Remembering when Serie A was the best league in the world

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By Mike Tuckerman, 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.

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    The Crowd Says (38)

    • Roar Guru

      July 17th 2017 @ 7:19am
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | July 17th 2017 @ 7:19am | ! Report

      This is where we all get outed regarding our age…..but yes, always had a soft spot for Parma with Tomas Brolin and his single finger piruette and later with both Hidetoshi Nakata & Marco Bresciano gracing the field. Fun days.

      • Columnist

        July 17th 2017 @ 3:20pm
        Mike Tuckerman said | July 17th 2017 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

        Ah yes, Parma… the team that ended Milan’s 58-game unbeaten streak!

    • Roar Rookie

      July 17th 2017 @ 7:45am
      Grobbelaar said | July 17th 2017 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      How many consecutive championships has Juve won? Too many to count. The Seria A’s revenue base is a fraction of that of the Premier League and their best stadiums are now 1990 vintage. Add to that the annual corruption and match-fixing issues, and you can see why the Serie A has been on the nose for years.

      • July 17th 2017 @ 10:49am
        SM said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:49am | ! Report

        You clearly don’t watch the league or know a great deal about it.

    • Roar Guru

      July 17th 2017 @ 8:07am
      Griffo said | July 17th 2017 @ 8:07am | ! Report

      Geez Mike, when I saw the headline I was thinking of that AC Milan team, which was quickly followed by that particular SBS football show!

      Religious viewing was right. Monday mornings was about discussing what moves we’d seen, just how good Van Basten was, and what was the best goals while playing handball at school first thing in the morning. Break time and after school was trying to emulate the moves we’d seen, usually quoting a line of commentary – in the same voice – as what we heard while doing so.

      It was why Italia ’90 was such an anticipated World Cup, and disappointing that it didn’t end up being a month long running of the same Italian football show…

      Serie A is still a quality league, and here’s hoping AC Milan can give it a shake once more.

      Thanks for the Monday morning memories Mike.

      • Columnist

        July 17th 2017 @ 3:24pm
        Mike Tuckerman said | July 17th 2017 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

        One of the best things about that old Football Italia coverage (which originated from Channel Four in the UK, I believe) was hearing commentators like Martin Tyler and Paul Dempsey for the first time. Great memories!

        • Roar Guru

          July 17th 2017 @ 10:16pm
          Griffo said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:16pm | ! Report

          Tyler was the voice of football for me, and probably still resonates as the baseline when listening to commentary.

          The YouTube clip from Locomotiv below just pure nostalgia.

          Favourite line from Les Murray from that time: “It’s gone in!” Just pure understatement…and worth a quote every time someone scored a goal on the pitch.

    • July 17th 2017 @ 8:54am
      AGO74 said | July 17th 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

      Bepe Signori was an amazing striker but my favourite was Bati-gol. Legend. Seeing him play at the sfs against the socceroos alongside maradona it felt for one night like Australia was the centre of the football world.

      Vialli, van basten, gullit, baggio to name but a few. Even other guys like attillio Lombardo who I loved watching. It was an extraordinary time in Italy.

      • Columnist

        July 17th 2017 @ 3:26pm
        Mike Tuckerman said | July 17th 2017 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

        It’s testament to just how strong Serie A was at the time that Signori barely got much of a look-in for Italy under Arrigo Sacchi.

    • July 17th 2017 @ 9:25am
      RBBAnonymous said | July 17th 2017 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      Oh Mike those were the days. For those who want to know Serie A was like La Liga, EPL and Bundesliga combined. Absolutely loaded with talent and that was just the substitutes bench. To this day in my opinion nothing has beaten the overall quality of that League. It was mind blowing. I used to follow AC Milan and had a soft spot for those great Sampdoria sides with Cerezo, Vialli, Lombardo and Mancini in the side. The also had an amazing kit and every club had an amazing energetic atmosphere. You couldn’t help but feel a little jealous.

      • July 17th 2017 @ 10:37am
        AGO74 said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

        You are right. The concentration of football talent in Italy during that period has never come close to being replicated in another league since. Makes the achievement of comparatively small Samp winning the league at that time all the more remarkable.

        • Columnist

          July 17th 2017 @ 3:30pm
          Mike Tuckerman said | July 17th 2017 @ 3:30pm | ! Report

          Pagliuca, Vierchowod, Lombardo, Mancini, Vialli. Sampdoria winning the league was a bit before my time, but I well remember their star-studded team of the mid-90s… and the fact the Marassi was always packed!

          • July 17th 2017 @ 6:44pm
            Evan Askew said | July 17th 2017 @ 6:44pm | ! Report

            Cerezo and Mickailichenko.

    • July 17th 2017 @ 9:51am
      jamesb said | July 17th 2017 @ 9:51am | ! Report

      In the eighties, players like Platini and of course Maradona, really transformed Serie A into a popular league the world over. And from there, people were starting to discover the great italian players during that time.

      I remember that AC Milan side very well. In fact, back in the early nineties, Milan toured Australia and played a couple of games against Australia.

      A few years ago, there was a documentary about AC Milan in football’s greatest teams. Enjoy.

      https://youtu.be/5FFEbX2bcAw

      • Columnist

        July 17th 2017 @ 3:33pm
        Mike Tuckerman said | July 17th 2017 @ 3:33pm | ! Report

        That Milan tour in ’93 contained the infamous 35-minute second half in Melbourne!

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