Having thought of writing this a while back I feel it is necessary after last week’s Bernabeu shenanigans to join Messi in promoting what football is really about – great goals, games and memories. Here I will attempt to pick my favourite eleven from the era of Channel 4’s Football Italia, in an appropriately attacking 3-3-4 formation, and hopefully bring back a few happy good footballing memories.
There are a few keepers that stick in my mind when I think of Sunday afternoons watching cattenaccio: the stocky Peruzzi of Juventus and the lanky Rossi of AC Milan being two. Football Italia also charted the rise of Buffon during Parma’s most successful period. Making a hugely impressive debut against AC Milan, aged just 17, he kept out the monumental George Weah and stopped the Rossneri from scoring (a feat only accomplished on 6 other occasions that season). He eventually replaced my choice, Gianluca Pagliuca, in the Italian National team. However, Pagliuca for me was synonymous with Football Italia. He was part of a wonderful Scuddeto winning Sampdoria side that decorated my treasured Subbuteo set (of of which we saw the glowing embers on C4) before becoming a world record £7m signing for Inter. He holds other great records such as the most Serie A appearances for a goalkeeper and being the first goalkeeper to be sent off at a World Cup at USA ’94, a competition in which I was an Italian supporter due entirely to Football Italia’s influence.
Franco Barasi was the epitome of Italian defending. Known for his cunning and underhand tactics he was one of the last greats of a dying breed: the sweeper. With his socks hardly pulled up past his ankles and as comfortable on the ball as any midfielder he could cover his fellow defenders and take all the glory for their sneaky shirt tugging work. I don’t think I need any explanation for the choice of Maldini. Like Giggs at Manchester Utd he was a rare loyal professional. Thuram was part of Buffon’s successful Parma team alongside a young Cannavaro and the Channel 4 coverage coincided with his emergence as one of the best defenders in the world. He moved from Parma to Juventus and won World and European Cups with France.
AC Milan and Juventus were the eye catchers of early Football Italia. Fabio Cappelo’s “invicibles” went nearly 60 games unbeaten including a magnificent thrashing of Barcelona in the ’94 European Cup final and Juventus enjoyed one of the most successful periods in their history winning 3 out of 4 Serie A titles between 96-99. Therefore my midfield consists of their players. Albertini is included for his relaxed passing and general cleverness but mostly for his one step penalties which were replicated in my back garden on countless occasions. When forced by five-a-side rules to take a one-step in a semi-final of a tournament, in front of world famous Pat Nevin, I struck the bar. I should’ve practiced more and in that moment developed an even greater appreciation of Albertini’s technique. Marcel Desailly joins the midfield ranks for being a man mountain of immenseness. He joined AC Milan from Marseille to win back to back European Cups as a centre back, but it is as a powerful midfielder that I remember him best. Zinedine Zidane makes up my midfield three (only narrowly pipping Zvonomir Boban to the honour). An inspirational football thinker whose tricks friends and I would apply dedication to master but very rarely have the balls to use in a match; a genius of the modern game who played on a plane above any of his fellow professionals. Most people remember his exploits for France and his goal at Hampden for Real but I always picture him in the number 10 of Juve.
I have reserved 4 places for forwards as goals were what I worshipped in my most dedicated Football Italia days and it is forwards that I remember best. The Devine Ponytail is my first inclusion – a wonderfully creative forward who probably wouldn’t “fit” in to the same team as Del Piero but here he shall. Roberto Baggio not only had a name commentators dream of but had the skill to provide endless moments for them to use it in exultation. Around the age of 9 or 10 he was my footballing hero. However, I clearly remember the day Del Piero stepped into Baggio’s boots, aged just 17. Replacing an injured Roberto in the starting 11 he scored a wonderful hat-trick to give Juventus a 4-2 victory over the totally irrelevant opposition. From that moment on Alesandro Del Piero was who I wanted to be and with a compatible age difference I dreamed of playing alongside him. Joining the blessed and the brilliant in attack is Alvaro Recoba. I was also lucky enough to witness (on council telly) his debut and 2 incredible goals for Inter in 1997. Scorer of sublime goals, saviour of Venezia, once highest paid player in the world and holder of a fake passport, but ultimately he “couldn’t do it on a cold night in Stoke” and faded from the world scene all to soon. For the final inclusion it was between George Weah (World Player of the Year and scorer of one of the best goals of all time), Guseppi Signori (I once watched him get booked for repeatedly going offside, he also loved a one-step) and Ravanelli. For all George Weah’s goal scoring force and Signori’s hilariousness, Ravanelli was a character who stood out. And in the immortal (in our family) rhyme of my sister’s: Ravanelli, shows his belly, on the telly!
Full line up: Pagliuca; Maldini, Baresi, Thuram; Albertini, Desailly, Zidane; Baggio, Del Piero, Recoba, Ravanelli.
Reserves: Buffon; Cafu, Nesta, Ferrarer; Deschamps, Lentini, Boban; Signori, Weah, Vialli, Totti.
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