When Calcio Ruled the World: Diego Fuser

If you were a Lazio fan walking to the Stadio Olimpico in the 1990s, Diego Fuser would have been one of the main attractions. Synonymous with a style of play which included direct running and a blistering shot, he was certainly made in the Enzo Scifo and Lothar Matthaus mould.

One game can often define a fans memory of a player, a match which just sums it all up and encapsulates years of brilliance in 90 minutes. For Fuser, this moment came against Napoli in May 1997. Here, on one sensational night, he offered a glorious exhibition of all that he was.

Fuser had started his career in the youth ranks at Torino. A son of Venaria Reale, he didn’t have far to travel and by 1986 he had broken into the first team. Throughout his career he played on the right wing and in center-midfield, but a ‘Fuser-purist’ (no that isn’t a thing), would argue he was more effective in the centre. Still, after 49 games and four goals from a wide position, he managed to earn himself a move to Milan.

Bizarrely, Fuser’s career from 1989 to 1992 is always overlooked and these year are not seen as a great success. Admittedly, he spent a season on loan at Fiorentina and yet, many forget he even wore the red and black stripes. This is even more incredible, when one considers that he won a UEFA Champions League, a Scudetto, a European Super Cup and an Inter-Continental Cup. He may have been a bit part player but trophies are trophies.

In the summer of 1992, though, he eventually moved to the Eternal City to join the exciting project at Lazio, where he had an opportunity to become an integral part of a team boasting the likes of Beppe Signori, Paul Gascoigne, Aaron Winter and Karl Heinz Riedle. Fuser excelled in Rome and started to play some of the best football of his career.

His playing style was unique, combining power, technique and a ferocious work rate. It was during his time at Lazio he also captured the imagination of English viewers watching Channel 4’s Football Italia show. Few midfielders could glide from deep and release a ferocious long-range shot like Fuser. He was also a creator, linking up on countless occasions with the prolific Beppe Signori. Indeed, when Gazza was also fit to play, Lazio’s midfield was arguably one of the most exciting in the league. Fuser went on to score 35 goals in 188 appearances, a feat made more impressive by the quality of the goals he scored.

But back to Rome on that sunny May evening in 1997 and Lazio find themselves 1-0 down thanks to a goal from Napoli’s Roberto Ayala. Pierluigi Casiraghi soon hit back for L’Aquile and the game wasn’t even half-an-hour old. Enter the stage, Diego Fuser. What happened next encapsulated the brilliance of the Italian midfielder, as he scored two stunning goals (either side of a bizarre Beto goal for the Partenopei).

The first came from a flowing counter attack and some slick one touch passing, the ball being maneuvered to Fuser in the centre of midfield. Without even breaking stride, the No.4 gathered the ball, drove forward and whilst running at pace, curled it from 30 yards into the back of the net. Technique, pace, power and devastating long-range accuracy – this was Diego Fuser.

His second goal was the winner and reminiscent of Matthaus’s strike against Yugoslavia in Italia 90. Again Fuser picked up the ball in midfield and again he drove forward. This time he feinted and dropped a shoulder to evade a desperate lunge from a Napoli defender (who clearly knew what was coming). Having created space and the perfect angle, Fuser unleashed another long-range strike, this time more voilent than the first. It was the work of a master craftsman and left the Neapolitans helpless. If anyone was going to paint a masterpiece of Fuser’s career, it would have shown that moment, as the ball left his foot and rocketed into the net.

Fuser went on to pick up a Coppa Italia trophy at Lazio that season, but in truth his performances over his six years at the club merited so much more. In 1998, he moved to Parma, where he played a crucial part in Alberto Malesani’s UEFA Cup winning side of 1999. But, like in Milan, he never quite garnered the praise he deserved, overshadowed by other great players and star names of the era.

Fuser never really managed to translate his club form onto the national stage, featuring just 23 times for the Azzurri, always on the periphery of great sides. He finished his career with a controversial two-year spell at Roma and while such a move can never sit well with Lazio fans, his performances for the Biancocelesti far outweighed the 15 inconsequential appearances he made for their arch rivals. Remarkably, Fuser continued to play in the lower leagues until 2012, retiring at the age of 43. But the tragic death of his 15-year-old son Matteo, who had been struggling from illness, eventually saw him call it a day.

Fuser will forever be remembered by fans who watched Italian football in the 90s. He was a tireless player who had the ability to do things on the field which most could only dream. Every time he picked up the ball, whether in Rome, Milan or Parma, the entire crowd held their breath – especially when they knew he was about to unleash a rasping long-range drive.

When Calcio Ruled the World, Paul Gascoigne and Giuseppe Signori were in awe of Diego Fuser.

Words by Richard Hall: @RichHall80