Fabrizio Ravanelli won the Champions League with Juventus but is remembered most fondly in England for a brilliant season with Middlesbrough. We spoke to him about both of those clubs and more.
Ravanelli is a legend of both Italian and English football. He scored against Ajax in the final of the aforementioned Champions League victory and also won the UEFA Cup, Serie A and Coppa Italia with Juve as part of one of their most talented squads of all time.
To say that it was a coup when Middlesbrough attracted him to the Premier League in 1996 would be an understatement, and The White Feather certainly did not disappoint the disbelieving fans, scoring a hat-trick on his debut against Liverpool.
Ravanelli scored 31 goals in total that season, but it was not enough to save Boro from relegation, and he left for Marseille early into the following campaign. But that has only added to his cult hero status. Had he stayed for longer in the second tier, cracks in the relationship may have started to appear.
That said, it was in Serie B where Ravanelli had started his career, with his hometown club Perugia, and where he caught the attention of Juve while playing for Reggiana. As soon as he heard his favourite club were interested, Ravanelli was determined not to lose out on the opportunity.
“It was a dream come true,” he says. “I’ve always been Juventus fan and when I knew that they were interested in me, it was like I found extra power.
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“I was playing in Reggiana, I was already scoring many goals, but when they said that Juventus was looking at me, I started to do even better. I knew it was the best opportunity of my life and I did not want to waste it.
“Luckily, everything went to plan and when I joined Juventus I was the most excited guy in the world.
“Just imagine a guy who always dreamed of playing football going to play for one of the best team in the world and, furthermore, the team he has ever supported. It was beyond all my hopes.”
Juve, of course, are Italy’s most successful club, and after winning only the UEFA Cup in Ravanelli’s first two seasons at the club, they clinched the Serie A and Coppa Italia double in his third under Marcello Lippi before lifting the Champions League in his fourth and final year at the club.
No matter how unpopular they may be with the rest of Italy, success for Juve is inevitable.
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“Juventus has always been of the best clubs in the world,” Ravanelli says. “They never changed the owners, they have a strong identity and philosophy, they always won and they always will win. That is the first ‘secret’ of their success.”
Juve also had Roberto Baggio, Gianluca Vialli, Alessandro Del Piero and Andreas Möller to choose from at various points of Ravanelli’s four seasons with the club, and it has been suggested by some they actually under-performed considering the talent at their disposal, but the 48-year-old argues Lippi’s team was actually greater than the sum of its parts.
“If we talk about that team I played in, the atmosphere we created within the group was special,” he says. “We probably performed over the real value of the single players because we worked together and in the same direction, following Lippi’s guidelines and never giving up.
“I am proud of the Champions League, the Scudettos and even the UEFA Cup I won, but probably it’s true that in his history Juventus in Europe won less than what they could.
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“But still, they’ve reach the Champions League final nine times, which means that even in Europe they’re a leader. Again last season they showed they were one of the best teams.
“But the finals are very strange matches, everything can happen and it’s never easy to win.”
Ravanelli admits he made a mistake leaving Juve when he did, aged 27, at the peak of his powers, but doing so allowed him to find love again, in north-east England of all the places.
“For sure, I never should have left, now I know that, but at that time I was in a very special mood, I was convinced to be so strong, to be able to leave Juventus and do even better.
“I showed I could because I did very well both at Middlesbrough and at OM, but when you play for Juventus you have to think hundreds of times before leaving such a strong and important club. I did not and I still regret that choice.
“But I loved everything of my season with Boro. Unfortunately, we were relegated at the end of the season and so I had to change team, but I still have some specials memories of English football and each time I come back in England someone still recognises and greets me.
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“I still have Boro’s fans in my heart and I am sure I am in theirs. I had some very special emotions that season: the first Premier match in which I scored three goals against Liverpool but also the goal in the final of League Cup in Wembley, and then just having the chance to score so many more and against all the best teams.
“I scored 31 goals…not bad for the first season in a new championship. But what I am proud of the most is that I contribute to Middlesbrough’s development as a club: I was from a club like Juventus, very well organised, and so I made some suggestions that Boro’s management followed, like building up a new training complex for the team.
“I am happy that they understand and followed my suggestions, and I know that now Middlesbrough is one of the leading clubs in England, even if they now play in the Championship.
“By the way, I am sure they will get back to the highest levels very soon. C’mon Boro!”
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After leaving Boro for Marseille and then heading home to Italy with Lazio, where he won another Serie A and Coppa Italia double, Ravanelli returned to England for a second spell in 2001 with Derby County
Once again he suffered relegation from the Premier League, but he has nothing but great things to say about English football and feels a tinge of regret that he did not stay for longer.
“It’s real football, very strong but fair,” Ravanelli says. “The fans are very passionate, they support you when things go in the right way and even more when things go in the wrong way.
“We should look at them (in Italy) and learn the lesson. Nowhere you can live football as in England.
“I went to OM and also there I was welcomed very well, I did well, still today OM’s fans love me and I love them, but probably I should have stayed in England some more years.
“I had the opportunity to go to Tottenham after Boro were relegated, but then I chose OM. It was not wrong, because OM was and is still one of the best teams in Europe, but I still miss the English football atmosphere.
“England for football is the top and I would do everything to come back and still live those emotions.”
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While Ravanelli may not be able to experience English football as a player again, he would love to one day return as a manager.
He spent two years back at Juve as a youth coach, and though his first experience as the main man did not go to plan – he was dismissed by French club Ajaccio after only 12 Ligue 1 games in charge – he is not deterred.
“It would be another dream come true (to manage in England),” he says. I really would like to live an experience like that, also because usually English clubs support their coaches more than in Italy or other countries.
“A coach need time in order to transfer his ideas. Look at what (Antonio) Conte did: he had some difficulties at the beginning, but then…
“I’d like to find a serious club which supports me and lets me try to build up something which could last for many years.
“I’ve already trained Juventus’ young teams and even at Ajaccio, notwithstanding how it ended, I think I’ve shown something important. I still receive some calls from players of that team, showing that we were building something important.
“Notwithstanding all the difficulties in which we had to operate, we were doing well. We stopped PSG at their home with just 13 players of which two were from the youth team; we won against Lyon; we were in a good position before the club decided to fire my collaborators because of some injuries.
“I could not accept it and I left, but after that the team struggled and at the end of the season they were relegated. I am sure that we could have done better if they trusted us and our job.”
Ravanelli, incidentally, was a team-mate of Conte’s at Juve and would be surprised if the Chelsea boss was not inspired by the same coaches as he was as a player.
“I can only answer for myself, but I think that for Antonio it was the same, I learnt so much from Lippi, Trapattoni and Sacchi, maestros of football who would be able to make the difference even in the ‘modern’ game. After all, they were pioneers at their times.
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“Antonio is really special, I think that there is not another coach with the same appeal on the team, someone able to drag his players to win.
“He took a Chelsea team which did very bad in the previous season and with the same players he won the Premier in his first year. Amazing. I think it could be able to achieve everything in his career.
“I don’t know if Chelsea is going to win the next Champions League, but I am pretty sure they’ll reach at least the semi-final, because Antonio makes the difference.”
A final word for English football fans? “As I said before, I really miss the English football atmosphere and I hope to come back to live those emotions again.”
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