British players of greater talent, bigger personality and larger ego have gone to play in Italy without coming close to attaining the reputation and universal respect that David Platt earned during his four seasons in Serie A.
Platt played with three clubs during his time on the peninsula with each offering very different challenges that he conquered with the same simple approach of modesty and hard-working dedication to being the very best footballer he could be.
Already a star of the English league with Aston Villa, Platt’s broader reputation soared following his astute performances for England in the 1990 World Cup. Another strong domestic season followed and by the summer of 1991 it was clear he had outgrown both Aston Villa and the English game. With options on the table from multiple clubs, the attacking midfielder was drawn to an offer from a most unlikely source.
Southern Italian club Bari had been just promoted to Serie A and its president Vincenzo Matarrese had ambitions to turn the club into a major European player. A fortune was spent on new signings and David Platt was the headline act arriving with a mighty £5.5m price tag.
Bari suffered immediate relegation despite that major squad investment dooming the grand project at an early stage. Platt was one of the very few positives from the wreckage of the season however. Not only did he impress with his strong performances and 12 goals in 28 games, his willingness to immerse himself in Italian culture and learn the language set him aside from the many English players who had gone before him and failed to assimilate.
With a relegation escape clause in his contract Platt was free to negotiate with other suitors. Again the offers flooded in from around Europe, but determined to stay in Italy and make a mark at a higher level, Platt ruled out any a transfer to a non-Serie A club.
Sampdoria made an approach and this looked like his most likely destination until Juventus – a boyhood favourite of Platt – opened negotiations and rapidly concluded a £6.5m deal. Switching from one end of Serie A to the other brought a whole new set of challenges, however, this time more political than football orientated.
While Italian clubs could employ as many foreign players as they wished, only three could play at a time in domestic games. David Platt arrived believing he would be one of that trio alongside Jürgen Kohler and Julio Cesar, while newly arrived Andy Möller would go out on loan to Atalanta.
The German midfielder ended up staying in Turin after taking legal action and such was his early footballing impact, he kept that third place instead of Platt. An injury to Julio Cesar gave the Englishman his chance and he scored on his debut in a 2-2 draw against Genoa, however, his cause was set back when he missed three months of the season with a cartilage injury.
He returned in time for the climax of the season and with Juventus chasing UEFA Cup success, though there was disappointment as coach Giovanni Trapattoni left him out altogether from the concluding rounds and the final games against Borussia Dortmund. The domestic fixtures in which he did feature saw him deployed in an unlikely deep-lying midfield position.
A difficult debut season with the Bianconeri it might have been, but Platt was never a player inclined to self-pity or complaint. With two years left on his contract he indicated he was willing to stay and fight for his place and it was the Juventus president Boniperti who initiated the option of him moving on, recognising he was too good a player to be simply a reserve.
Platt moved to Sampdoria in the summer of 1993 for a fee of £5.2m and became at that stage the player who had commanded the largest ever total in transfer fees. The move to Genoa was third time lucky for Platt as he found the place that would become his spiritual Italian home at last. Samp was a less pressured and less political club than Juventus while being just as competitive on the field of play – this was a team that had been runners up in the European Cup just a year earlier after all.
Sven Goran-Eriksson was his coach and his progressive 4-4-2 system suited Platt tactically, as did playing alongside fellow world-class attacking talent like Gullit, Mancini and Lombardo. The Englishman scored with a header on his debut and never looked back, his two seasons at Samp being his happiest as a player and the period when he was playing his best football. In 1995 he departed Italian football and undertook a new challenge back in England with Arsenal.
The relationship Italians have with foreign footballers is complex and many Serie A newcomers struggle to come to terms with an apparent dichotomy in what’s expected of them – ideally to be super-human on the pitch and very human off it. This translates roughly as play well for your team every Sunday and for the other six days of the week suggest you enjoy Italy for the culture and lifestyle rather than just the hefty paycheque.
Only three British footballers have ever successfully conquered both these facets of Italian football culture: Liam Brady, Trevor Francis and the mild-mannered but ruthlessly effective David Platt.