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Dublin: 6 °C Friday 14 December, 2018

'Italian football in the 1980s was the pinnacle and at the epicentre was a mercurial Dubliner'

There was so much more to Liam Brady’s time in Italy than a two-year spell with Juventus.

THERE’S A COMMON misconception that Liam Brady spent a few years in Serie A, won some silverware with Juventus and then faded into the background.

But as much as his time in Turin was the most successful, it was far from the only intriguing chapter in what remains a remarkable and somewhat under-appreciated story.

When Juve decided they wanted to sign Michel Platini in 1982, it meant they had to sell one of their foreign players. At the time, each league team was allowed just two and, by that stage, Juve had also agreed to bring in Polish attacker Zbigniew Boniek.

So, that meant Brady – who arrived two years earlier – was suddenly surplus to requirements.

When he scored the decisive penalty against Catanzaro on the final day of the league season, it won Juventus the Scudetto for the second successive year. But there was more to it. Brady already knew he was gone, having been informed of Platini’s pending switch three weeks before, and despite threatening to boycott the remaining fixtures, eventually swallowed hard instead and took the high road. Still, he was disgusted and his first instinct was to return to England.

But other Italian top-flight teams circled around, including Roma. And Brady began to feel like he had some unfinished business. However, Juventus were playing hardball. Despite landing an irrepressible playmaking talent in Platini, they were also appreciative of Brady’s ability and how much he’d bring to another team. So, they wouldn’t sanction a switch to a title rival. Instead, the newly-promoted Sampdoria swooped and Brady swapped Turin for Genoa.

“I played my best football in those two years – and they were very happy,” he said later.


With Trevor Francis also there and a young Roberto Mancini, it was a solid Samp outfit and they racked up a couple of seventh-placed finishes. So disillusioned by his departure from Juve, Brady was rejuvenated at the coastal club. The move was certainly a risk. Brady’s wife, Sarah, was pregnant with their first child and because they’d played in Serie B for the previous five years, he knew nothing about the team.

“I arrived without really understanding the city or the club, but speaking with (then-President) Paolo Mantovani, he convinced me to try,” Brady said when he visited Samp last year.

I settled in very quickly, found a home within a month and those were good times, really. It was difficult for me to understand the Juventus decision, but one door closes and another opens. I had a great friend in Genoa that convinced me to come to Samp. To be honest, I wasn’t that eager to come but he told me that living here was great, the club was serious and the President had great plans.”

“When I met with Mantovani, I realised he was an honest man. He’d just signed Mancini a couple of weeks earlier, who at the time was the most talented young player in Italy. He wanted to make the fans enthusiastic.”

Of course, there was also the money. By his estimation, Brady was making ten times more than when he was with Arsenal.

“I stayed in Italy because I was in, probably, the most competitive league in the world at the time but Italy set me up financially for life too,” he said later.

I’ve no problem saying I didn’t go there just for the challenge.”

Deliciously, Brady’s first league appearance for Samp came against Juventus. RAI, the Italian national broadcaster, inevitably used the storyline as the platform for their coverage and they got plenty of material.

Brady was immense and, particularly in the first half, was at the centre of every good thing. He almost created a goal early on when he jinked past one challenge before laying the ball off, picked up the return pass and took three players out of the game with a superb through-ball for Samp’s overlapping fullback. When Mauro Ferroni scored midway through the second half, Brady couldn’t contain his excitement and jumped on his back. At full-time, with Platini and Boniek frustrated and Juventus held scoreless, Brady made a point of enjoying himself in front of the Samp supporters.

Juve continued to follow Brady around a bit. The following January, just as he prepared to return to the Old Lady for the first time since his transfer, his daughter Ella was born. RAI loved that storyline too and featured an interview with a beaming Brady. As he described a ‘bellissimo weekend’, they showed a clip of him nutmegging Boniek before curling a sumptuous pass over the top that a team-mate subsequently squandered.

