From Brüngs, Szymaniak, Haller and Schnellinger in the 1960s through to Matthaus, Brehme, Kohler and Hassler in the 1980s; Serie A clubs were rarely shy in welcoming talented German footballers into their midst.
This was a well-trodden path not reciprocated until 1996 when the Bundesliga welcome its first high-profile Italian, the former international striker Ruggiero Rizzitelli who agreed a surprise move to Bayern Munich.
Rizzitelli was a well-seasoned Serie A veteran by that stage of his career. His early days were spent with little Cesena where his mobility and elegant forward play caught the eye of bigger clubs. An expensive move to Roma followed in 1988 where he spent the next six seasons, if never quite living up to his youthful promise.
Not a forward willing to impose himself physically on opponents, Rizzitelli was at his best playing as a second striker in support of more bullish centre forwards – in Roma’s case Rudi Völler. Attacking partners appreciated his movement and the manner in which he could open up space, but ultimately forwards are judged on goals and Rizzitelli was rarely a prolific scorer.
His highest-profile goal came in the 1991 UEFA Cup Final and wasn’t enough to help Roma in overcoming their Serie A rivals Inter, but more generally goals were not especially forthcoming and Roma eventually released him to Torino in 1994. Annoyingly for the capital city club, the next two seasons in Turin would be the best of Rizzitelli career and the goals flowed at last – 30 of them, as many as he scored in six seasons at Roma.
His best efforts weren’t enough to save Torino from relegation, however, and now in peak form and dreaming of a first call-up for Italy since 1991, Rizzitelli sought a new challenge.
“At the age of 28 I didn’t fancy a spell in Serie B with Torino. I had a few contacts from Serie A clubs but the offer from Bayern was by far the most interesting.” Ruggiero Rizzitelli
The instigator of the deal was Bayern’s Italian coach Giovanni Trapatonni and it was helped culturally by a new acceptance from Italian footballers that a move outside Serie A no longer meant a step down in quality or wages.
English Premiership clubs were lavishing huge riches on Italian stars like Vialli, Ravanelli and Di Matteo, so the cost and the profile of the Rizzitelli deal was rather more modest by comparison. It also wasn’t especially clear why Bayern needed another established forward when it boasted a talented front line that starred Jürgen Klinsmann, the up-and-coming Alexander Zickler and another new acquisition, the giant Carsten Jancker.
The striker that Bayern got proved to be more the Roman Rizzitelli than the Torinese Rizzitelli. His first season was a reasonable success and he gained plaudits for his intelligent play, but injuries restricted his appearances the following year and he lost his place to Carsten Jancker. In the summer of 1998 he returned to Piacenza in Serie A having scored 11 goals in 45 Bundesliga games.
Ruggiero Rizzitelli will not be remembered as a groundbreaking signing for Bayern or for the Bundesliga as a whole, but what he did represent was something more valuable. Finally the longstanding parasitic relationship in which Italian clubs feasted upon the best German talent had been broken; now a more healthy and two-way relationship between the Leagues had come about and continues to this day.