STEFANO TACCONI: UNDERRATED BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

Looking back over the 118 year history of Juventus, Italian football’s grand Old Lady has had more than her fair share of leading men. Alessandro Del Piero recently left Turin as the club’s all-time leading goal scorer and appearance maker, with Carlos Tevez taking over a number ten shirt that was previously worn with such distinction by men like Michel Platini and Roberto Baggio, the Argentinean currently writing his own chapter in the club’s long and storied history. Before those three greats donned the famous black and white stripes, Gaetano Scirea was the symbol of the Bianconeri, gracefully leading the team with impeccable timing and grace during a trophy-laden decade.

The elegant defender inherited the captain’s armband from the tireless Beppe Furino, a rugged midfielder who embodied the club’s never say die attitude, rather than the famous ‘Stile Juve’ his team-mate came to represent. Going back further still, home-town hero Giampiero Boniperti held many of the records since broken by Del Piero, carrying the side until Omar Sivori and John Charles – arguably British football’s greatest export – were brought in to help him in the post-war era.

La Madama can even boast some of the world’s finest ever goalkeepers, beginning with Turin native Gianpiero Combi, who led her to five consecutive league titles in the 1930’s and delivered Italy’s first World Cup win. Dino Zoff would famously do the same almost fifty years later, followed by current number one Gigi Buffon in 2006. Angelo Peruzzi, Edwin van der Sar and Lucidio Sentimenti are among the other greats to step between the posts for Juventus, but there is one man who is often overlooked when scanning the club’s pantheon of legends.

When Zoff called time on his illustrious career in 1983, few expected that 25 year old Stefano Tacconi could go on to surpass what the Azzurri legend had achieved at club level, arriving from Avellino after spells with Pro Patria, Livorno and Sambenedettese. Yet the former Inter youth product would do just that, proving to be the perfect replacement for his iconic predecessor, instantly settling in behind one of the peninsula’s finest ever defences.

With Scirea joined by the likes of Sergio Brio, Antonio Cabrini and Claudio Gentile, playing in goal for Giovanni Trapattoni’s all-conquering side was often a thankless task, long periods of inactivity followed by brief moments in which he was expected to always excel. That pressure can prove too overbearing for many, but Tacconi quickly proved he belonged in such illustrious company, his talent shining through as he won over the expectant supporters almost instantly thanks in part to his extrovert character.

Standing 6’ 2 (1.88m), and supremely athletic – particularly for the era in which he played – Tacconi cut an imposing figure for opposing strikers, often panicking them into making mistakes which then allowed him to make comfortable saves. He would concede 29 goals in his first season, winning the Scudetto, but it would be in European action where he truly made the difference, starting a trend that would continue throughout his time with the club.

Thanks to their Coppa Italia win in the previous campaign, the Bianconeri took part in the Cup Winners’ Cup in the 1983-84 season, and Tacconi would keep four clean sheets en route to the final where they faced Porto. Goals from Beniamino Vignola and Zibi Boniek saw them lift the trophy, and they would follow it up with a European Super Cup victory over a Liverpool side that was routinely beating every team they faced at that time. Tacconi was able to keep the Anfield giants at bay while Boniek continued to build upon his own reputation for impressing in big games with both goals in a comprehensive 2-0 victory.

The clubs would meet again in tragic circumstances at the end of that same season, the chilling scenes at Heysel Stadium completely overshadowing the 1985 European Cup Final forever. There was no glory in Juve’s eventual win, no honour in lifting the blood-stained trophy despite the club’s long and difficult pursuit of it over the previous decade.

It was with heavy hearts that the 1985-86 season began, but slowly Juventus began to re-exert themselves, going on to dominate their domestic opponents once again as they marched to the league title. Conceding just seventeen goals throughout the entire campaign, Tacconi continued to showcase his ability, and fittingly it would be in the 1985 Intercontinental Cup where he would be thrust firmly into the spotlight.

Having lost their defining moment in Heysel, Trapattoni and his team came to view the competition as their chance to prove their quality, coming up against a tough Argentinos Juniors side that would thoroughly test the resolve of the European champions. Landing in Tokyo, the Bianconeri were shocked by the state of the pitch at the National Olympic Stadium in Kasumigaoka and their experienced coach was convinced the poor surface would help their South American opponents.

Carlos Ereos would embarrass Tacconi with a wonderful lob that left the goalkeeper flat-footed, but his blushes were spared by Platini and Michael Laudrup, with their goals ensuring the game went to extra time. Both teams instantly sat back and played with a caution that had been absent in the previous ninety minutes, and a penalty shootout became inevitable.

After Cabrini – who had missed from the spot in the 1982 World Cup Final – handed his side a 2-1 advantage, Tacconi would step between the posts against future coach of the Argentinean national side Sergio Batista. The ‘keeper would guess the right way to dive, parrying the shot and putting Juve firmly in the driving seat, following up with another stop from José Luis Pavoni and setting the stage for Platini to coolly slot home the winning kick.

Juventus and Tacconi had their defining moment, a fact not lost on the player himself as he reflected on his career years later with La Gazzetta dello Sport. “We have won a lot,” he told them, “but the most beautiful memory is winning the Intercontinental Cup and being the main protagonist.” His role would become even more important as time went on, as one by one his team-mates retired or moved on, with even Trapattoni departing for Inter.

Eventually becoming captain of the club, history would turn full circle as Zoff arrived as coach, guiding the club to a Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup double in 1990, meaning the man who replaced him became the only goalkeeper to lift every available European trophy. His time with the club would end in 1992, spending some time at Genoa before retiring two years later, but he will always be remembered for his stint at Juventus.

He may not be the biggest star the club has ever had, but for nine trophy-laden years and some 377 games, he was the first name on the team sheet at Italy’s leading club and gave supporters so many memories to treasure. For that Stefano Tacconi should never be forgotten.

Written by my good friend, Adam Digby. A must follow him on Twitter @Adz77

Author of ‘Juventus: A History in Black & White’