The following season, Brady returned to Juventus again and scored from the penalty spot in a 2-1 victory. But, once more, it was his all-around contributions that were a joy. He went close from two brilliantly struck free-kicks and his guile and vision were perfectly exemplified when he released Mancini with a glorious pass only for the striker to roll agonisingly wide of the far post.

For a side just back in the top-flight, Samp were extremely competitive. But in 1984 – as a result of excellent individual performances and his influence on a team that were still getting used to their new surroundings – Brady’s stock was high once more.

Roma, league winners the previous year and beaten finalists in the European Cup, were keen on him again and desperate for Brady to line up alongside the magnificent Brazilian midfielder Falcao. But they weren’t the only admirers. Both Milan clubs wanted to sign him too. In the end, Inter won the race with Brady impressed by the strength of their squad. There was a blend of youth and experience and ambition, evidenced by the king’s ransom they paid for German striker Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 14.26.16 Source: INPHO/Getty Images

“The regrets I have are that we didn’t win the league with Inter when we had the team to do it,” Brady later told Michael Walker in the excellent Green Shoots.

Rummenigge, Altobelli, Ferri, Zenga, Pepe Baresi, Bergomi. We had a real team. We should have won at least one title and we should have won the Uefa Cup – we were beaten by Real Madrid twice in semi- finals.”

In Brady’s first season at the San Siro, Inter began superbly. From their first 22 league games, they lost just once and that was in the local derby. Even sweeter was when Juve came to town in the November and Inter thumped four past them, with Rummenigge scoring twice. As usual, Brady was instrumental that day and grabbed his first league goal a few weeks later against Cremonese. But everything collapsed when Inter visited Juventus for the return league fixture.

At that stage, there were just eight games left in the season but three of them were visits to Turin, Naples and Rome.

And against Juve, big questions were asked.

Inter took the lead in the game, Brady curling a magnificent cross to the far post where Altobelli finished well. But Tardelli equalised before half-time and though Brady forced Luciano Bodini into a fine save after a mesmerising run, Boniek made it 2-1 just after the hour mark and Juve added a third before the end.

A week later, Inter went to Udinese. Once again, Altobelli scored early but the team fell into a familiar pattern, failed to hang onto the lead and lost 2-1.

Many wondered whether they had the resilience to battle hard on two fronts. Because by that stage, they’d also qualified for a Uefa Cup semi-final against Real Madrid.

Brady had played a crucial part too as Inter pushed through a number of incredibly tight games. In the first round, he netted at the San Siro as they beat Romanian side Sportul 2-1 on aggregate. In the round of 16, he scored at home against Hamburg and Inter sneaked through on away goals.

By mid-April, Inter and Brady had reason to feel more confident. They’d got back to winning ways against Fiorentina and in the first leg of the tie against Real, they were outstanding. Brady was the epitome of calm in the middle of the park and gave Inter the lead from another expertly-taken penalty. He went close from a free-kick and a well-struck volley as Inter ran riot. But, despite their dominance, they only added one more goal through Altobelli. Still, a goal at the Bernabeu and surely the tie would be theirs.

A few days later, they went to Napoli and lost 3-1. Hopes of a title had disappeared fast and it was hardly the best preparation for the trip to Madrid. Effectively, in the space of just four days, Inter managed to surrender a league title and a potential European trophy.

At the Bernabeu, Santillana scored twice in the first half to level the tie. Later, Brady almost teed up Altobelli for what would’ve been a decisive away goal but, after rounding the goalkeeper, his strike was superbly blocked on the goal-line and Inter couldn’t put away the rebound. Just before the hour mark, Michel lashed home Real’s third and they went on to beat Hungarian outfit Videoton in the final.

Inter finished the Serie A season in third place. They lost five games in total – four of those defeats coming from their final eight fixtures. It was a monumental collapse and an incredible missed opportunity. Hellas Verona claimed their very first (and only) title while Torino were runners-up.

