Ronaldo had become the world’s most expensive player when he signed for Inter from Barcelona and Roberto Baggio was trying to resurrect his career at Bologna. When they met in September 1997, the match became an instant classic.
The 1997-98 Serie A season promised much for the Nerazzurri as they changed coaches and brought in Ronaldo from Barcelona in a bid to boost their title chances. In their second game of the season they faced Bologna at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara. The match would turn out to be a classic and it would not all be focused around the Brazilian.
Inter dismissed Roy Hodgson towards the end of the 1996-97 season and replaced him with Luigi Simoni. The club invested heavily in the summer, especially in Ronaldo, who cost a world record fee of £19.5m. Their squad included the Italy goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca, a young Javier Zanetti, the veteran Giuseppe Bergomi, Youri Djorkaeff, Diego Simeone, Ivan Zamorano and Alvaro Recoba. A title challenge was on.
The season started with a 2-1 win against Brescia and the next game against Bologna was seen as a formality even though they had recruited Roberto Baggio, who had moved from AC Milan to resuscitate his career and earn a place in the national team for the 1998 World Cup.
The game started well for Inter as Fabio Galante headed in a corner for the away team in the early stages. A packed Stadio Renato was stunned; it fell even quieter as Maurizio Ganz pounced on a through ball and slotted it past goalkeeper Francesco Antonioli on 38 minutes. It was cruel on Bologna, as they had peppered Inter’s goal after going one-nil down but the heroics of Pagliuca had kept it level.
Just before the break, Bologna were awarded a free-kick. Up stepped Baggio, who curled a sublime shot over the wall giving Pagliuca no chance. It was no more than Bologna deserved and set up an enthralling second half.
When the game kicked off for the next 45, the pace was electric and Inter’s goal was under threat again. Then, against the run of play, Ronaldo received the ball on the edge of the box and, with some superb footwork, dragged it past two of defenders and put himself level with the keeper. He smashed the ball home and Inter led 3-1.
Bologna were not dead yet and their persistence paid off when Taribo West gave away a poor penalty six minutes later. Baggio slotted it home, sending his international team-mate the wrong way in the process.
The goal of the game came on 66 minutes and it fell to Inter. A quick counterattacking move caught out the now seriously offensive Bologna side and, when Djorkaeff got hold of the ball 25 yards out, the home side were in trouble.
The Frenchman looked up to see Antonioli off his line, before delicately chipping the ball over him. It was the work of a master craftsman. The game had been a sign of the power of Serie A and a sign of the quality of games it produced.
Inter went on to have a successful season, finishing second in the league behind Juventus and beating Lazio in the Uefa Cup final. Ronaldo scored 35 goals in all competitions and justified his price tag. Baggio also had a fantastic season with Bologna, so much so that he signed for Inter the very next year.