‘Still burning’ – Maradona’s match that led to the creation of the Champions League

'Still burning' - Maradona's match that led to the creation of the Champions League

When the Super League starts in 2021, the chairman of the organization, Florentino Perez, as well as the president of Real Madrid and other founders, do not intend to invite Napoli.

Aurelio De Laurentiis, owner of the reigning Italian champion, said he would not have joined at all. And in classic opportunistic fashion, he used it for his own political gain.

At the time, Serie A was in talks with private equity firm CVC to set up a media company to better sell its TV rights around the world. De Laurentiis objected to this. He thought it was a bad idea to give away a percentage of future earnings in return for a quick cash injection needed by the financial damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – “to the hungry crumb”. “I said you borrowed it.”

So Andrea Agnelli, the then chairman of Juventus and the European Club Association (ECA), played with Perez’s desire to start a Super League to break the CVC contract.

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Signing up for it would have meant accepting the anti-Super League clause, which would have jeopardized the value of the rights that CVC would have to raise in neighboring competition. De Laurentiis said: “I used Agnelli because if the fund bought him into the league, he wouldn’t be able to join the Super League. That’s why he lined up against them.

Perez was pursued in Spain but, unlike De Laurentiis, he was unable to stop CVC and LaLiga coming to a similar deal. At the expected lunch before Napoli host Real Madrid in the Champions League tonight (Tuesday), one would expect the future of football to be the topic of conversation.

While Perez and De Laurentiis disagree on the Super League, they share the belief that these septuagenarian disruptors can manage European football better than UEFA.

Perez insisted that the Super League “saves everyone, saves football” because it triples or quadruples club income and re-engages the next generation of fans, who are losing interest. De Laurentiis offered his own Champions League option on the grounds that “UEFA spending €800m is a mistake and we don’t know what they’re going to do.” “Let’s put €10 billion on the table and have a Europa League where six teams from the top five leagues and another minor league play once.

These half-baked talks have led UEFA to move towards reforming and expanding the Champions League from next season, and it’s not the first time Napoli and Real Madrid have influenced major changes.

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Ramon Mendoza, one of Perez’s predecessors, was not a fan of UEFA either. In the year In the autumn of 1987, Juanito criticized the governing body’s “crazy decision” to ban fans from the Bernabeu for Madrid’s first leg match against Napoli as a penalty for kicking against Bayern. Munich midfielder Lotter Matthäus’ jaw in last season’s semi-final, a Clockwork Orange-esque act of aggression, resulted in a five-year ban from UEFA competition for the Spanish striker.

Napoli’s competition was slightly smaller than the UFC. Striker Salvatore Bagni said punches and other things were thrown as Madrid players called him and his team-mates “mafiosi”. The visitors’ back-up goalkeeper Luciano Castellini lost his cool and threw an ice bag at Madrid coach Leo Binhacker, which missed and hit a photographer in a 2-0 home win against ‘La partita degli insulti’ – the hate match.

“We will eat you alive,” Diego Maradona must have raised a wry smile among the Spanish press when he told his teammates two weeks later at the stadium that bears his name. The anonymous showman carried “too many kilos” on Barnabas, leaving him in a “shameful” “physical state”.

Bagni also wished to avenge that defeat and “kicks and punches (Madrid players) Michel and Martin Vazquez gave me in the dressing room”.

Rotten eggs were thrown as the coach carrying the Madrid team left the airport for Castelmare di Stabia and the visitors took refuge on the coast south of hostile Naples.

The following night, in front of a packed crowd, Napoli tried to come back by surrounding the Madrid goal. “They cornered little Napoli, the Italian champions for the first time,” Bagni recalled. “They were helpless on their knees for a long time.”

The turnaround was in their hands when Giovanni Francini opened the scoring on nine minutes. Madrid were flying by the seat of their pants. “In the true sense of the word,” Bagni said. Because (Madrid goalkeeper Paco) Buyo saved Kereka’s shot at the back and our breathless commotion on the way back ended and when we went back, (Emilio) Butragueno scored (an offside goal).

The result, according to Francini, “still burns” after all these years.

Napoli was one and one, just like they were in the UAF Cup last year when the holy water rose in Lourdes on the way to the nearby French city of Toulouse and then rubbed in the feet of the players, Bagni and Maradona did not stop losing. Penalties in the shootout decided the first round.

TV magnate Silvio Berlusconi thought the format was a “historical anachronism”. One of the best teams – and Maradona, for that matter, the best player in the world – has played down the threat of exiting European competition.

