For some folk, it hasn’t taken long for Manchester City to supercede Chelsea in symbolising all that is wrong with the English Premier League. However, for viewers of a certain vintage, when the television cameras pan to the Eastlands bench and the faces of Roberto Mancini, David Platt and Attilio Lombardo, a somewhat different emotion surfaces. The mind drifts back to that glorious Sampdoria team of the early 90s and, more specifically, the 1993-94 season in which the three players were joined by Ruud Gullit to form an attacking quartet that set Italian football alight. The top scorers in Serie A that season they capped the campaign with a memorable 6-1 Coppa Italia victory over Ancona. This is the story of that team…
The summer of 1993 was a big one for Sampdoria. Sven Goran Eriksson had finished a disappointing 7th in his first season in charge and as a result the club missed out on European football altogether just 12 months after reaching the European Cup Final. Having won the Scudetto in 1991, this was quite the fall from grace and there was some cause to think the club was set to rejoin the also rans of Italian football. Spirits were lifted, however, by the signing of superstar Ruud Gullit. Alberigo Evani also arrived from Milan and, with David Platt coming in from Juventus, a new team was being built.
The signing of Gullit was a masterstroke by owner Paolo Mantovani. The Dutchman’s relationship with Milan coach Fabio Capello had completely broken down in the previous season. Capello had little faith in Gullit’s fitness and froze the player out – famously asking Gullit why he was getting on the coach for an away trip when he had neglected to tell him his services were not required. For the player, the final straw was being left out of the squad for the European Cup Final against Marseille. He of the famous dreadlocks decided to leave and nearly joined Bayern Munich before plumping for Sampdoria. Gullit was outspoken in his relief to be away from the Milan goldfish bowl and the strict regime of Capello. Now it was the family atmosphere of Mantovali’s Sampdoria and the more relaxed coaching style of Eriksson:
“They had not given me a [squad] number yet. They asked me which number I wanted. ‘Give me number 4, I have never played with number 4 yet’. They all laughed and so did I. None of the players made any objections. I just put on the shirt and played the whole season up front with the number 4 shirt on my back”.
The signing of David Platt was perhaps a more low key purchase but it was a hugely significant one. After making a big impact in an ultimately disastrous season for Bari, Platt had earned a move to Juventus but failed to make much of an impression to justify his price tag. The Bianconeri took the opportunity to move the player on and, like Gullit, Platt was to immediately make himself at home in Genoa. Both players grabbed their first Serie A goals for the club in a 2-1 opening day win at Napoli and a memorable season was underway. Gullit went on to score 17 goals that year in league & cup with Platt contributing 11 goals from midfield.
Clearly, the new additions had a huge impact on improving Sampdoria’s fortunes but that is not to say the players already at the club did not make a significant contribution too. Roberto Mancini had been one half of ‘the terrible twins’ at Sampdoria with Gianluca Vialli and he was already established as a club legend. When given the chance to link up with Gullit, they formed arguably one of the most cerebral forward line the world had yet season – two players of impeccable control and stunning vision. Mancini scored 12 goals in 30 Serie A games and featured 7 times in the successful Coppa Italia run.
Of course, Mancini and Gullit’s remarkable ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play provided opportunities for midfield runners like Platt to steal the headlines. Lurking out on the right-wing was the unmistakable figure of Attilio Lombardo. A pacy dribbler with an eye for goal, Lombardo had arguably the season of his life scoring 8 goals in Serie A. However, it was in Sampdoria’s successful Coppa Italia run that Lombardo really came into his own, scoring 5 times to help win the trophy.
There were other stars in the team. Alberigo Evani, the former Milan midfielder, would go on to score in the penalty shoot-out at the World Cup Final at the end of the season. Gianluca Pagliuca, their charismatic goalkeeper, also played for Italy in that final. Then there was Pietro Vierchowod, the ageing but pacey defender who had already spent a decade at the club, and Vladimir Jugovic, the brilliant Serbian midfielder. As Gullit himself observed: “the team was a good one: they had experienced men as well as a whole group of promising younger players”.
The season began impressively but the death of owner Paolo Mantovali after 7 games of the season hit the family club hard. Defeat to Roma was perhaps inevitable given that everyone surrounding the club was in mourning but game week 10, and the visit of the champions Milan, was to prove a cathartic release for Sampdoria:
For Gullit in particular this was an emotional game – hitting the winner against the club that had made him famous the world over. However, the match was a significant one for the whole of Italy. It was the first time the all-conquering Milan had been knocked off the top of Serie A in an incredible 72 weeks. For the remainder of that season there was no doubt who Italy’s most exciting side were. Sampdoria scored 64 goals to Milan’s 38. Unfortunately, the boys from Genoa also conceded 39 goals compared to the Rossoneri’s miserly 15. Too hit and miss to claim the title, Samp were able to have a tilt at the Coppa Italia that year.. but they did it the hard way..
Things began in ignominious fashion with a penalty shoot out victory over Pisa after two 0-0 draws. There was another struggle against Roma where goals from Lombardo and Platt took Samp to another shoot-out where they edged through 7-6 on penalties. Next it was Inter, with Lombardo securing a 1-0 win at home before Gullit scored to earn the draw needed in the San Siro. Wins home and away over Parma in the semi-final, with Lombardo, Platt & Gullit grabbing the goals, meant Sampdoria had negotiated a tricky path to the final where they were huge favourites to defeat midtable Serie B outfit Ancona. A 0-0 draw away was not quite part of the plan but there was to be a glorious finale:
It was only appropriate that there should be some silverware for the club at the end of a thrilling and emotional season. Unfortunately, this particular team was not one that would stay together and go on to reach greater heights. Gullit, after a brief return to Milan, exited for good in the summer of 1995. Platt and Lombardo also moved on. The side was broken up, seemingly for good, but the memory of that team has been reignited by Mancini’s reign at Manchester City. As a coach, he has a reputation for his cautious approach. Maybe this will serve City well, but if a more progressive approach should be required then Roberto will only have to glance across the bench to his old friends Platty and Attilio to be reminded of how exciting a team can be.