The making of a golden boy: ‘Toto’ Schillaci’s breakout season at Juventus

Salvatore “Toto” Schillaci is well known for his six goals that spurred Italy to a third place finish in the 1990 World Cup. His memorable goals, exuberant celebrations and piercing Sicilian eyes during Italia’ 90 endeared himself to fans at home and abroad. But those exploits would never have been possible were it not for his breakthrough campaign at Juventus during the 1989-90 season.

The Bianconeri had signed Schillaci from Messina in the summer of 1989 on the back of a successful season in Serie B. The striker had scored 23 goals to become Capocannoniere and lift the Sicilian club to an eighth placed finish. Schillaci’s arrival in Turin had come at a time of transition for Juventus. They were a club on the decline after Giovanni Trapattoni left in 1986, marking the end point of a glorious decade. Juventus’ head coach by summer 1989 was Dino Zoff, who led the Bianconeri to fourth in the 1988-89 Serie A campaign in his first season, ensuring Juve qualified for the UEFA Cup.

Schillaci was brought in to score goals – an area where Juventus had been sorely lacking. Their top scorer for the 1988-89 season had been midfielder Rui Barros with 12 goals. The Bianconeri would delve into Serie B again that summer to acquire Pierluigi Casiraghi from Monza. Zoff wanted to employ the two forwards in tandem, with Casiraghi’s adeptness in the air and Schillaci’s pace proving to be a good combination.

Schillaci didn’t take long to make his mark in Serie A. In his second league appearance, he netted twice in a 4-1 win at Hellas Verona. His first goal was a ferocious long range free-kick into the top corner while his second was a smart finish from close range. Schillaci would score in the next game against Fiorentina and though he wasn’t able to find the net in the following two league matches, the striker’s rasping free-kick was the difference to overcome a resilient Bari on match day six. A few weeks later, Schillaci was at it again, this time away at Genoa.

His two goals that day highlighted the Sicilian’s variety. The first goal, a bicycle kick from close range, displayed his capacity for the spectacular, whilst his second goal showcased his icy composure when one-on-one with the goalkeeper. As the season progressed, Schillaci proved his impressive start for the Bianconeri wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and he ended the season with 21 goals – 15 in the league and four in the UEFA Cup.

The Palermo born striker also developed a knack of scoring in critical moments. Out of his 15 league goals, 11 would put Juventus in the lead in games. Indeed, Schillaci’s goals often helped the Bianconeri salvage points – directly winning his team eight points in total. That proved crucial at the end of the season, as Juventus finished fourth in Serie A and qualified for the Cup Winners Cup. They were a point ahead of fifth placed Sampdoria and three points ahead of sixth placed Roma. Without Schillaci’s goals, Juventus would have slid down the table, leading to Zoff’s tenure as head coach being questioned.

Schillaci’s breakthrough season was also crowned with silverware, the first piece coming in the Coppa Italia. Once again the Sicilian’s role was vital. He scored in the semi-final second leg vs Roma, sending Juve through to the final where they eventually triumphed against Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan. But it was in the UEFA Cup where the Schillaci shone most brightly.

The Bianconeri’s first round opponents were Górnik Zabrze of Poland. Juventus narrowly won the first leg 1-0 away but they would cut loose in the second leg. Juve raced into a 4-0 lead within 25 minutes, with Schillaci scoring twice, resulting in a comfortable 4-2 win in Turin. Their next opponents in the second round were PSG, who proved a tough nut to crack in the first leg in Paris. The deadlock would be broken midway through the second half when Schillaci played in Rui Barros who slotted the ball past the onrushing Joel Bats. Juventus would beat PSG 2-1 in the second leg to win 3-1 on aggregate and face FC Karl-Marx-Stadt of East Germany.

The first leg was played in Turin in atrocious conditions because of heavy fog. The East Germans took the lead with 20 minutes remaining and a famous victory for the Saxony based club was on the cards. But with eight minutes left, Schillaci would cut through the mist and come to the fore, getting in behind the East-German’s defence to find himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper just 12-yards out. His first touch got past the keeper, who clumsily fouled Schillaci, ultimately leading to the ball fortuitously trickling over the line. Casiraghi then completed the turnaround six minutes later when he got on the end of a flick on from a cross. Juventus would ultimately progress thanks to a 1-0 win in Saxony.

Hamburg awaited the Italians in the quarter-final, with the first leg played in northern Germany. Juventus took control of the tie within the space of seven minutes. Schillaci opened the scoring on 50 minutes by scoring from close range at the near post thanks to Casiraghi’s cushioned header. Casiraghi would double the lead seven minutes later and Juventus ended the first leg up by two away goals. It would come in handy, as Hamburg won the second leg 2-1, with the Bianconeri winning 3-2 on aggregate.

In the semi-final, Juventus’ faced another West German opponent in FC Köln, who had finished second in the Bundesliga the previous season. Despite their pedigree, Juve raced into a 3-0 lead within 53 minutes thanks to Rui Barros, an own goal and midfielder Giancarlo Marochhi. However, Die Geißböcke soon recovered, scoring two away goals in the last ten minutes to trim the deficit to a single goal. Nevertheless, in the second-leg, the Bianconeri pulled off an Italian defensive masterclass to hold FC Köln to a goalless draw and reach the UEFA Cup final.

Juventus would face arch-rivals Fiorentina over two legs and the final was more or less decided in the first leg, with Juventus coming out 3-1 winners. It was a two goal lead that Fiorentina could not overturn, as the second leg ended in a goalless draw. Juventus lifted the UEFA Cup for the second time in their history and Schillaci was the club’s top scorer in the competition with four goals.

The striker’s efforts soon caught the attention of Italy’s Mister Azeglio Vicini and the striker would earn a call up to the Azzurri squad in March 1990 for a friendly against Switzerland. Earning a first cap so close to a World Cup was the fire that drove Schillaci to continue his good form towards the end of the season.

It would be rewarded with a spot in Italy’s 22 man squad for the 1990 World Cup, which came as a surprise to a few journalists, but his call up was well deserved. By the end of the Sicilian’s debut campaign at Juventus, he was the club’s top scorer for the season and had won two trophies. Furthermore, only Marco van Basten, Roberto Baggio and Diego Maradona scored more goals than Schillaci in Serie A that season.

Schillaci capitalised on being given an opportunity by Juventus and would do the same at Italia ’90, winning both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball awards for being the competition’s top-scorer and best player. Unfortunately, Schillaci’s heroics were not enough to win the hosts the ultimate prize as Italy lost a semi-final penalty shoot-out against Argentina.

In a similarly disappointing vein, ‘Toto’ was never able to recapture this scintillating post Italia 90′, though he never lost that poachers instinct, going on to score prolifically for Júbilo Iwata in Japan’s J1 league. But his exploits both for Juve and the Azzurri during those Notti Magiche will never be forgotten.

Words by Yousef Teclab: @yousef_teclab