Having selected what I believe to be the 10 coolest shirts of the 1990s, here are 10 teams from the decade I just can’t help but reminisce about.
This list was originally intended to include international teams and club sides, with Croatia 1998, Cameroon 1990 and Bulgaria 1994 all likely certs.
Then I started thinking about club teams, and had a long list. And then I asked Twitter for its suggestions, and I had a list as long as four or five arms. Here are the results:
Quite honestly the inspiration for the list. Whenever one of the banter accounts tries to manufacture interest or knowledge in football from a time before they were even walking, this is the team that gets referenced. And with good reason.
Parma would come oh so close to lifting the Scudetto, finishing second under Carlo Ancelotti in 1996-97, but it is the team that lifted the UEFA Cup in 1999 under Alberto Malesani that truly makes you tingle, before the financial and sporting decline came.
Their matchday squad for the final against Marseille contained Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram, Roberto Sensini, Fabio Cannavaro, Dino Baggio, Juan Sebastian Veron, Hernan Crespo, Enrico Chiesa, Faustino Asprilla and Abel Balbo.
It was like somebody had collected all the best bits of Football Italia and condensed them into one team to mark the end of the decade.
There are cases to be made for Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang, Chelsea’s league of nations under Gianluca Vialli, Sheffield Wednesday 1991-93 and others too, but the only English team in the 90s that truly earned our hearts – well, mine anyway – was Newcastle United under Kevin Keegan, English football’s tragicomic king.
There is something hugely endearing about a likeable team that falls just short of glory. We think of Les Ferdinand’s leaps, we think of David Ginola’s hair, we think of Keggy slumped over the advertising hoardings, and we think of Tino Asprilla’s incredible legs.
But most of all we think of Philippe Albert chipping Peter Schmeichel, and daring to believe that Manchester United were infallible.
Football isn’t always about the good guys vs the bad guys, and there was plenty to love about that Manchester United team, but for a few months we were all Newcastle. And life let us down, just like it always does.
It’s not often that you watch a side and know that they will go on to achieve greatness. Hindsight tends to add more certainty than was present at the time, which was definitely the case with me watching Parma in 1998-99.
Yet with Ajax’s Champions League final team in 1995, we knew.
Managed by Louis van Gaal, Ajax won their 25th Dutch title without losing a match. They won 12 of their last 13 league games, scoring 50 times in the process, but their best performances were saved for Europe.
Milan were beaten 2-0 home and away in the group stage before Hajduk Split and Bayern Munich were both beaten by three clear goals in Amsterdam after 0-0 first leg draws. That set up the final against a Milan team looking for revenge after not conceding a goal in the knockout stages.
It was the youth of Ajax’s team which was so remarkable. Danny Blind and Frank Rijkaard were the old heads in central defence, but Edgar Davids, Mark Overmars and Michael Reiziger were 22, Patrick Kluivert and Clarence Seedorf 19 and Nwankwo Kanu 18.
Eight of the squad would go on to play for Barcelona, thanks to both to the pathways created by Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff, and Van Gaal’s move to the Camp Nou.
Sampdoria were never likely to retain the Serie A title they had won so surprisingly under Vujadin Boškov.
Milan were too strong in Fabio Capello’s first season in charge and with Marco van Basten fit, while Juventus had Roberto Baggio and Napoli a partnership of Careca and Gianfranco Zola. Samp eventually finished closer in points to the relegation zone than Milan at first place.
Yet in a watered down version of Leicester City 2016-17 (but my that is an unfair description), Sampdoria focused their energy into a memorable European Cup campaign in the last season before the Champions League re-brand.
They beat Rosenborg and Budapest Honved in the first and second rounds before a group stage to decide the two finalists.
There would be no glory. Ronald Koeman’s extra-time free-kick at Wembley ended the Sampdoria dream, but they made plenty of friends along the way.
Roberto Mancini, Attilio Lombardo, Gianluca Vialli and Ivano Bonetti would become players and managers in British football, while the great Gianluca Pagliuca – already 26 by then – would continue playing professionally until 2007.