And just a month after Napoli were knocked out of the European Cup in Madrid, Barcelona’s second club Espanyol will enjoy the feeling as hosts AC Milan beat Arrigo Sacchi’s troubled Pioneers 2-0. Cup

Berlusconi told the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera that “he will win the impossible in European competitions.” “We should turn them into a continental league with management and income guarantees for the clubs.”

As he sees it: “We always go to Madrid, Barcelona and Lisbon, not some remote provincial village. Clubs that attract large audiences and generate revenue must compete with each other. The need for 18-team Serie A football is also contested. What kind of mentality will the provincial side come to San Siro? They are hoping for a 0-0 draw.”

The language of 1988 echoes that of Perez and Agnelli in 2021 and reminds us that Berlusconi was a visionary not only in populism but also in using television and football as political vehicles to build a base of voters and create a symbol of victory. He recognized the business potential in the game.

Berlusconi came to the football industry, which is still described as a sport rather than a sport, from the world of entertainment. The tycoon, nicknamed His Eminence because of the number of satellite dishes created in Italy, has nationalized local television networks, in part by buying the rights to tournaments such as the Mundialito – a tournament celebrating its 50th anniversary. Uruguay’s first World Cup victory involving all previous winners (except England, who declined the invitation as the game was to be played at Christmas 1980-81).

Berlusconi later turned the international affair to Milan, which three times (1981, 1983 and 1987) staged a club competition involving Italy’s Big Three and the inconsistent South American best (Flamengo, Santos, Penarol) and the European Who Conquered Europe. Cup (eg Porto in 1987). In many ways, it all foreshadowed the Club World Cup that current FIFA president Gianni Infantino is restarting.

This rule-bending effort to break the Italian state broadcaster RAI’s monopoly and use live sport to make Serie A rich with curves and dirt, and the league’s golden years in 1968. In the mid-2000s.

Suddenly, Italian teams, including Berlusconi’s, stopped being knocked out in the first and second rounds and started winning UEFA competitions. But Milan lifting the European Cup in consecutive seasons (1988-89 and 1989-90) did not change Berlusconi’s opinion that the show would be better and more profitable. Umberto Gandini, one of Milan’s executives at the time, recalled: “In 1988, Berlusconi, who had a good relationship with Mendoza (Real Madrid), was already talking about the Maxi race.”

The title of the work was the European Television League. Advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi was drafted in to the project and when word got out, the UAF was forced to make a deal to ensure the European Cup remained the pinnacle of the continent’s club game.

It all sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

“The Champions League (1992-) 1993 was the result,” says Gandini, Milan’s foreign minister and later to play a major role in the ECA. The concept of a group stage was introduced, the competition expanded, more games meant more money could be paid to broadcasters and suddenly finishing in the top four domestic leagues became necessary.

Partly inspired by Napoli-Real Madrid and his own team bowing out ahead of a merciless straight goal competition in the space of a month, Berlusconi envisions the game as it is today, not to mention its place in the media, sports and entertainment arenas.

The Super League threat that emerged two and a half years ago led to the most radical format change in three decades. From next season, 36 teams will compete in one Champions League group (a change from the current 32 with eight teams), drawn against eight different opponents (from the current six first-round games – home). and away from home against three team rivals).

But in the year The 1992 change didn’t stop other Super League projects in the short term, with nicknames including Parsifal (part of the Arthurian legend of the quest for the Holy Grail) and Gandalf (there’s a theme here) from being discussed. Regardless, the 2021 shenanigans are unlikely to be over, with Juventus following the Premier League clubs late and starting the process of exiting the Super League.

FIFA and Uefa are still awaiting a ruling from the European Court of Justice on whether Perez and others broke the law when they vowed to expel the rogue dozen Super Leagues from their competition.

Meanwhile, the gap between the Premier League and the rest of European football continues to widen and if English clubs earn more than their continental counterparts, the Champions League will weaken the competitive balance over time. .

Adriano Galliani, the late Berlusconi’s right-hand man, said this time last year: “The Super League already exists.” “It’s the Premier League.”

To attract more value and compete with the Premier League “if there is no Englishman” – he explained – “there must be a Brexit in football too”. “Do you think the English will leave the Super League in April 2021 because the fans are against it? come on! It’s because you don’t leave a financial situation like this. And Galliani said, “Who will make the British give up their 4 billion euros a year?” he said.

It’s something for Perez and De Laurentiis to look up to at that lunch tomorrow.

That and Napoli vs Madrid in the Champions League.

(Top photo: Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)