this way. There was a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Milan was the biggest club on the planet under the flamboyant ownership of media mogul Silvio Berlusconi.

    Fuelled by Berlusconi’s vast wealth and guided by the tactical nous of first Arrigo Sacchi and then Fabio Capello, Milan swept all before them en route to winning four of the five Scudetti on offer in the early 90s.

    And they did it playing some of the most thrilling football on the continent, with a squad in which Dutch stars Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard were eventually supplemented by the likes of Jean-Pierre Papin, Marcel Desailly and the outrageously gifted Dejan Savicevic.

    There’s a reason so many Australians my age look back fondly on that legendary Milan side – because we watched a lot of their football, albeit in the form of highlights, on SBS.

    I was barely a teen when Capello’s three-time title-winning Milan side went 58 games unbeaten and I remember reading about their exploits – often weeks after the fact – in airfreighted copies of World Soccer magazine.

    And one of the most enjoyable programs on Australian TV was the hour-long Italian football highlights show broadcast on SBS every Sunday morning.

    I watched that show religiously and became so obsessed with Lazio striker Giuseppe Signori that when USA ’94 rolled around, I asked my parents for an Italy jersey with ’11 Signori’ on the back – despite the fact I was neither Italian, nor a striker… and Signori’s squad number was actually 20!

    I still follow Lazio to this day, and for those who prefer to remember Signori for his goal-scoring feats rather than the match-fixing scandal that resulted in him recently serving a five-year ban from football, some legend has uploaded his show-ending tribute from Les Murray’s old World Soccer program to YouTube. (And yes, I know I’ve shared this video before).

    Lazio look set to sell skipper Lucas Biglia to Milan this week, and should the Rossoneri also nab the prolific Andrea Belotti from Torino, they’ll provide the fiercest challenge yet to Juventus’ recent dominance.

    Speaking of Juventus, there’s a fabulous new movie called Black And White Stripes: The Juventus Story showing in cinemas across Australia on July 19, 22 and 23.

    I’ll be watching on opening night with my football-mad friend Joe Curtis, and I urge every fan with even a passing interest in Italian football to get along and discover what makes Juventus one of the most successful clubs in the world today.

    They’ll have their work cut out for them fending off the challenge of Milan this season, but anything that improves the competitiveness of Italian football is a good thing.

    And in the meantime, we can reminisce about a time when the eyes of the world were on Serie A – perhaps the first globally-recognised mega league of the modern era.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.