Sometimes it only takes the slightest scent of something to whisk you back twenty years or so, to a place or an event that has left an indelible mark on your conscience, something so unforgettable it takes the merest hint of it to spark a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
The smell of cheap imported cigarettes reminds me of Nonna’s kitchen, I can’t hear ‘Hip Hop Hooray’ without remembering my school exams and, anytime a player pulls his shirt halfway over his head I’m instantly back in Rome on May 22, 1996. Of course nowadays such a celebration warrants a yellow card, but then it was a moment of sheer joy as Fabrizio Ravanelli gave Juventus an early lead over Ajax in the Champions League Final.
First steps at Juventus
Born in Perugia, where he would both begin and end his career, ‘Penna Bianca’ (Italian for ‘White Feather’) became something of a footballing nomad after leaving Turin and would play for 12 different clubs in four countries. Departing his hometown club in 1989 he went to Avellino, Casertana and Reggiana before joining with Juventus in 1992.
Ravanelli was a classic striker with a deadly left foot, good in the air, eventually developing the instincts of a genuine predator. Giovanni Trapattoni was coach when the player was brought to the Old Lady, and his raw talent was honed by the veteran tactician who worked closely with him to ensure he realised his vast potential. His first season ended with a victory in the UEFA Cup over Borussia Dortmund despite Ravanelli being largely an underused reserve behind Pierluigi Casiraghi, Gianluca Vialli and of course Roberto Baggio. But this allowed him to improve his game with much less pressure and his mentors faith would be repaid in time.
During the 1993-94 season Ravanelli played a small role in one of the club’s most historic occasions, when Trapattoni substituted him in the 80th minute of a match against Reggiana. His 18 year-old replacement came on to score his first goal for the club, starting a legend that is now 18 years in the making. That player was of course, Alessandro Del Piero.
Ravanelli also became more of a regular that season and was clearly happy to be at the club, telling La Stampa;
To have arrived at Juventus is the best, I feel I’ve become a man and made it as a player. Juventus is the maximum and those who speak evil of us do so only out of envy. I hope people comparing me to Bettega don’t do so just because of our hair.
In the 1994-95 season the arrival of new coach Marcello Lippi pushed him firmly into the limelight and once there he shone, reaching the height of his career. He made a major contribution to winning the club’s 23rd Scudetto, his fifteen goals second only to Vialli and the Italian Cup, where he scored in the final as Juventus beat Parma.
In September of the following campaign, Ravanelli blew the whole of Europe away with a 5-goal performance – still a record to this day – in Juve’s 5-1 UEFA Champions League win over CSKA Sofia. The season was a remarkable one for the striker and he was once again a major protagonist with some vital goals, none more so than that cut-back from the narrowest of angles against Ajax, which eventually lead to Juventus winning the trophy on penalties.
‘Penna Bianca’ becomes White Feather and Silver Fox
At the end of the season however, his relationship with the club ended and the player transferred to Middlesbrough in the English Premier League. Who better to describe Ravanelli’s time at the Riverside than Real Madrid TV presenter and lifelong ‘Boro fan Kay Murray. We asked her to share her thoughts & memories on Penna Bianca and here’s what she had to say:
I was just 15 when Fabrizio Ravanelli signed for Middlesbrough, the town was awash with excitement at the big names that Bryan Robson had attracted to our shiny new Riverside Stadium. Times were changing on Teesside; gone were the Manchester United and Liverpool kits, it was now cool to be sporting a Boro shirt!
A hat-trick on your debut at any football club is enough for any player to become hero worshipped after just 90 minutes, but to notch up three on the opening day of the season against title-chasers Liverpool, and to score them in reply to each of our opponents’ efforts made it all the more magical.
All the kids in the street and the lads at school would be reenacting his ‘shirt over the head’ goal celebration in every game they played, but it wasn’t as if we didn’t see it enough anyway, with the number of goals he scored for us (31).
Behind the scenes all was not well though. Rav would fall out with his teammates and it has also been said that he criticised the town, but to be honest I don’t really remember much about that, though there are plenty that do.
Ravanelli may not have been portraying the most positive image in the dressing room, but when it came to the image of one of his assistant coaches, Gordon McQueen, the striker was doing his best to bring his Italian sense of style to the big Scotsman’s wardrobe. According to my good friend Hayley McQueen, her dad would look much more dapper during media appearances thanks to Ravanelli. “He used to lend my dad his ties, because he thought my dad’s own were not cool enough for TV!” she said.
The full season Ravanelli spent with us will never be forgotten, but that’s mainly because we famously made it to the FA Cup and League Cup final, lost both and were relegated! As we said hello to first division football, we waved Arrivederci to the ‘White Feather’. Or so we thought…
Gordon Strachan’s resignation as Boro boss back in October 2010 left an opening at the Riverside. A few names were bandied about but perhaps the most surprising of all was that of Fabrizio Ravanelli! As you can imagine, his pleas that he’d love to manage us were met with mixed emotions in Middlesbrough.
