Italians in Spain (Part 3) – The man who played for nothing: Marco Lanna

A night to remember, a night to forget

The 1992 European Cup Final at Wembley was a bittersweet occasion for Marco Lanna. While the game would ultimately represent the pinnacle of his career, it also brought immense heartache to the Italian defender and his Sampdoria teammates.Despite having won the Cup Winners Cup two years before, the Italian champions were seen as surprise finalists and were up against the rising force of Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona. The game was a tense affair, and with both teams unable to find a breakthrough during the regulation 90 minutes, extra time was required.

With just 10 minutes of the added period remaining and the scores level at 0-0, the Spanish side were awarded an indirect free kick about 25 yards from the goal in a central position. Once the Italian wall was in place, Hristo Stoichkov rolled the ball to José Mari Bakero, who stopped it dead as Ronald Koeman came charging forwards. The orange-clad Dutchman skilfully powered the ball beyond the wall and past the outstretched fingers of Samp keeper Gianluca Pagliuca, to secure a first-ever European Cup for the Catalan side.

The pride of Genoa

Despite losing the game, Vujadin Boškov’s Sampdoria won the respect and admiration of fans from all over the world. The upstarts from Genoa, had emerged from the shadows and enjoyed a brief but memorable period in the European football spotlight under the guidance of owner Paolo Mantovani.

Some players, such as Gianluca Vialli, Attilio Lombardo, Gianluca Pagliuca and Roberto Mancini, went on to become household names and enjoyed illustrious careers at other clubs. While others, such as Pietro Vierchowod and Toninho Cerezo were coming to the end of their already successful careers.

Marco Lanna was still only 23-years-old, but had firmly established himself in the centre of the Sampdoria defence alongside the experienced Vierchowod. Having already won a league title, two Italian Cups, an Italian Super Cup and a Cup Winners Cup in his four seasons with the Blucerchiati, it appeared that Lanna was destined for a trophy-laden career.

All roads lead to Rome

The youngster was already highly-regarded in Italy; however, the European Cup campaign gave his stock a further boost, and just a year after his Wembley appearance, he earned a big money move to Roma (€5m).

The Genoa-born defender enjoyed a four-season spell in the capital but failed to pick up any further silverware. Unfortunately, his most memorable moment in a Roma shirt came in the Derby del Campidoglio (Rome Derby) game at Lazio in February 1996.

With just five minutes remaining and the game still goalless, Lanna was deemed to have deliberately handled the ball in the penalty area. The referee awarded a spot-kick, which was subsequently converted by Giuseppe Signori, and Lazio held on for the win. The incident earned Lanna the unfortunate nickname Agguanta la Palla (Grab the ball).

The Spanish gamble

With his reputation at Roma fading, Lanna took the bold decision to accept an offer from Spanish side UD Salamanca. After a spell in the wilderness during the late 80s and early 90s, the team from the Castile and León region had recently returned to La Liga and were looking for defensive reinforcements.

Lanna was brought in to play at centre-back alongside Sergio Corino, who had just arrived on loan from Athletic Club, while Loren Morón and club favourite Sito made up the rest of the rearguard.

Former Athletic Bilbao player Txetxu Rojo was recruited to take charge of a team that included the likes of Portuguese internationals Pauleta and César Brito, Romanian goalkeeper Bogdan and Brazilian midfielder Everton Giovanella.

Giant killers

The 1997-98 season turned out to be one of the most remarkable campaigns in the history of UD Salamanca. The club soon earned the reputation of being a matagigante (giant killer) by securing home wins against Atletico Madrid (5-4), Barcelona (4-3) and Deportivo La Coruna (4-1). The Italian even lived up to his nickname by scoring a goal with his hand in a 6-0 demolition of Valencia. However, Salamanca saved their best performance for the last day of the season.

When the final Match Day arrived, Salamanca were in 15th place just one point above the relegation play-off zone. And while their rivals, Compostela and Tenerife, both had home fixtures to look forward to, Lanna and his teammates were facing a trip to the Camp Nou to take on league champions Barcelona.

Undaunted, Txetxu Rojo reminded the press that his team had already beaten the Spanish giants 4-3 at the Helmántico stadium earlier in the season. In addition, Barcelona held a 12 point advantage over second-ranked Athletic Club and already had one eye on the Cava.

The game kicked off late in the evening on Friday 15 May, 1998 in front of a packed Camp Nou stadium. After 18 minutes, the visitors took a surprise lead when the hosts failed to deal with a cross from the left and Walter Silvani was able to tap the ball home from five yards out.

Rather than sit on their narrow advantage, Salamanca started the second half on the front foot and they soon added a second on 52 minutes through Pauleta. The Portuguese striker added another three minutes later before César Brito made it 0-4 with 18 minutes to go. By the time Jofre scored a late consolation goal for Barcelona, the game was well and truly over.

With Compostela and Tenerife both winning, the result proved to be decisive in keeping Salamanca in the top flight. Unfortunately, Txetxu Rojo left for Real Zaragoza at the end of the season and the club failed to perform at the same level during the next campaign. They finished the 1998-99 season at the bottom of La Liga and were duly relegated. It also became apparent that the club were experiencing some financial difficulties.

In 1999, Marco Lanna followed Rojo to Zaragoza where he made 37 appearances across two seasons. He finished his spell in Spain by picking up a Copa del Rey winner’s medal, although he did not feature in the 2001 final against Celta de Vigo. The Italian then made his way back to Italy and ended his career with a short spell back at Sampdoria.

An unpaid debt

Soon after his retirement, Lanna started working for the Italian media and later revealed that he still had not been paid more €350,000 from his time at Salamanca, time to indulge in some football betting perhaps? Due to financial problems at the club, he and other players, including Bogdan Stelea, had agreed to defer payments that were owed to them.

Out of respect for the club, Lanna did not report the situation to the authorities and took the word of director Juan José Hidalgo that a payment schedule would be agreed once the clubs financial problems improved. He even offered to forego some of the debt and waived any interest owed to make the situation easier.

The player continued to visit and support the club on a regular basis and even offered to help out with training sessions due to their ongoing lack of funds. At each meeting with Hidalgo he was assured that a resolution was near.

Unfortunately, the financial situation at UD Salamanca was worse than anyone had ever realised and in 2013 the club finally went bust owing more than €23m in debts. Marco Lanna never received a penny of the money owed.

Read Part 1 of Italians in Spain here

Part 2 here

Part 4 here

Words by Neil Morris: @nmorris01


Neil was seduced by Italian and Spanish football at a young age thanks to the likes of “La Quinta del Buitre”, Sacchi’s Milan, Cruyff’s dream team and Batigol. His football obsession has taken him all over Europe but he currently lives in Spain where he works as a freelance writer/editor. A first novel is also in the pipeline. When he is not writing, he heads for the sierras to indulge his passion for mountain biking.