The kit was sensational. The results were wonderful as they won their third of four consecutive Ligue 1 titles and reached the Champions League final. But the squad…the squad was something else.
In truth, despite the European Cup final appearance in May 1991, it is the first half of that season that Marseille were at their most ‘cult’.
It was then that Eric Cantona was in favour before falling out with Raymond Goethals and being sold to Nimes. It was then that Franz Beckenbauer was briefly in charge before leaving for Goethals to replace him.
More importantly, Chris Waddle was performing more flicks and backheels than conventional passes, while Jean-Pierre Papin and Abedi Pele were wonderful foils and Basile Boli was the man you wanted in central defence.
Papin would go on to win the Ballon d’Or that year, while the rest of us would fantasise about that kit for the next 25.
There’s nothing more that I can say other than to implore you to watch the video above:
Batistuta, Trapattoni, Toldo, Rui Costa, Amor, Edmundo, Oliveira, Nintendo. My favourite moment is the Batigol free-kick from seven yards out against Milan, but I’ll let you find your own.
A very personal one for me this, but only because of entire weeks playing Championship Manager 2 as a nine-year-old after school, lying under the bed covers thinking of formations and ways in which my Rangers team was going to win the league.
Far be it from me to tell any supporter the timing of their club’s best season, but it must be hard to beat 1995-96 for Rangers. Not only did they win their eighth consecutive Scottish title, completed their first double for three years and knocked Celtic out of both cup competitions, their team was a dream.
This was Scottish football at its strongest and most relevant, with Paul Gascoigne back from Lazio and loving his football and life, and Brian Laudrup doing things that only a Laudrup could do.
There was space too for the old favourites in Mark Hateley, Ally McCoist, Gordon Durie and Richard Gough. There was Euro 96 in England to look forward too.
But mainly tactics and formations under torchlight.
There is no exact measure I can give you, but I think I can tell you the three goals I think about more than any other.
The first is my Nottingham Forest goal, Marlon King’s late winner against West Ham in the first match after Brian Clough’s death, when I thought fate had taken over.
My England goal is David Beckham vs Greece for reasons so obvious they don’t need repeating.
My ‘neutral’ goal is Ronaldo, for Inter against Lazio in the UEFA Cup final.
You know the one. Ronaldo is sent through on goal against Luca Marchegiani, and confuses the goalkeeper at least twice with his shimmies, despite not even moving the ball. He has broken his opponent not with his skill, but with the fear of his skill. That is real talent.
Inter would walk into this list for that goal alone, but Ronaldo has backup should it be needed. The team that started the UEFA Cup final contained Pagliuca, Javier Zanetti, Aron Winter, Diego Simeone, Youri Djorkaeff and Ivan Zamorano. When Alvaro Recoba can’t even get off the bench, you know you’ve got a cult team.
Monaco may never have been likely winners of the 1997-98 Champions League, but they were certainly the entertainers.
With Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet both aged 20 and Ludovic Giuly supplying the passes, a largely homegrown, academy-developed team scored 15 goals in six group games before knocking out Manchester United in the quarter-finals, much to the consternation of Old Trafford.
It would not last, and an Alessandro Del Piero hat-trick saw Monaco bow out 6-4 in the semi-finals, but they had made their mark.
Nine of that squad went on to play in the Premier League, from the extraordinarily successful (Henry) to the awful (Franck Dumas), while Trezeguet and Giuly went on to have pretty successful spells in Italy and Spain.
Such was the hype around Red Star’s young players in the approach to the 1991 European Cup final, the club set up base 30 miles away from Bari six days before the game, separated them from families, and stopped them making and receiving calls.
It was clear that many were set for fame and greater fortune, but nothing should hamper their preparation for the biggest game of their lives.
Red Star’s approach to the final became legendary, parking the bus before a particular way of winning was deigned to be better than any other. The final would eventually go to penalties, where Red Star converted all five to win their first major European trophy.
The names in that youthful side now roll off the tongue: Vladimir Jugovic, Robert Prosinecki, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Darko Pancev and Dejan Savicevic.
Their departures, combined with war in Yugoslavia, would ensure a quick end to their wonderful sporting story.