Despite starting under the cloud of a match-fixing scandal, the 1986-87 campaign became one of the most interesting and memorable Serie A seasons.
It is perhaps best remembered for the dominant display from Napoli and their mercurial captain Diego Maradona, who continued where he left off in the World Cup in Mexico.
Juventus entered the season as champions, though ‘Le Roi’ Michel Platini already planned to retire at the end of this campaign. The Frenchman, so influential in the Bianconeri’s success in the 1980s, was to score just two goals all year – the Platini, Laudrup, Serena triumvirate combined for just 15 goals – half as many as the previous season.
Serie A started with those two sides exerting their authority and leading through the early rounds. Como, enjoying something of a renaissance, also performed admirably during the opening weeks. The Lariani had lost coach Rino Marchesi to Juventus in the summer, but were unbeaten in the first 11 games including a draw with the Bianconeri, eventually going on to finish ninth.
By the time of their first defeat, Napoli and Maradona had made their move. Following the Vecchia Signora’s draw with Como, the two sides met in a top of the table clash at the Stadio Comunale. Michael Laudrup scored the game’s opening goal after 50 minutes, but did not dampen Partenopei spirits.
Moreno Ferrario equalised and, immediately, Bruno Giordano put Napoli ahead – Giuseppe Volpicena’s last-minute strike sealed the deal, and the points. Juventus’ first home defeat since April 1985 put Ottavio Bianchi’s side top of Serie A. There was a cartoon in the next day’s La Stampa showing a zebra, its body strewn with arrows, placing a crown on the head of Maradona. They never looked back.
The week after Napoli’s triumph in Turin, Udinese secured a 0-0 home draw with Sampdoria. That point lifted the Zebrette to 0, having started the season on -9 points after their part in the betting scandal that reached a conclusion in the summer. Although their form to this stage would have left them in mid-table, Giancarlo De Sisti’s side were already adrift, eventually finishing with just 15 points – eight from safety.
They were joined by Atalanta, who combined poor league form with a Coppa Italia run that saw them qualify for Europe despite relegation. Brescia had already demonstrated a propensity for immediate relegations, and 1986-87 was the fourth time (of seven to date) that the Rondinelle’s time in the top flight lasted a single season.
AC Milan’s Pietro Paolo Virdis won the Capocannoniere, his 17 goals way ahead of Gianluca Vialli – Sampdoria’s tyro mustered just 12. Virdis’ tally contained a total of five against Roma, including a hat-trick in a 4-1 win at the beginning of May that lifted the Rossoneri to their finishing position of fifth. Better things were to come for Milan, with the campaign more notable for the arrival of Silvio Berlusconi than their best Serie A finish since their return to the division in 1983.
In a low scoring campaign, Milan remained a few points behind city rivals Inter. The Nerazzurri were Napoli’s closest challengers for long periods of the season, even drawing level with the Partenopei in early January. Ultimately, their traditionally defensively solidity took them only as to third spot, consecutive home victories against Napoli and Juventus representing the highlight of a season of what might have been.
The 17 goals Inter conceded paled in comparison with Empoli’s strike force. The Azzurri managed just 13 goals during the 30-game season, Johnny Ekstrom was top scorer with a meagre three. Of their eight Serie A victories, seven were 1-0 (Torino were ‘thrashed’ 2-0 in March) and only in two defeats to Roma (2-1 and 3-1) did Gaetano Salvemini’s side’s goals not earn points – a model of efficiency.
With the Stadio Carlo Castellani not being ready, Empoli started the season at Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi. The Viola’s season was spent in mid-table, but they were still not safe by the penultimate game of the season, a trip to champions-in-waiting, Napoli. 10 May at the Stadio San Paolo hosted a game with a party atmosphere. A win would be enough, though with Juventus and Inter both away from home, a draw with Fiorentina would likely seal the Partenopei’s first Scudetto.
That was how it panned out. Inter lost at an Atalanta side gasping for breath at the bottom, while Juventus could only manage a point at perennial thorns in their side Hellas Verona. Napoli took an early lead through Andrea Carnevale only to see Roberto Baggio’s first ever Serie A goal bring the Viola level.
In the end, the 1-1 draw was enough for both sides. The crown that had been passed from Platini sat glistening on a little Argentinian’s head. Rex mortuus, vivat rex. Just five foot five inches tall, Diego Maradona stood astride Italian football just as, 10 months before, he had over world football. Napoli were champions for the first time.