First Division. This season should have a special place in the Italian football history, for it ended against odds and reason – with the wealth of players at hand, one expects an exciting battle between Platini’s Juventus, Maradona’s Napoli, Socrates’ Fiorentina, Inter, Milan, Roma, and perhaps even Zico’s Udinese, but instead teams with not-so-shiny stars won this year. How great the game was is one thing – and despite the world’s greatest strikers, it was still typical Italian season, laced with ties (Atalanta ended with 18) and low scoring (Juventus scored most – 48 goals; Lazio – the least, 16) – but the oddity of first-time winners of both championship and Cup is another. Entirely unexpected finish, which can be seen in two ways: the competition was so fierce, that even smaller clubs were at par with the greats or the greatest stars underperformed and were not worthy of their salaries. Of course, excuses can be piled up and reasons found, and simplest wisdom of the game can be reinforced – those in best form and biggest ambitions prevailed. Still, the winners were strange compared to the losers, some of which were not even among the leading teams of the season, but somewhere down the table. Even for the fact that both trophies were won by teams never winning anything before was extraordinary and remarkable, especially in Italy.
Cremonese finished last – an outsider with 15 points and quite expected so.
Lazio – the other outsider, ending also with 15 points, but placed above Cremonese on head-to-head record. The dark period was still going on, so another relegation. With Michael Laudrup in their squad, they managed to score just 16 goals… 15th and out.
Ascoli – did what they could, but they were expected to finish low and 14th place was no surprise. 22 points. Relegated.
Avellino survived – 13th with 25 points.
Udinese – 12th with 25 points. Head-to-head record placed then behind Como. Ordinary, such lowly position would not be surprising, but that was a team led by Zico and Edinho, and had a few more decent players. Disappointing season, rising the question why spending big money on big foreign names.
Como – 11th with 25 points. No surprise, really. With aging Hansi Muller they managed to finish ahead Udinese and Zico. Then again, Zico was aging as well. Como never lost a game at home this season, sharing this record with Inter.
Atalanta – 10th with 28 points. Quite expected, given the circumstances – they had no superstar, only stars. Well… Stromberg and Larsson hardly come to mind in a league saturated with great names. The woman in the picture looks like Swede, but she was not a player.
And here comes… Fiorentina finished 9th with 29 points. They won 8 games and lost 9. Socrates, Passarella, Antognoni, Gentile, Pulici, Oriali, Pecci, Galli… a champion contender, not a inferior mid-table team. Yet, they lost more games than they won.
Napoli – 8th with 33 points. Maradona smiles on the photo, but… let say Napoli was not ready. Let say the magic formula was not found yet, that Bertoni was no Careca. True. Maradona finished above Zico, Socrates, and Passarella. True. He also finished way bellow Elkjaer-Larsen and Schachner. True.
Roma – 7th with 34 points. Top row from left: Malgioglio, Maldera, Nela, Ancelotti, Tancredi, Graziani, Chierico, D.Bonetti, Giannini, ?
Middle row: Lucci, Righetti, Falcao, ?, Eriksson, Alicicco, Cerezo, Pruzzo, ?
Sitting: ?, Oddi, ?, Antonelli, Clagluna, B.Conti, Iorio, Buriani, G.Rossi.
Roma was already beyond its peak, so there was excusable reason for their relatively low position. Eriksson was still new to the club and Italian football in general and the squad he had at hand was aging (Maldera, Graziani, Tancredi, Pruzzo). Di Bartolomei was already lost. Objectively speaking, Roma was going downhill – perhaps the only team which can be excused.
Juventus – 5th with 36 points. Excuses do not work in their case: yes, they concentrated on European level, but great teams prove their greatness by winning on more than one front. And Juventus was the strongest Italian club for years, so ending the season with no domestic trophy, not even coming close to winning one is pretty much a failure, if not outright shame.
