Ruling European football: How Serie A fever swept the English shores

Italian football in the 1990s was the place to be, with Batistuta, Zidane and Baggio on the throne, Serie A ruled the world. Italian football boasted the very best talent in world football. Whether it was a frantic rivalry or a jaw-dropping goal, Italian football in the 90s had it all.

But, with such talent and attention in Italy, what did that mean for the English game? How was a little country like England expected to compete with Europe’s elite? Truth is, it didn’t. Like the rest of Europe, England joined the audience; Italian football became the forefront of football in the 90s, and no one would have changed a thing.

With the World Cup kicking off the decade in Italy, the tournament did indeed help the rise of Italian football. True, the finals did not live up to expectation in terms of footballing quality, but attention, at the very least, was on the Italian game.

Not soon after the tournament in the summer of 1990, Serie A started to gather momentum – across 61 days in 1992, Italian clubs broke the record transfer-fee three times, with Marco van Basten and co taking the league by storm; very little could stop the incredible ascent of Serie A.

In response, a select number of English players had the privilege of playing in such a prestigious league. David Platt wore the shirt of Bari, Juventus and then Sampdoria. The latter, of which, saw Platt strike a partnership with Roberto Mancini.

Having become fluent in Italian, Platt was able to bond with his team-mates and become perhaps the most successful English player to grace the Italian leagues. In his 100 games over in Italy, Platt scored an impressive 31 goals.

More notably, though, was the arrival of a certain Paul Gascoigne to Lazio in 1992. His move had been postponed by a year, having suffered a cruciate injury in the 1991 FA Cup Final. Despite the delay, Gazza’s hype certainly didn’t fail to live up to expectation.

Six goals in three years may sound like a failure, but the English midfielder quickly became a cult hero amongst Lazio fans. Having scored versus Rome in his first derby match for I Biancazzurri. A goal in such a game earns you automatic legendary status in Italy, but Gazza was bound to become a legend anyway.

His charisma and personal charm made him such a pleasure to watch not just on the pitch, but off of it, too. To tell the entire story of Gazza’s years in Italy, you’d need to write a book. Very little can summarise his time in Italy better than arriving to his last day at training with a cigar in his mouth, though.

Troubled by weight issues and injury, the Gateshead-born midfield dynamo would struggle to light up Serie A on the field. The fact of the matter is, though, Gazza was able to bring such attention the Italian league that saw English fans fall in love with both himself and the league.

To add to this, Gazzetta Football Italia was the platform upon which Italian football proliferated across English shores.

Presented by the very likeable James Richardson, the weekly Channel 4 football show rounded up the weekend’s Serie A action. With the show running from 1992 right through to 2002 on Channel 4, it is clear just how popular Italian football was across the 1990s.

Gazzamania did much to help such an increase in popularity of Serie A. Gascoigne would often appear on the show, providing much more entertainment than the modern-day pundits who seek to please their bosses.

In truth, the footballing pedigree of Serie A in the 90s was not best provided by English players. Indeed, Gascoigne, Platt and Ince all made their mark. But, at a time of European footballing greats, it was always going to be difficult.

Forget the inheritance of diving and high transfer fees and, instead, focus on the pleasure Italian football brought to fans in the 90s. Without Serie A and Channel 4’s expert broadcasting, 1990s football would have been a forgotten pastime.

However, as it is, we can look back fondly at a time when Serie A ruled the world.

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