Was the summer of 1995 the last time Serie A clubs held the monopoly on the best players in the world?
The preseason had been an eventful prelude to the new campaign in Italy.
In Rome, there had been Lazio fan protests at the proposed sale of Giuseppe Signori to Parma. In the north, Inter’s new president Massimo Moratti had signalled his intent with his first lavish spending spree.
Dutch striker Marco Van Basten finally announced his retirement. And filling that hole in part at Milan, Roberto Baggio was signed from Juventus for £8 million.
Lazio wisely decided to keep Signori and Parma and bought Hristo Stoichkov from Barcelona instead. The prospect of Bulgaria’s leading light at the 1994 World Cup lining up with Gianfranco Zola and Faustino Asprilla in a Parma attack, made mouths water at the anticipation.
The Brazilian left-back Roberto Carlos arrived at Inter, along with the Argentine Javier Zanetti and England’s Paul Ince. Paris Saint Germain forward, George Weah, would link up with Baggio at Milan. Weah would become their new Number 9, a jersey that Van Basten had made so mythical.
Reigning champions Juventus raided Sampdoria for three of its best players. Attilio Lombardo, Pietro Vierchowod and Vladimir Jugovic all moved to Turin.
In turn, Samp brought back Enrico Chiesa from a successful spell at Cremonese, while French midfielder Christian Karembeu also arrived in Genoa from French champions Nantes.
It was Bari’s Igor Protti who scored the first goal of the Serie A season. His long-range effort at home to Napoli and after only three minutes, earned Protti one thousand bottles of wine — as was the custom for the scorer of the first Serie A goal of the season.
As luck would have it, he would receive another three hundred and sixty-six bottles in Week Three for scoring the first hat-trick of the season.
Lazio were the victims that day, but whether “Piss up at Protti’s again?” became a regular post-match refrain in the Bari locker room for the rest of that season, no one really knows.
Protti would eventually finish the season as the league’s joint top scorer with Lazio’s Signori, both with twenty-four goals in total.
While Protti hit the ground running in Puglia, George Weah also got into his groove early up at Padova. Six minutes was all it took for Milan’s new powerhouse to open his account, heading in a Baggio free-kick to give Milan the lead.
Padova debutant, Nicola Amoruso, equalised for the home team, but Fabio Capello’s men restored their lead just before the break. Weah cleverly combined with teammate Franco Baresi for the veteran Milan captain to score a rare winning goal.
King George was an instant hit and received wide acclaim in the Italian press the following day. But that afternoon was only an indication of what was to follow.
The Liberian was the first non-European to win the Ballon d’Or in 1995, and Milan stormed to their fifteenth championship, largely spearheaded by their new and impressive forward.
Milan’s crosstown rivals opened their season at San Siro by welcoming Vicenza. Inter’s English coach, Roy Hodgson, gave home debuts to Roberto Carlos, Paul Ince and Javier Zanetti, among the most notable.
The refurbished Nerazzurri found the newly promoted team a tough nut to crack. It took a trademark set-piece from Roberto Carlos to break the deadlock for the only goal of the game. The bandy-legged Brazilian cracking in a free-kick from twenty-five yards, beating Vicenza’s Luca Mondini.
Roberto Carlos would only spend a year in Italy before leaving for Spain in the summer of 1996. Hodgson famously did not appreciate the idiosyncratic Brazilian’s attacking style of play and pushed him into a left-sided midfield role for much of that campaign.
The Englishman has not been able to live this down since. The marauding left-back went on to win three Champions League titles with Real Madrid and the 2002 World Cup with Brazil.
Around the time Roberto Carlos gave Inter that second-half lead at San Siro, striker Oliver Bierhoff was pulling off his own signature move up in Udine. Bierhoff had played in Serie A before. Four years earlier, he was an unremarkable feature of a poor Ascoli team that faced relegation in 1992.
But the German found Italy’s second tier more to his liking and scored forty-six goals in three seasons for Ascoli before Udinese came knocking.
It was his header from a Giovanni Stroppa cross that proved to be the only goal of the game against Cagliari.
It was the first of Bierhoff’s seventeen goals in the top flight that year and a winning start for Udinese’s young coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
Zaccheroni and Bierhoff were in for some fine times together for the remainder of the 90s. They propelled Udinese up the league and to a crowning third-place finish in 1998. The following year, Zaccheroni and Bierhoff won a Scudetto together when they both moved to Milan.
Later that afternoon, Parma’s Hristo Stoichkov demonstrated his own party piece with thirteen minutes remaining away at Atalanta. Stoichkov put Parma ahead by gloriously dispatching a free-kick from the edge of the home side’s penalty area.
A young Christian Vieri would equalise for the hosts, two minutes into stoppage time, denying title-hopefuls Parma their first three points.
It never really happened for Stoichkov in Serie A. The Bulgarian, like his team, blew hot and cold and the hotly tipped preseason favourites would have a frustrating last season under coach Nevio Scala.
They would finish the season in sixth place. Scala would leave for newly-promoted Perugia and Stoichkov would return to Barcelona after a miserable time in Italy. However delicious his first Serie A goal was that afternoon in Bergamo, Stoichkov only managed to add four more that campaign.
The first round of games concluded with the evening clash between Sampdoria and Roma in Genoa. Twenty-four-year-old Christian Karambeu made the headlines with a confident Serie A debut. The French international gave his new team the lead with a towering header midway through the first half.
Karembeu had given up the opportunity of playing in the Champions League with Nantes for a shot at playing in Serie A, such was the lure of the league at the time.
Ex-Sampdoria striker Marco Branca equalised for visitors. Branca had joined from Parma that summer and the game ended 1-1.
That opening day also saw the Serie A introduction of squad numbers and players’ names on the back of shirts. And of the twenty-three goals that were scored, what is striking is how many of those were scored by Serie A debutants and new star signings.
While it is certain the world’s best players continued to find their way to Serie A for at least another decade and more, bumper television deals for the clubs of England and Spain were close to the horizon. After 1995, Italy’s Serie A was finally going to have to share. After years of having it their own way.