How Marco Negri became a bizarre sideshow during a golden era for Italian football and Italians abroad
As we all know, the 1990s were the glory years for Italian football as Serie A stood alone as the richest and most glamorous league around. It was also an important decade in Scotland for Rangers who won the title for nine consecutive seasons before the 1997-98 season when Celtic came back to grasp the title back by a two-point margin.
Italian players had started winding up in the British Isles in that period with Fabrizio Ravanelli and Gianluca Festa heading to Middlesbrough. Benito Carbone was at Sheffield Wednesday, Roberto Di Matteo, Gianluca Vialli and Gianfranco Zola were at Chelsea while Attilio Lombardo was at Crystal Palace. Scottish football also lured some Italian stars away from the glamour of Serie A with Paolo Di Canio spending the 1996-97 season at Celtic but it was Rangers who really went all in and they splashed the cash for Italian players. The Gers added record signing Lorenzo Amoruso, Gennaro Gattuso, Sergio Porrini and Marco Negri to their ranks in 1997. Although Porrini ended his career with two Italy appearances and he joined Rangers from Juventus, it was Negri who was the most enigmatic and his brief career at Ibrox was the most enthralling and tumultuous.
Having started out at Udinese where he didn’t reach double figures in appearances after two spells, Negri moved to Perugia in 1995 and he helped the club achieve promotion in his first season. His debut season in the top flight went well from an individual perspective with him netting 15 goals but it wasn’t enough for the Grifone who went straight back down and David Murray’s Rangers forked out £3.5 million to take him to Glasgow.
Negri was 27 as he begun in Scottish football and he seemed to back up the widely held notion in baseball that 27 is the peak age for athletic performance. He scored two on his debut before netting in ten consecutive games. Adding to the mystique of the glamorous Italian forward was his languid style and refusal to celebrate goals with anything more extravagant than a curt handshake for any teammate who went looking for it. He once demolished Dundee United on his own, scoring one absolutely beautiful goal as he flicked the ball over the defender’s shoulder and then back again before chipping the goalkeeper from outside the area.
The good times ended with Negri having scored a remarkable 33 in 26 appearances, a move back to Serie A was being touted as was a wildcard spot in the 1998 World Cup squad for the on-fire forward. Then came the bad. A mysterious injury kept him away and it was later revealed that he had been hit in the eye by a squash ball by his compatriot Porrini. There were rumours of a bust-up with Walter Smith and he only scored two more goals as Celtic eventually won the title back for the first time in nine seasons.
Negri remained down on his luck; contracting pneumonia and there were ultimately misplaced fears that he had contracted HIV from a shin injury. In public discourse, he continued to receive criticism for being a moody player with an attitude problem. A loan to Vicenza was supposed to see him return to fitness but he never got back to where he was and his career came to an end after brief spells at Bologna, Livorno and old club Perugia.
While Amoruso became a Rangers legend who captained the club and won three league titles in a six-year spell, Negri is now remembered in ways which damn him with faint praise. He’s stuck in the psyche as either a one-season wonder or a cult hero.
Yet, he is still remembered and his book was serialised in the Daily Record. As someone who is best remembered outside of Perugia for his time as one of Rangers’ Italian contingent, Negri courted controversy. Club favourite Amoruso was described as “the type of person who would travel around the world so that it could see him,” and a “poisonous, sneaky back-stabber.”
Few careers have gone up and down as quickly as Negri’s, but it certainly wasn’t boring.