May 1990: Sampdoria’s Win Starts Something
Sampdoria are far from Italy’s most decorated club. In the early 1990s, however, the Blucerchiati won the hearts of many by being one of Serie A’s most exciting teams
Sometimes ideas are so simple that when they come about, they take root immediately. Yet equally, sometimes ideas become so out of sync with what is needed that they seem antiquarian almost overnight.
There will always be people who insist that there is still a place for the European Cup Winners’ Cup, but the truth is that the expansion of the Champions League, and the increased scope of the Europa League made it unnecessary.
By absorbing the qualifiers into the latter competition, domestic cup winners did not lose their chance at glory, but those sides that were better at one-off games than longer term competitions have ensured that the peculiarities of the competition have been rather eliminated.
The Europa League today provides the platform for the rising stars of European football, but the Cup Winners Cup enjoyed the first flowering of the likes of Bayern in the late 1960s, the Juventus of Michel Platini and the Manchester United of Sir Alex Ferguson.
That the list of champions includes sides such as Dinamo Tbilisi, Magdeburg and Real Zaragoza gives a hint of the appeal; a forgotten Europe full of quirks and oddities – in 1973, Hadjuk Split beat Norway’s Fredrikstad to earn themselves a British tour. Their next three ties saw them visit Wales’ Wrexham, Scotland’s Hibernian and then England’s Leeds United.
Meanwhile, Serie A always had a good relationship with the Cup Winners’ Cup, providing the first– Fiorentina – winners, and the last, Lazio. In between times, Milan won the cup twice, along with single triumphs for Parma, Juventus and Sampdoria; the latter team enjoying two consecutive runs to the final during their golden period at the turn of the 1990s.
While it would be wrong to label that vintage of Blucerchiati as purely a cup team, their solitary Serie A triumph is outnumbered by victories and progress they enjoyed in the one-off competitions that they took part in at the time; the Coppa Italia, the Cup Winners’ Cup – even a final appearance in the European Cup itself.
In short, it was a fine time to support the less venerated of the Genoa sides, and none finer than May 1990. Vujadin Boskov may have earned a reputation as a silver tongued coach, ever-ready with a quip and a soundbite, but his named was forged on the touchline in the successes he enjoyed with Sampdoria.
His side’s Cup Winners’ Cup campaign had begun in August, looking to avenge a final defeat against Barcelona the previous season. They started the new year with a comfortable victory over Brann in Bergen, Norway. With Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini on the scoresheet, it was a taste of things to come, and Vialli’s goal in particular was one to remember, a treat after one of many spells of flowing football from the Italian visitors.
The competition was kind to Vialli throughout his career, with the former Cremonese hitman netting 20 times in his 35 appearances during his career with both Sampdoria and Chelsea – coincidentally, his final strike came in Norway as well, in a 3-2 win for the English side at Valerenga.
Back in 1989, another clean sheet at home earned the Blucerchiati a tie against German giants Borussia Dortmund. This was to prove a tougher test. When substitute Jurgen Wegman bundled in a second half opener, it seemed to spin the tie in Dortmund’s favour. That was until the final minutes, when a long ball forward bounced into the path of Roberto Mancini, who put it under his spell and guided a shot just over the onrushing goalkeeper into the net.
It took until the second half of the second leg to break the deadlock that game, with Vialli’s penalty taking the edge off the tie before the same striker angled a header that sealed victory.
There was a more straight-forward task in the quarterfinal – two wins against Swiss side Grasshopper earning a match-up with one of those rising stars of European football, George Weah of Monaco.
The Liberian opened the scoring, bulleting a header past Gianluca Pagliuca at the end of the first half. Once again, Vialli came to the rescue first with another penalty, before he gave his side the lead with a very similar header to that from the win against Dortmund. This time Ramon Diaz was able to earn Monaco a 2-2 draw, finally putting away a chance after wasting many, but an early Pietro Vierchowod goal in the second leg effectively killed the tie. Sampdoria were in the final.
While not the side of their 1970s peak, Anderlecht were stubborn opposition with some star names and had knocked out Barcelona on their way to the final. As it was, the 6,000 Sampdoria fans who travelled to Gothenburg were rather starved of entertainment during the 90 minutes. The Blucerchiati looked to be the more threatening side, but chances were at a premium, though Mancini was unfortunate on a couple of occasions.
For extra time, Boskov added Fausto Salsano to the mix, and the diminutive midfielder was to prove crucial. As the first period of extra time came to an end, his shot fizzed from the corner of the box under the sprawling body of Filip De Wilde on to the frame of the goal and back towards the Belgian goalkeeper.
De Wilde reacted first, but got only one hand on the ball before Vialli was upon him. The striker forced the ball free and then stabbed it home. Sampdoria led. Continuing a now established pattern, Vialli went on to extend that lead with a header and, from 2-0 down there was no way back for Anderlecht.
Sampdoria were European Cup Winners Cup Winners for the first time, the beginning of two glorious periods. A week later, Juventus beat Fiorentina to win the UEFA Cup, and a week after that, Milan saw off Benfica to win the European Cup – all three titles came to Italy.
For the Blucerchiati, the next year brought their only Serie A crown before that famous European Cup final the year later. May 1990 was the end of one story, maybe, but it was the start of another.