Milan – 5th with 36 points. Nothing special, but it could be looked in positive light: Milan was recovering from its terrible period and coming back to its rightful place among the leaders. Not a great squad yet, but going up and firmly on the road of building a really strong team.
Sampdoria – 4th with 37 points. The greatest period of the club started – they became one of the leading clubs and were going to stay. Crouching from left: Roberto Galia, Roberto Mancini, Evaristo Beccalossi, Fausto Pari, Moreno Mannini.
Standing: Luca Pellegrini, Allesandro Scanziani, Allesandron Renica, Trevor Francis, Ivano Bordon, Graeme Souness.
Inter – 3rd with 38 points. Bronze is not satisfying colour for Inter, but there was something going on for more than 10 years now: Inter was somehow unable to make a golden team. Always somewhat incomplete, with few questionable positions, slightly imbalanced. Among the leaders, but hardly a winner.
Torino – 2nd with 39 points. Somewhat against the odds finished 2nd best – Torino’s best years were clearly over and the team was going into decline and worse. This was perhaps the last spark of them. The squad was still decent, but let face it: not so many strong players and Schachner was hardly on compatible level with Socrates, Zico, Maradona, Rummenigge and others world-class stars. Of course, a great season of the underdog is appreciable, but it was just a single season.
Verona – champions with 43 points from 15 wins, 13 ties, only 2 lost games, 42-19 goal-difference. This was a big bang: highly unusual victory of a small team, which not only never won anything, but very rarely ending in the upper half of the league. Given what wealth of talent the other clubs had, Verona should not have even come close to a title – a strong season should have been something like 6-8 place. Very likely they benefited from the mistakes, distractions, and other temporary weaknesses of the others, but Verona played as a tight outfit, fighting hard, in perfect form. Hardly an innovative team – traditional iron Italian defense was their approach, adapted to the reality of 1980s: great condition, back-to-back 90 minutes running, strong and constant pressure on the opposition from the first minute to the last. Going for a tie and taking it from there – and it worked just fine. They were almost unbeatable and managed to extract more wins than anybody. They had the perfect players for such physical and tough approach: Hans-Peter Briegel and Preben Elkjaer-Larsen – big men, sturdy and spirited fighters, playing no-nosense football, quick to spot and use every opportunity, however small. Fearless players, standing their ground against anyone. Both were at their peaks and really flourished in Verona, aided by similarly tough guys – not the biggest stars, but very dependable. The mix helped the Italian players as well – eventually, Fanna and Tricella were included in the national team. Di Gennaro, Galderisi, Fontolan, Marangon became highly respected players as well. Verona proved once again that well-made and spirited squad of hard-working second-raters could be successful and beat fancy teams, which may be more talented, but were vulnerable to shaky form, mood, lack of a player or two for some position. Verona was a true team of the 1980s: nothing flashy and breathtaking, but very efficient and prevailing at the end. Rolling over opponents, not outplaying them. It was not pleasant football, but fitted the philosophy of the 80s: big deal what dazzling moves Maradona, Platini, Zico and Socrates can do, only the result counts. And when the result at the final whistle is 1-0, the prove is in plain sight: the loser got applause, the winner – the title. Verona was wonderful victor: an underdog leaving in the dust the favourites against any odds and dreams. Yet, it was also clear that this was one-time wonder: Verona did not the squad, the talent, the money for establishing long domination. One can beat the best in the world, but once in a blue moon, not every time, not for long. It was great to see such winners of championship, which arguably had concentrated the most world-class talent. It was also great to see such a small and historically insignificant club winning – after all, nobody even imagined possible ‘conflict of interests”: that a day will come when a second club from Verona will go up. So, it was just ‘Verona’ at the time and perhaps even in Italy most people were unaware that the name was ‘Hellas Verona’. Many years after this had to be changed, for Chievo climbed up and ‘Verona’ was simply confusing. Thus, it was a victory of ‘Verona’ in actual time, but today it is victory of Hellas Verona. Well, a victory to last in memory.