We’ve trawled through four decades of tabloid archives and ghost-written autobiographies to find the mouth-watering (and occasionally outrageous) British-Italian transfers that could have re-shaped the face of football.
This time we’re focusing on the 1990s, a decade where Italian football left an indelible mark on the British consciousness. It started with the World Cup in 1990, a tournament which had it all. Three home nations, on-field drama, hazy sun-drenched days, the imagery of the other-worldly stadia; all set to the soundtrack of Puccini’s Nessum Dorma. It defined the beginning of a new era for football.
In the aftermath of the tournament a procession of English players made their way over to Italy. First was David Platt’s move to Bari in 1991, followed by Paul Gascoigne (Lazio) and Des Walker (Sampdoria) in 1992. It was at this time, just as top flight football in England was ushered behind a television paywall, that Channel 4 began to beam live Serie A football into living rooms across Great Britain. The somewhat mixed fortunes experienced by these British players in Italy did little to dampen the flame had been ignited for many newfound calcio enthusiasts.
As the decade unfolded, English football began to make up considerable ground on Serie A and the exodus of talent to the peninsula began to shift into reverse. Paul Ince was the last big-name transfer of the decade, departing Manchester United for Inter in 1995. There were lower-key moves for players of Italian descent, such as Daniele Dichio (Sampdoria, 1997) and Tony Dorigo (Torino, 1997), and fairly disastrous spells for Franz Carr (Reggiana, 1996), Lee Sharpe (Sampdoria, 1998) and Ronnie O’Brien (Juventus, 1999).
But what about the transfers that didn’t quite happen?
Steve Bull – Wolves to Torino 1990
Steve Bull forced his way into Booby Robson’s Italia ‘90 squad off the back of his devastating form for Wolves in the second tier of English football. It’s an almost unfathomable scenario in the modern game, but he proved that his domestic exploits could be translated to the international stage with goals against Czechoslovakia and Tunisia in the spring leading up to the tournament. Once in Italy, Bully came off the bench three times and started the match against Egypt.
A succession of clubs were rumoured to be interested in signing Bull; many of whom assumed plucking a player from England’s Second Division would make for easy pickings. But they hadn’t accounted for the player’s unwavering affinity to the Black Country, which saw him play out the majority of his career in the black and gold of Wolves. In the summer of 1990, Torino had just romped Serie B and were preparing for their return to the top flight. In what would have been a particularly fine piece of nominative determinism, Toro considered a move for Bull. In the event, nothing came of their interest and they instead put faith in youngster Giorgio Bresciani to feed off the ammunition provided by Gianluigi Lentini and Rafael Martin Vazquez.
Niall Quinn – Manchester City to AC Milan 1992
Gangly forward Quinn had been a regular feature on the scoresheet since joining Manchester City in 1990. After an away trip to Crystal Palace in 1992, Quinn took a call from City manager Peter Reid who told him that AC Milan had been making enquiries and had been at the game to watch him. Reid’s assessment was that Quinn had “had a nightmare” that day, which might explain why their interest went no further.
The Irishman seems an unlikely target for a club who’d strolled to the 1992 scudetto without losing a single match. At this time, Milan regularly featured in the final stages of European competitions, and were endowed with stars such as Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Ruud Gullit and world-record signing Gianluigi Lentini. In truth, Quinn would have been providing back-up to Jean Pierre-Papin and the waning star of Marco van Basten. But he would certainly have added another physical dimension to the rossonero attack, vaguely reminiscent of Mark Hateley’s spell in Milan a decade earlier.
Tony Daley – Aston Villa to Udinese 1993
Diminutive winger Tony Daley was a familiar sight, marauding down Aston Villa’s wing in the late-1980s and early 1990s, where his pace and trickery were a constant thorn in opponents’ sides. His former manager at club level, Graham Taylor, gave him his break on the international stage and Daley went on to become a regular feature for England between 1991 and 1992. After narrowly missing out on the inaugural Premier League title in 1993, Daley began to grow restless at ViIla and was actively seeking a move away from the club.
As the 1993/94 season got underway, Udinese were urgently seeking reinforcements as they knuckled down for what was transpiring to be a difficult season in Serie A. The Zebrette had travelled to watch Daley in the October and were said to be close to meeting Villa’s £2 million valuation. They saw him as an ideal creative outlet to play in front of Thomas Helveg on their right-hand side, and a man capable of providing a supply line for Marco Branca and Andrea Carnevale in attack. Sadly, the move never materialised and Udinese succumbed to relegation at the end of the season.
Ian Wright – Arsenal to Parma 1994
In his role as a Match of the Day pundit, Ian Wright recently revealed that there had been interest from both Parma and Sampdoria in bringing him to Serie A in the mid-90s. From humble beginnings, Wright had made his way into professional football via non-league. By the time Italy’s leading lights were showing interest, he had firmly established himself as an idol to Highbury’s North Bank and was well on his way to becoming Arsenal’s leading all time goalscorer.
The interest from Parma is most likely to have materialised around 1994, when they were defeated by the Gunners in the final of the Cup Winners Cup. It’s a mouth-watering prospect to think about an attacking trident comprising Wright, Faustino Asprilla and Gianfranco Zola. Bankrolled by the dubious millions of Calisto Tanzi, Parma invested heavily in pursuit of silverware, lifting the UEFA Cup in 1995 and achieving top 3 finishes. Yet the coveted scudetto remained elusive. We’ll never know whether an out-and-out goalscorer of Wright’s calibre could have made the difference.
Alan Shearer – Newcastle United to Juventus 1998
When Shearer moved to his hometown club in 1996, a hefty weight of expectation was placed on his shoulders. Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle had come agonisingly close to the title in 1996, and the acquisition of Shearer was supposed to be the decisive factor that would push them on to the next level. Off the back of a fruitful Euro ‘96 tournament, Shearer’s debut season on Tyneside yielded a phenomenal return of 25 goals in 31 games, but the club were pipped to top spot once again by Manchester United.
With a team built around the enchanting brilliance of Zinedine Zidane, Juventus were reigning scudetto winners and had been Champions League finalists the previous season. However, in the winter of 1998, their plans had been disrupted by the unfortunately knee injury suffered by their young talisman Alessandro Del Piero (something that would fundamentally alter the course of the youngster’s career). Whilst Shearer could not have been considered a like-for-like replacement for Del Piero, Juventus were looking for an additional dimension to their attack having alternated between Nicola Amoruso and Daniel Fonseca as the foil to Filippo Inzaghi. Ultimately, Juve’s bid for Shearer failed as Juve slumped to 7th place and Marcello Lippi was fired.