With the best players in the world, Serie A in the 1990s was bound to reach record-breaking heights. True, English football may have inherited diving and cheating as a consequence. But, there’s no doubting the phenomenon that was Serie A in the 90s.
The 90s started off in true Italian fashion with Italia ’90. As the tournament unravelled, it became abundantly clear that the expected level of quality was not to be delivered. Instead, drama and controversy would unfold. Perhaps it wasn’t the desired quality fans wished for, but it certainly provided many talking points.
Italia ’90 single-handedly changed the face of football. With many teams aiming to play defensively in the hope that they could win the penalty shootout. FIFA had no choice but to introduce the pass-back rule in time for the 1994 World Cup.
With a record-low of 2.21 goals per match and a then-record 16 red cards, Italia ’90 set the precedent for what would become a record-breaking decade in Italian football.
The spending spree began in the summer of 1992, and it couldn’t have started in any better way. Over just 61 days in ’92, the transfer record was broken on three separate occasions by Italian clubs. AC Milan broke the record twice, being the first club to fork out over £10million for a player. That was to be either side of Juventus’ then-record transfer fee for Gianluca Vialli for £12million.
Though the spending in today’s game is far beyond that of 25 years ago, nothing says mamma mia! quite like the summer of ’92 in Serie A.
Maybe that was the turning point. If you’re looking for a moment to blame for today’s lavish spending,1992 was when football sold its soul to money and financial power.
Having scored 47 goals in 49 games for Barcelona in the 1996/97 season, it wasn’t long before Inter came knocking. Barca sold the real Ronaldo for a phenomenal for £19.5 million in 1997, prompting a wild welcome for the forward by the Nerazzurri fans.
With Vieri moving to Inter in 1999 for £28million and Crespo to Lazio in early 2000 for over £30million, Serie A transfer activity changed the world of football. True, they had the very best league with the very best players. And, it would appear, that the fans, coaches and clubs were well rewarded for such expense. Serie A became known as the best league in the world through the 1990s.
It wasn’t until a BBC reporter was prompted to ask “has the world gone mad” – following Crespo’s transfer in 2000 – that the footballing world could come to terms with the precarious financial direction it was heading in.
With some of the greatest players to ever grace the game, from Zidane to Baggio, Italian teams were bound to taste glory on the European stage. 13 European trophies were won by Italian sides, just to give you an idea of the sort of dominance they obtained.
When Calcio was King, Italian football harboured some of the most iconic names in football. Marco van Basten, Zinedine Zidane and Frank Rijkaard, just to name a few. Serie A’s players in the 1990s were not just the types to win matches. Instead, they would go on to become champions, even legends of the game.
Of the 10 Ballon d’Or winners across the 90s, six of those came from Serie A. And, with all of those being attacking players, the Serie A became the most entertaining league in Europe.
Whether it was Baggio’s goalscoring ability in the early 90s or Zidane’s driving midfield play in the latter years of the decade, Italian fans, and indeed fans all around the world, witnessed the best football of the decade.
AC Milan became known as degli invicibil during their unbeaten streak in the league which lasted from May 1991 right through to March 1993. However, with van Basten, Rijkaard and Guillet in the team, they were expected to be nothing short of degli invincibil.
Perhaps more remarkable, though, was AC Milan’s three successive titles in the 1993/94 campaign. They managed to march to the title with just 36 goals in their 34 matches.
The rossoneri’s lack of goals was immediately answered by their stern defence that conceded just 15 goals across the entire campaign. If the likes of Baggio, Batistuta and van Basten scream out ‘Golaccio!’, the 93/94 title-winning side of AC Milan certainly shut their lips tight.
In summary, Serie A’s wealth of talent throughout the 1990s meant that it was bound to become a record-breaking decade. With Ballon d’Or winners and record-breaking transfers, the 1990s would certainly have looked a lot different in the absence of Italian football.
Per ora, arrivederci.