x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Good times of Wembley '92 a vivid memory for Sampdoria

While Barcelona cite the 1992 European Cup final as a foundation for the next generation, it has been mostly downhill ever since for Sampdoria, the beaten finalists.

Over the next 12 days, expect to hear a lot about Wembley '92. The theory in Catalonia says the current Barcelona would not be going to the 2011 final of the Champions League if the club's style of passing football had not been endorsed by the generation of Wembley '92.

On May 20th 1992, the elegant team, coached by Johan Cruyff, actually won only narrowly. They did not score the evening's solitary goal after a long chain of intricate passes, but via a direct free-kick, converted by the Dutchman Ronald Koeman.

The defeated opponents felt miffed the free kick had been awarded, and that several earlier chances they created had gone astray. The losers would look back on Wembley '92, not as Barcelona do, as a foundation stone for an empire, but as a one-off peak. It has been mostly downhill since then for Sampdoria.

Samp were relegated to Serie B on Sunday, condemned by their defeat against Palermo in the penultimate match of an Italian league season that had begun with another tilt at the greatest prize of all, the Champions League.

Back in August, Sampdoria were in the play-off round for the group stages of the competition which Barcelona will again be attempting to win in England's capital city. Samp had earned that right by finishing fourth in Serie A year ago. They are now 18th. That is quite a drop.

As it happened, Samp were beaten, by Werder Bremen, in the Champions League play-off round. It had been a disruptive close-season for the Genoese club, with a new coach, Domenico di Carlo, still finding his feet. Di Carlo never quite overcame the setback in Europe. By early March, Riccardo Garrone, Sampdoria president, had become seriously concerned about relegation, and when Samp lost to Cesena, another candidate for the drop - they would later survive - Di Carlo was sacked. Samp were 14th, three points above the danger zone.

Garrone had felt the damage of the loss to Bremen acutely, his hopes of the financial boost of a sustained autumn - and perhaps longer - in the lucrative Champions League dashed. He reckoned Sampdoria had to sell at least one highly-valued member of the squad who had finished above the likes of Juventus and Napoli in 2009/10. In the event they lost two, Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini, and with them went Sampdoria's potency.

Pazzini and Cassano had between them scored 28 of Samp's 49 league goals last season. Cassano and Garrone fell out angrily in October and the serial rebel of Italian football moved on free transfer to AC Milan in the new year: At the weekend he was showing off his league winners' medal to milanisti at San Siro.

Then in January Pazzini was sold to Inter Milan in a deal worth €12 million (Dh62.3m), plus the young French winger Jonathan Biabiany, to Samp: Pazzini has contributed nine goals in 13 starts for Inter, where he now collects a Serie A runners-up medal.

Biabiany, meanwhile, scored his first goal for Sampdoria in Sunday's 2-1 loss. Federico Macheda, signed on loan from Manchester United to cover the departures of Cassano and Pazzini, has not netted for Samp in Serie A. Massimo Maccarone, the journeyman striker also brought in four months ago, has eked out just three goals.

Theirs are not names Samp fans will recall like they do those of Roberto Mancini, who they saw pictured celebrating with the FA Cup on Sunday, or the UAE manager Srecko Katanec, or their former striker Gianluca Vialli, the legends from what seems a very distant Sampdoria team who were once competing for the European Cup at Wembley.

sports@thenational.ae