Soccer - Matthaus, Trapattoni, Klinsmann, Brehme and Klinnsmann - Inter Milan Giovanni Trapattoni, seen here with his trio of German signings in 1989, became Inter boss the same summer Brady left the club and would eventually lead the Nerazzurri to the Scudetto. Source: Werek

“There was more pressure, more expectation than at Sampdoria, but there was always the rush of performing in the San Siro,” Brady later told The Sunday Tribune.

Our coach, Ilario Castagner, wasn’t strong enough, he wasn’t up to it, and we blew the title in my first year. Trapattoni came to Inter later and if he’d been there that season, we would have walked it.”

Castagner was sacked as coach early the following season and Inter never really got going. For Brady, there were some more memorable moments. Against Napoli, he cancelled out Maradona’s opener in a 1-1 draw and he scored in the Milan derby too.

Also, Inter found some salvation in Europe. In the Uefa Cup, they faced Real Madrid in the semi-finals for the second successive time. But they didn’t learn from their past mistakes.

In the first leg, they picked up a 3-1 win. By this stage, Brady had been joined at Inter by his former Juve team-mate Marco Tardelli and he scored twice. But Jorge Valdano picked up a vital away goal and in the return game at the Bernabeu, it was another chaotic affair.

Hugo Sanchez and Gordillo put Real 2-0 in front and level on aggregate midway through the second half when Brady stepped up and converted a crucial penalty. The big question was whether Inter could do what they failed at twelve months earlier and see the game out. But they collapsed again and Sanchez scored from the spot to force extra-time. Inter were broken, certainly dwelling on they’d allowed an entire tie slip from their grasp. Just like he’d done the previous year, Santillana scored another brace for Real and they ran out 5-1 winners on the night.

At the end of the campaign, Brady felt the time was right to move on.

“It was exciting playing in the San Siro in front of 90,000, but I began to feel the pressure,” he said later.

“I didn’t get on as well with the coach and the team was in transition.”

Inter had got close but not close enough. Perhaps hoping to replicate what he’d had at Sampdoria, he joined another newly-promoted team in Ascoli but it proved his first poor decision since moving to Italy in 1980. He allowed the financial package sway his opinion, something he’d come to majorly regret.

“I rushed myself into it,” Brady later told Hunter Davies.

“I should have waited for a better club. It was the money that did it, which was stupid of me. The town was small and provincial and we didn’t like living there. I was soon at loggerheads with the president. I had a bust-up and refused to play. It was a very unpleasant time.”

Brady managed just 17 league appearances for the club and though things started well with victory over AC Milan at the San Siro, there were some sobering moments. In the sixth game of the season, Ascoli visited Juventus and were humiliated. The hosts won 5-0, with Platini rubbing salt in the wounds by grabbing the final goal. Later, Ascoli faced Inter and lost 3-0. Brady was a disgruntled passenger as his friends danced around him and his below-par team-mates. But the bleeding couldn’t be stemmed. They went to Napoli and lost 3-0 there too. And by that stage, there was another problem.

Liam Brady Source: ©INPHO

In November, Castagner – Brady’s boss at Inter and a man he didn’t particularly see eye-to-eye with – had been parachuted in to try and rescue Ascoli’s season. Brady only played seven times for him before a row over unpaid wages meant he effectively went on strike. By March, he’d already secured a transfer to West Ham and his time in Italy was over.

”Money is one of the things that has to be right, not the only thing,” Brady said.

“I never thought I would end my career in Italy amid such a bitter atmosphere.”

Quite rightly, Brady remains irritated by the fact so many concentrate so much on one penalty he scored for Juventus and that his wider time in Serie A is usually ignored. He was one of the finest and most well-regarded players in a league overflowing with talent. Italian football in the 1980s was the pinnacle and at the epicentre was a mercurial Dubliner.

“He was an exceptional player, with an incredible vision and his passes had millimetric precision,” is how Zico described him.

“A typical great Brazilian midfielder”.

Brady stood shoulder-to-shoulder with that kind of elite talent: Maradona, Platini, Falcao, Socrates, Rossi, Rummenigge. In Italy – across three incredibly high-profile clubs – he remains a figure of adoration.

And that’s some legacy to have.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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