“I’ll follow your progress,” said new AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi to the little known Parma boss Arrigo Sacchi. Sacchi’s Serie B Parma outfit had just given the Rossoneri as good as they got in a 2-0 pre-season defeat ahead of the 1986/87 campaign.
A month later, in September, the Coppa Italia draw saw these two sides pit their wits against one another once more. But, on this occasion, it was Sacchi’s unfancied Parma who claimed victory at San Siro against a Milan side led by Nils Liedholm and containing the likes of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Roberto Donadoni.
“I’ll keep an eye on you in the league,” Berlusconi told the victorious manager on the night.
Sacchi’s Parma would then go on to progress at Milan’s expense in the last 16 of the competition, winning 1-0 over two legs. “Not bad for a Parma team that had just come up from Serie C,” Sacchi writes in his book, The Immortals.
Those performances from Parma in 1986 would go on to shape Italian football for the next however many years. This unknown quantity from Fusignano, who had no playing career to speak of, had convinced the highly-ambitious Berlusconi that he was the guy to lead Milan to the promised land. By 1990, he had.
Sacchi helped the Rossoneri to the Scudetto in 1988 and European glory in 1989 and 1990, all while sparking an ideological revolution in Italy over how the game should be played.
Fiorentina manager Vincenzo Italiano has a brilliant chance to show off his credentials to the Juventus hierarchy
The situation at Milan in 1986 reminds me of Juventus in the modern-day. Don’t get me wrong, there are stark differences but the whole ‘fallen giant looking to re-establish themselves among the very best once more’ thing bears an uncanny resemblance. Berlusconi’s arrival in 1986 has thrust Milan back into relevance following a pair of relegations to Serie B at the start of the 80s.
Now, Juve’s recent demise after their decade-long subjugation over calcio was brought to a close by Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan in 2021 hasn’t seen them fall to such depths. But, the club is in serious need of rejuvenating. Many will argue that Juve haven’t improved since Massimiliano Allegri returned to the helm after Andrea Pirlo was let go at the end of the 2020/21 season.
The lack of progress made under the highest-paid coach in the league has been distinct, and Juve risk enduring their first campaign without silverware since 2010/11. That makes Wednesday’s Coppa Italia semi-final second leg against Fiorentina huge for Allegri, with Juventus boasting a slender 1-0 lead from the first leg. La Gazzetta dello Sport reports that the Juve boss is coming under increasing pressure and defeat on Wednesday could prove fatal.
And in the opposite dugout, Allegri is up against a manager that some have tipped to be a future Bianconeri coach. Vincenzo Italiano has been blessed with a prime time audition to impress the Juventus hierarchy just like Sacchi did with Berlusconi in 1986.
Italiano has done a remarkable job with Fiorentina this season
Wednesday will be the third meeting between these two sides this season. Juventus have fortunately prevailed 1-0 on both occasions, with Juan Cuadrado having a big say in each of the winners at the death.
Allegri is up on the scoreboard with two games still to play before the season’s up, but Italiano has scored significantly from an idealistic perspective. While Juve did a good job of blunting La Viola’s attack in the Serie A meeting last November, Italiano’s side were utterly dominant in the first leg of this tie. They pressed Juventus into submission while seizing complete control thanks to Italiano’s coherent build-up patterns and possession structure.
It’s no surprise that Fiorentina average the second-largest share of possession in Serie A this season (57.1%), and their ability to control contests in a manner in which Juventus could only dream of right now has thrust them into serious contention for the final Champions League spot. Thanks to Italiano’s coaching, La Viola have been able to mitigate the loss of Dusan Vlahovic to Juventus, and they could be just four points adrift of the Bianconeri in fourth if they win their game in hand against Udinese.
Even if claiming a spot in Europe’s premier competition is a bridge too far for Italiano’s savvy Viola, returning the club to any European competition for the first time since 2017 would be a huge achievement for the former Spezia miracle worker.
Italiano will do battle with his ideological opposite on Wednesday for the third time looking to score his first victory of the season. Allegri, meanwhile, surely knows that the upcoming bout is a huge one in determining his future at the club. The wily traditionalist has tried his utmost to return Juventus to their vintage ways this term, but the overemphasis on caution and defence is starting to grate on not only the supporters, but the hierarchy as well.
And that makes Wednesday’s clash hugely significant with a representative of new-age Italian coaching standing in the opposite dugout. Italiano facilitates a style that’s easy on the eye, adaptable and conducive to sustained success.
It’s time for the 44-year-old to strut his stuff in front of a group of powerful Turinese folk whose hirings of Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo suggest that, deep down, they’re desperate for a different interpretation of the footballing art to manifest.