Olympique de Marseille
In 1997 from North Yorkshire, Ravanelli moved to Southern France and signed for Olympique Marseille. Spending two and a half years with Les Phocéens, Penna Bianca kept in good scoring form and contributed greatly to his team’s Runners up spots in both the 1998–99 UEFA Cup and the French Ligue 1 (just one point shy of champions Bordeaux). It wasn’t all a bed of roses though, as Ravanelli’s stay in France was initially marred by a rather unpleasant incident, one that would tag the player as a cheat and diver in the eyes of French fans & media for a lengthy period of time.
Our own Marco Pantanella remembers it well:
I was living in France at the time, Paris to be precise. I was already a pretty big Juventus fan, yet because of my geographical location I admit I had a soft spot for Paris St.Germain. The majority of my high school friends cheered for them, and so I followed suit I guess because of peer-pressure a little bit.
At any rate early in November 1997, the talk of the week was a match the entire French soccer community greatly anticipated. For it is not only synonymous with a deeply rooted soccer rivalry, but a geographical one as well: North vs. South. I am of course talking about Paris SG vs. Marseille. Needless to say the tension in these encounters is already naturally high, but would literally explode after the events of the 63rd minute.
With the score tied 1-1, Ravanelli entered the PSG box from the left side and was apparently brought down by defender Eric Rabésandratana. Laurent Blanc converted the penalty from 12 yards and Marseille went on to win the game 2-1. Images however later immediately Ravanelli had cleverly (or by mistake?) tripped his own feet while in proximity of his opponent, making it appear as if there had been indeed contact and the fall had been natural.
Needless to say the PSG fans weren’t happy. I literally got screamed at the next day at school, and all things Italian remained cast in a pretty dark shadow for my friends, despite the presence of Marco Simone in PSG ranks. But above all it was the refereeing body that took this matter very personally, and clearly would not accept being made fools of by a sneaky Italian.
What ensued was two months of the most ridiculous non-calls in the history of the beautiful game. In subsequent Marseille matches following the big PSG derby, Ravanelli kept constantly being fouled in and outside the box, with all referees refusing to call as much as a free-kick (let alone a penalty) in his favor. It got to the point where, after yet another unsactioned trip inside the box vs. RC Lens, Ravanelli got up in despair and waved to his coach Rolland Courbis asking for a substitution. He had had enough! But the FFF Referees Committee wanted to send a message and teach him a lesson, and it certainly did the job.
I don’t remember exactly how things died down, but I presume Ravanelli eventually started getting calls in his favor again. At any rate, this incident is very reminiscent of what happened to Milos Krasic after his “dive” vs. Bologna. Immediately following that incident, there was not a single official in Serie A who would call a foul in favor of Krasic, exactly like the French refs had done to Fabrizio Ravanelli.
Despite this incident, Ravanelli is remembered fondly by Marseille supporters who dedicated this video to him upon his departure:
In his final year in France, a very poor start of the 1999-00 campaign (Marseille would end the season just one spot above relegation) prompted Ravanelli to return to Italy over the Winter mercato, and the player landed at Lazio where he would play a part in their league and cup double of 2000.
After two seasons in the Italian capital he was off again, to Derby and Dundee FC before returning to his beloved Perugia. In 2005, at the not-so-tender age of 37, Fabrizio Ravanelli’s football career was over. Or so we thought.
On August 17, 2011, Juventus.com posted this announcement in its ‘News’ section:
After Antonio Conte and Massimo Carrera, both currently working with the first team, and Gianluca Pessotto who presides over the Youth Sector, another iconic Juventus figure of the 90s has returned to Turin. It’s Fabrizio Ravanelli.
Back in Black & White
Appointed coach of the Juve Esordienti (U-12s) side and set to begin his work at the end of the month, Ravanelli actually arrived at the Primavera ritiro in Cuneo two weeks early, in order to learn from coach Marco Baroni’s methods and to teach his boys in the right way. The man himself is enjoying his second stint in Turin as much as the fans, but sees his new role quite clearly:
“I couldn’t wait to get going, for me this signals the start of a new adventure as a manager. I’m beginning with great enthusiasm and a touch of excitement. I’m here to look to pass on my ability and experience to the lads and most importantly to help them understand what it means to wear the Black & White shirt.”
As great as it is to see Ravanelli in Bianconero again, and for him to be so happy to coach the youngsters, for me it all comes back to that goal, the high bouncing ball, a touch to take him away from Edwin van der Sar, the instinctive finish and he’s off running down the touchline, Gianluca Vialli in pursuit as Penna Bianca once again shows off that signature celebration.
Welcome back Fabrizio, forever a Bianconero legend.