2001/02; a time when Italian football was coming towards the tail end of its peak as the greatest league in the World, a season that went right to the wire and saw the famous ‘Golaço’ have its last intro on British terrestrial TV. A season that saw controversy, bankruptcy, an overachieving underdog and some of the biggest names in World football; in a year when Zinedine Zidane left Juventus for Real Madrid, the Serie A was still full of excitement.
With the emergence of Roma as one of the big clubs following their Scudetto triumph, the Serie A possessed some huge teams in a potential 5 teams that all had a chance of winning the title this time around; Roma, the champions, Juventus, Lazio, Inter and AC Milan.
Roma maintained their strong squad from the previous title winning season, with the likes of Antonio Cassano and Daniele De Rossi given the opportunity to come into the side. King Totti was at his best, leading the side full of stars, Montella, Batigol, Samuel and Cafu just to name a few. With other sides around them strengthening their squads, Cappello’s men had a tough task ahead.
Following Zidane’s’ World record transfer move the Spanish giants Real Madrid, Juventus needed to strengthen; Marcelo Lippi turned to Czech wonder Pavel Nedvěd, as well as strengthening with French star Lilian Thuram and spent big on a young goalkeeper by the name of Gianluigi Buffon. The Old Lady meant business as they were in search of title number 26.
Lazio, under the realms of Alberto Zaccheroni following Sven’s departure for England, were also looking pretty good. With the additions of Jaap Stam, Darko Kovacevic and Stefano Fiore to the current squad of Simeone, Nesta and Crespo, the Biancazzurri wanted the title to stay in Rome, but not in the hands of the enemy.
Inter strengthened with Francesco Toldo and powered with the likes of Christian Vieri and Ronaldo; Inter had every opportunity of claiming their first scudetto since 1989. Their city rivals on the other hand opted for the talented Rui Costa and poacher Filippo ‘Pippo’ Inzaghi to partner Andriy Shevchenko.
With Lazio and AC Milan underperforming and the later preferring to axe manager Fatih Terim and replace him with legendary ex-player Carlo Ancelotti; they were unable to push for the title, the best they could hope for was the all-important 4th place; that left Juventus, Roma and Inter in a 3 horse race for the scudetto crown.
With 1 game left to play and Inter in the driving seat this is how the table looked:
1st Inter 69
2nd Juventus 68
3rd Roma 67
Inter were almost there but were in need of a win to confirm their first scudetto since 1989; one problem that stood in their way, they were away to Lazio. Juventus needed a favour from Lazio but also needed to overturn a tough Udinese side in Udine, not an easy place to go. Roma, the dark horse in this race, were also on an away trip to Juve’s local rivals Torino, who were mathematically safe from relegation to Serie B. They needed favours from Udinese and their bitter enemy Lazio, could it happen? The title race was fully on and went right to the wire; an exciting end of season finale was upon us.
GOAL!! JUVENTUS – David Trezeguet heads Juve into the lead after 2 minutes, Juve go top.
GOAL!! INTER – Christian Vieri puts Inter ahead in Rome on 12 minutes, Inter go back top.
GOAL!! JUVENTUS – Club legend Alessandro Del Piero puts the Old Lady 2 up on 15 minutes, but Juve stay 2nd.
GOAL!! LAZIO – Ex-Manchester United winger, Karel Poborsky levels things up for Lazio, Juve go back to the top.
GOAL!! INTER – Another twist it the title race as Luigi Di Biaggio puts Inter back into the lead on 25 minutes, Inter go back top.
GOAL!! LAZIO –Poborsky does it again, a poor header back to goal and Poborsky levels up just before half time, Juve go back to the top.
GOAL!! LAZIO – Things go from bad to worse for Inter as Diego Simeone heads Lazio into the lead on 56 minutes, Juve stay top.
GOAL!! ROMA– Antonio Cassano puts Roma ahead at Torino on 68 minutes, with just over 20 left to play, Roma are now hoping Udinese can pull off a comeback as they move up to 2nd.
GOAL!! LAZIO – Simone Inzaghi heads in Lazio’s 4th and crush Inters dreams, Ronaldo is subbed off and shows his emotion watching his team and chance of the title crumble away.
FULL TIME!! JUVENTUS ARE CHAMPIONS!!
1st Juventus 71
2nd AS Roma 70
3rd Internazionale 69
Final match day twist and turns played out and Inters grasp on the title evaporated in a 2nd half crumble. The pressure of being pulled back just before half time and finding out that Juve were ahead was too much for the Nerazzurri. Not even former FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldo could find a way to clinch the title. To go into the game with one hand on the title and to come away with 3rd place was too much to take for Inter, heartbreak for the fans and the following World Cup saw Ronaldo take stage and transfer to Real Madrid.
Inter missed out during this iconic era and were consequently haunted with the despair of the final day collapse, not winning the title again until the Calciopoli scandal, where they then went to dominate Italian football with 5 successive championships and a Champions League. Since then they have been in the shadows of the returning Juventus who have left the rest of the Serie A behind them as the dominate Italian football, Inter on the other hand failed to follow the ambition and a success of poor management appointments and signings have seen the Nerazzurri fail to even make a European place in the last few years.
This was the last year of the golden era of football Italia, with sides needing to sell their best players as other leagues splashed their cash. Too many big name players left Serie A and the nostalgia that surrounded the game evaporated like Inter’s title hopes. Italian football will always produce quality and entertaining football and with the recent strengthening of Roma, Napoli and Lazio, there have been signs that Serie A is on its way back as being one of the most competitive and exciting leagues in the World. Will it ever reach the heights of the Football Italian era? Who knows, but the quality of football is definitely on the rise.