Even in the environment of an international transfer market that becomes ever more febrile season-on-season, the 1996 move of Italian international striker Fabrizio Ravanelli from newly-crowned European champions Juventus to unfashionable English strugglers Middlesbrough remains a benchmark in head scratching transfer stories.
There’s a lot to unpack here. Firstly, why would the Italian club even want to sell a player who had scored and run himself into the ground during the Champions League Final? A contribution that reflected his highly productive four seasons in Turin.
Roberto Bettega, a former legendary player turned Executive Director, initiated the deal and displayed the cold, clear-headed logic with which Juventus officials are renown. The team’s attack was being built around the young prodigy Alessandro Del Piero and the feeling was that a different style of striker from Ravanelli would better suit him as a partner. At least demonstrating that it was nothing personal against the White Feather, Bettega also sanctioned the departure of other important players including Vialli, Roberto Sousa and Lombardo that same summer.
Secondly: why would such a high-profile player want to move from the glamour of Serie A and the Champions League to the mire of a Premier League relegation struggle? The short answer is that Ravanelli didn’t want to move at all, and when he grudgingly accepted there was no Juventus future for him, he REALLY didn’t want to move to Middlesbrough.
“I have thought about it so many times and I still don’t understand why Juventus got rid of me. In the last two years I’ve scored 53 goals for club and country.” Fabrizio Ravanelli
When summoned to a meeting he expected to be handed the captain’s armband following the departure of Vialli, but instead he was told to talk with Boro manager Bryan Robson to discuss personal terms for a move. Unbeknown to Ravanelli, discussions between the clubs had started in earnest in February, a whole four months earlier.
Ambitious Middlesbrough had offered what was then a sizeable fee of £7million for his services and this was the best offer on the table for the striker. Determined to scupper the deal he instructed his agent to request a salary so ridiculous that it would cause Boro to walk away from negotiations for good. Ravanelli was earning £7,000-per-week at Juventus so a demand was made for a six-fold rise to a then unprecedented £42,000-per-week.
To the amazement of the Italian contingent in the contract negotiations that lasted eight hours, Boro agreed without any attempt to negotiate down this figure randomly plucked from the ether. Ravanelli had painted himself into a corner but at least would be paid eye-watering amounts to endure an unwanted Teeside sojourn.
Whether Fabrizio Ravanelli’s short time at Middlesbrough could be considered a success depends on what perspective you choose to take. There’s the positives: he looked a class above most of his Premier League counterparts and scored frequently (32 in 50 games), helping Boro to two domestic cup finals during the 1996/97 season. And the negatives: both those finals were lost, Boro suffered relegation despite his goals and he couldn’t have made his unhappiness at being there in the first place any more plain, alienating him from fans and teammates alike.
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Desperate to leave following relegation, Ravanelli became a victim of his own greed. Everton were prepared to pay the asking price Boro wanted and meet his huge £50,000-per-week wage demands, however, negotiations fell down when the Italian requested numerous other add-ons including regular flights to Italy and, bizarrely, that Everton would pay his gas bill.
Now languishing in the Middlesbrough reserves and out of contention for the Italian national team following the appointment of Cesare Maldini, the White Feather finally departed in ignominy to Marseille on a contract worth half of what Everton were prepared to pay him.
And what of Juventus and their controversial decision to dispense with him? The Turin giants brought in Alen Boksic as a replacement and were back in the Champions League Final in 1997. And 1998. It’s fair to say it was a transfer they never came close to regretting.