With the Coppa Italia final fast approaching, our very own Adam Digby takes a look at what the game, and indeed this very competition, mean to the man charged with running the very club we all hold in such high esteem.
Shortly after taking over control of Juventus back in the autumn of 2010, new President Andrea Agnelli spoke this week of his desire to return Juve to being the model of success they previously were, but conceded that to do so would mean winning a trophy. After stating that a return to Champions League football was vital to this, he then went on to add comments that brought many forgotten memories flooding back. “We must try and win the Coppa Italia, a competition which has been missing from our trophy cabinet for a long time.” Agnelli told the assembled reporters.
To many fans of the Old Lady this was hugely disappointing. A club which became synonymous with Scudetto success and numerous Champions League Final appearances during the mid-to-late 90s now reduced to chasing minor cup competitions? Those feelings were undeniably strong, particularly among those Juventini who began supporting the club after witnessing the exploits of Roberto Baggio at either the 1990 or 1994 World Cups, but to many – and undoubtedly including the generation of fans to which the President himself belongs – it was merely a reminder of how things used to be.
If we go back to the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and (many would argue tainted) triumph that befell the club at Heysel Stadium in 1985, many of that team of champions retired or left the club, ending one of the most successful cycles in club history. Giovanni Trapattoni, architect of that golden age quit just one year later and the Bianconeri fell into mediocrity under Rino Marchesi who led the club to one of the worst seasons in her storied history. In order to arrest the slide and begin another chapter of glory, then-President Giampiero Boniperti brought back another playing legend, former goalkeeper Dino Zoff to coach the club.
The team was overhauled yet despite the many changes, the World Cup-winning captain’s leadership saw the side climb to a far more respectable 4th place. While being three places below where many demand the Old Lady to always sit, it must be remembered that this was achieved in a league dominated by the wealth and power a certain Silvio Berlusconi delivered to AC Milan, not to mention the magical genius of Diego Maradona’s Napoli. With those two clubs dominating the league as well as transferring their superiority onto the European stage, the leap from 12th to 4th was still a vast improvement.
However, it was to be in the CUP competitions where Zoff’s improving team would first enjoy a small taste of success. Victories in the early rounds over Cagliari, Taranto, Pescara and Sampdoria earned la Vecchia Signora a place in the final of the COPPA ITALIA with the first leg in Turin on February 28, 1990. A 0-0 stalemate against the mighty Rossoneri gave real hope and belief to Juve who, until that date, had not been able to cope with the variety of weapons at the disposal of Arrigo Sacchi. Yet that confidence, as fragile as it already was, would be put on hold as the insane scheduling of the cup meant they would be forced to wait almost two whole months before the return match took place at San Siro.
Taking il Diavolo on in their own home was the most daunting experience of that period in Calcio history, as this Milan was perhaps the greatest club side of the modern era. Drilled to perfection by the obsessive Sacchi, the famous Red & Black shirts were worn with such great distinction by iconic names such as Franco Baresi, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten. Juve entered the Second Leg as the heaviest of underdogs against a team in the midst of winning back-to-back European Cups in emphatic, all-conquering fashion (it speaks to their quality that even now, some 22 years later, no side has managed to match their remarkable achievement).
It is credit to Zoff’s preparation that the Juventus players took the field without fear and, after just 17 minutes, Roberto Galia sprang footballs most effective offside trap to hit a shot that slipped behind Milan keeper Giovanni Galli. Below the Curva occupied by his own fans, a somewhat muted celebration took place, one laced with heavy concern about the reaction of such formidable opponents.
Yet as time ticked away, Juve fans dared to dream as their team controlled the match. Five long, trophy-less seasons – an absolute eternity for those accustomed to seeing the Old Lady forever on top of the Serie A scene – had brought a nervous tension not dissimilar to that felt over the past two seasons. Slowly growing in confidence, Rui Barros became a constant thorn in the side of Milan, Sergeij Alejnikov and Giancarlo Marocchi began to dominate their more famous opponents in midfield. Pasquale Bruno and Dario Bonetti were insurmountable in defence throughout both legs as, despite Milan possessing the bigger names, the collective effort of the Juventus side combined to protect goalkeeper Stefano Tacconi who was excellent each and every time he was called upon.
Eventually, after oh-so-long a wait, the final whistle was blown and the Bianconeri rushed to embrace coach Zoff before parading the Cup in front of their fans, the stadium emptying of Milanisti in seemingly record time. Juventus, buoyed by finally getting their hands on some silverware, would go on to beat Fiorentina in the UEFA Cup Final just weeks later. Those wins instilled the spirit back into a club that had, over five most difficult seasons, lost its very essence and the similarities between then and now stir echoes in many of us old enough to remember that fateful day.
It was that first trophy, the Coppa Italia – aptly won on April 25, Italian Liberation Day – that freed the club from its recent past and gave birth to a new era. It was one led first by a returning Trapattoni before Marcello Lippi arrived from Napoli and, with a steady stream of world-class talent arriving thanks to the work of Luciano Moggi, the club would never look back, going on to enjoy yet another period of dominance that would last almost unchecked for the next 16 years.
Overseeing it all was Umberto Agnelli, and it seems that name is always there whenever Juventus are in their best cycles. That day in 1990 he sat in the stands with his brother and various other family members but, judging by his words of two years ago, perhaps its greatest impact was on the memories of the 14 year-old son sitting proudly alongside him.