The 1996/97 season was a roller-coaster of a ride for all Middlesbrough supporters. They had 3 points deducted for failing to fulfil a fixture against Blackburn Rovers. They were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the season – the infamous deduction of 3 points making the difference and condemning the Boro to relegation. The club also played in both domestic cup finals, unfortunately losing both although they managed to take the League Cup Final to a replay.
However, it was also the season of a world class team. Three players in particular stood out from the rest. The tricky Brazilian Juninho, Emerson, a tough tackling Brazilian midfielder, and one world class Italian striker signed from Juventus for 7 million pounds.
His name was Fabrizio Ravanelli.
Ravanelli was a major coup for Middlesbrough. Here was a striker who had been playing for Juventus for the past four years, scoring 41 goals in 111 appearances. In his time in Turin he had won one Serie A title, one Coppa Italia, one Supercoppa Italiana, one Champions League and one UEFA Cup. He was also an Italian international and you had to wonder what persuaded him to swap the delights of Turin for North Yorkshire. But swap he did, and Ravanelli found himself the darling of the Boro supporters. Perhaps being the Premier League highest paid footballer softened the blow of what he was leaving behind.
The season kicked off with Middlesbrough facing Liverpool. Fabrizio Ravanelli, nicknamed the “White Feather” due to his white hair, took his place on the field ready for his first match in the colours of Middlesbrough. If ever there was a way to announce your arrival at a club, then his debut was the way to do it. Liverpool scored first to take the lead only for Ravanelli to score from the spot to draw Boro level. Each time Liverpool retook the lead, Ravanelli would reply and the game finished an entertaining 3-3 draw. Ravenelli had a hat-trick on debut, his arrival very much announced.
The next 13 games continued to be up and down for the club but Ravanelli kept on scoring, adding a further 6 goals. Then came the dreaded month of December. Middlesbrough decided not to fulfil their fixture against Blackburn Rovers due to 23 players absent with injury or illness. Unfortunately, the Premier League were not sympathetic and deducted the club 3 points. The three points taken away would lead to Middlesbrough being relegated at the end of the season.
Ravanelli had failed to score for a month and a half but finally ended his mini drought in the middle of January, scoring in the 4-2 win against Sheffield Wednesday. Then, in early March against Derby County, Ravanelli scored his second hat-trick of the season as the Boro ran out 6-1 winners. He went on to score a further 4 goals, scoring 16 in total during his first league sea-son in England. It was not enough to save the club from dropping out of the top division.
It was in the domestic cups that the “White Feather” excelled. Ravanelli scored 6 goals in their FA Cup run which ended in defeat to Chelsea in the final. He also managed to score 9 in the League Cup, including one in the final against Leicester City. The first final ended all square, leading to a replay which Middlesbrough eventually lost 1-0 after extra time.
The Italian had made his mark and finished the season on 31 goals in all competitions. This is still considered a remarkable feat for a team who had been relegated.
Ravanelli had a somewhat mixed relationship with the Boro supporters, not helped by Fabrizio’s constant complaints and criticism of the clubs training and facilities as well as the town itself. But, deep down, the fans enjoyed his performances. They liked his no nonsense approach, the strength in his hold up play and the power with which he could strike the ball, the ball more often than not ending up in the back of the net. But because of his constant moaning, his spats on the training ground and his criticism of the English game, Middlesbrough supporters could never quite take him into their hearts in the way the loved Juninho. Ravanelli left Middlesbrough after that solitary season, joining the French giants Marseille.
Ravanelli has recently been quoted in the press, stating how much he would love to manage the Boro and how much the club, the fans and Steve Gibson deserve success. There seems be unfinished business for Fabrizio Ravanelli and the Boro given the tone in which he spoke and maybe one day the fans will get the chance to fall in love with the “White Feather” a second time around.