Catanzaro is a small city located in the Calabria region of Italy. Known as the ‘City of Two Seas’, it is occasionally dampened by the sea and is subjected to snow-capped winters due to its geography. A quick Google of the word Catanzaro will lead you elsewhere, to the Catanzaro division – an infantry division of the Italian army that was deployed in Lybia during World War Two.
Over 40 years later, a militaristic intensity greeted title chasing Juventus as they strolled into town needing a win to secure their 20th Scudetto. Over 25,000 rabid supporters crammed into the Stadio Nicola Ceravolo, situated in a bowl below a mountainous terrain. Juve’s great centre-forward Paolo Rossi had just returned from a suspension for his role in a betting scam and was mercilessly battered by chants of “crook, crook” and “prison thrash”. The atmosphere was ferocious and the howls of derision only intensified when the Bianconeri received a penalty with 15 minutes remaining with the score level.
Up stepped Liam Brady. Before the season finale, