Remembering when this Italian rivalry went Continental.
The fixture dubbed ‘the match of poison’ and once described by the Gazzetta dello Sport as the longest running argument in Calcio, has great historical context in European club football’s ‘second’ competition as the two teams met to contest the 1990 final – with Roberto Baggio the loath protagonist in that particular dispute.
Ill feelings between the Turin-Tuscan rivals had been running at an all-time high for almost a decade previous, when both teams battled it out for the 1982 Scudetto. With both clubs level on points during the last day of the season, Fiorentina felt they were cheated out of the title when they could only manage a 0-0 draw, having had a second-half goal dubiously disallowed, whilst Juventus were awarded a late penalty kick after their opponents were denied one of their own, to claim a 1-0 victory – and their 20th league championship.
As Italian football writer and lifelong Fiorentina fan, Giancarlo Rinaldi wrote:
‘Those decisions infuriated the Viola and still do to this day.“Meglio secondi che ladri,” they said. “Better to be second than to be thieves.”’
Fast-forward to 1990 and Italian football was in the midst of a truly golden period. Serie A was home to the globe’s superstars and the country was preparing to play host to a fantastic World Cup, whilst boasting an excellent Azzurri side. And as a tasty prelude to the summer’s tournament, the two Italian club rivals were about to clash for the UEFA Cup.
At the centre of it all was Italy’s golden boy, Roberto Baggio. Il Viola’s fantasista had been lighting up the league for the previous few seasons and was now being held up as Serie A’s preeminent number 10 – deposing the Argentine King of Naples.
However, just prior to announcing himself to the world on the international stage, he was to become an unwilling participant in a tug-of-war between the best of enemies.
As the two teams prepared to meet for the two-legged final, it became increasingly clear that Fiorentina’s owners were keen to cash in on their most prized possession – much to the dismay of the Viola faithful. This dismay soon turned to anger and outrage when il Divin Codino’s apparent destination became clearer.
It was against this uneasy backdrop, with the very real possibility of losing their star to the enemy, that Fiorentina took on Juventus in the first all-Italian European final.
Losing the first leg 3-1 in Turin, Florentine fans felt harshly treated and that a further unjust advantage had been handed to Juve when they were banned from holding the second-leg at the home stadium, due to alleged crowd disturbances in the semi-finals.
A 0-0 second-leg played out 300km away from Florence in Avellino secured the Cup for the Bianconeri. Dino Zoff, the then Juve coach later admitted:
“That gave us a good chance to win the trophy because the second leg was played in Avellino, not in Florence. That helped us bring the trophy home.”
The 23-year old Baggio glimmered in spells during both legs, but, now noticeably unsettled at the furore surrounding his future, was unable to sparkle and inspire his side in what proved to be his final farewell.
In the aftermath of the defeat, pressures failed to subside for Baggio as he joined up with Italian team-mates in Coverciano to prepare for the World Cup. Whilst in camp his future was decided; against his will, he was sold for a world-record transfer fee. To Juventus.
Outside the camp and back in the Renaissance City, the fans erupted, laying siege to Fiorentina’s headquarters. Riots ensued for 3 days as the owners tried to shift blame onto the player; however fans were left in no doubt as to whom the real culprits were when Baggio returned to the Artemio Franchi a year later, wearing black and white.
When Juventus were awarded a penalty, Baggio refused to take it against his former club and was promptly substituted. Juve then missed the spot-kick.
As he walked off the pitch, the number 10 picked up a thrown Viola scarf and clutched it tight. Sempre nel mio cuore – ‘You’ll always be in my heart’.
Subsequent meetings between the two sides have generally continued to go the way of Juventus – Fiorentina’s dramatic 4-2 league win back in October 2013 was their first victory at home in over 15 years against their bitter rivals – with the Old Lady treating the fixture more like a mild inconvenience.
Still, meglio secondi che ladri they believe.
To read the full Roberto Baggio story, click here.