It was Golden Oldie time as the calendar year wound to a close In Italy with illustrious names such as Roberto Baggio, Roberto Mancini and David Platt all stealing the Serie A headlines, all three putting their experience and talent to good use in setting up their respective clubs, Internazionale, Lazio and Sampdoria, for a potentially prosperous 1999. Platt sprang the biggest surprise when Sampdoria announced that they had welcomed him back into 'the Sampdoria family' in the week before Christmas.
The first official announcement of Platt's return to the club where he had played out two very successful seasons between 1993 and 1995 carefully avoided specifying his job title, and for good reason too. Although the 62 times capped midfielder and former England captain is still only 32 years old, Sampdoria did not engage him as a player but rather as coach in succession to ex-Empoli coach Luciano Spaltetti who received the old heave-ho following Sampdoria's 5-2 drubbing by Lazio (and Mancini) on December 13.
It says much about the high esteem in which Platt is held by his former club that he had been third on their shopping list after the former Parma and Borussia Dortmund coach Nevio Scala and the Argentina coach at France 98, Daniel Passarella. Scala failed to agree terms (and money) with Sampdoria, while Passarella was reportedly not much interested, leaving the way open for the unexpected appointment of Platt. In truth, no other prestige Serie A side would have dared consider a coach of such limited experience.
Since retiring from soccer last summer, after a highly successful 14-season career with Crewe Alexandra, Aston Villa, Bari, Juventus, Sampdoria and Arsenal (where he played a minor part in securing last season's League and FA Cup double), Platt had been launched on a self-appointed coaching apprenticeship, bringing to his new career all the intelligence, industry and sheer political savvy that enabled him to make the most of his playing talents, on and off the field. In recent months, he had combined a job as assistant coach to FA technical adviser Howard Wilkinson with coaching 13-year-olds at Watford, while also finding time to spend a work study week with Dutchman and Ajax Amsterdam old boy Louis Van Gaal, currently coach to the mighty Barcelona.
During those months, too, he had reportedly declined at least two managerial jobs - at Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers - suggesting that the offers had come too early for him and adding that he wanted "to be fully prepared" for the "incredibly demanding" task of management.
The Sampdoria job is different, however. Platt may not be "fully prepared" for it but he knows only too well that it represents a rare chance to start his managerial career at the very top of the heap.
No sooner had his appointment been announced, however, than it became apparent that not everyone enthused about the idea. Azeglio Vicini, the man who coached Italy during the 1990 World Cup, these days has a dual role as president of the Italian coaches' association and vice-president of the Italian federation's technical section at Coverciano in Florence. Although a former Sampdoria player, Vicini was furious with his ex-club for attempting to appoint as coach someone who did not have the 'category one' coach's licence necessary to sit on a Serie A bench. "As things stand, Platt doesn't have the qualifications to coach even a reserve team," thundered Vicini. Sampdoria, however, had been all too aware of the problem and thus appointed, along with Platt, 59-year-old Giorgio Veneri, a man with the correct licence but someone who, until now, has coached only at Serie C (Third Division) level with international household names such as Leffe and Prato.
It takes no Einstein to work out the Sampdoria 'wheeze'. Veneri has the licence, he will be the 'official' coach, he will sit on the bench on Sunday afternoons, but it will be Platt who calls the shots. In the past, a similar arrangement was set up to allow Englishman Roy Hodgson to coach at Internazionale in the autumn of 1995. Although vastly experienced and a former Swiss national team coach, Hodgson did not have a 'category one' licence, so a compromise was found enabling him to go by the title of 'technical director' while Giovanni Ardemagni held the necessary permit, Platt's lack of experience, however, makes such a compromise all the more difficult and the dub will need to call on all the seasonal goodwill going to ensure that both they and their man, currently called 'team supervisor', do not get fined or indeed totally blocked as being in breach of Federation Article 1 calling for Fairness and Honesty. In order not to further annoy the authorities, Platt watched his first game 'in charge', a 2-2 home draw with Milan, from the grandstand. That game ought to have confirmed his earlier impression, namely that this Sampdoria side are performing way below their potential.
Sampdoria may currently lie uncomfortably dose to the relegation zone, but their dismal season so far owes much to the injuries that have deprived them of strikers Vicenzo Monteila (42 goals in the last two seasons) and ex-Red Star Belgrade player Zoran Jovicic. That poor start, too, probably owes even more to the fact that such as Argentinian Juan Veron (sold to Parma for £ 13milllion), Frenchman Alain Boghossian (also Parma, £3.5m) and Yugoslav Sinisa Mihajlovic (Lazio, £8.5m) have not been adequately replaced.
In recent seasons, Sampdoria have maximised limited resources, regularly qualifying for European competition but failing to put in a serious title challenge since the heady days of the early 1990s, when a Gianluca Vialli -Roberto Mancini powered team won both the Italian League (1991) and the Cup-winners Cup (1990). The need to balance the books, to buy cheaply and sell well (e.g. Veron) has dictated this policy. At the moment, however, the club seem willing to spend. It is not for nothing that Platt's arrival coincides with reports that a deal has been concluded for the purchase of Argentinian Marcelo Delgado of Racing Avelleneda.
Inevitably, Platt's path to the Sampdoria job has smoothed by the good impression left behind him during four seasons in Serie A with Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria. Not only the Sampdoria 'family' but also soccer commentators recall him as something 'exotic', namely an English footballer who, rather than belch into microphones and fail to learn Italian, proved himself courteous, intelligent and articulate (in Italian) off the pitch, while distinctly useful on it. Sports daily Gazzetta Dello Sport explained his appointment, saying: "Platt, in the end, has the attraction of the exotic. He knows Genoa like his own pocket, he speaks Italian like a Florentine and he is a friend of the Mantovani family, and, what's more, he knows his football."
This article originally appeared in the February 1999 edition of World Soccer.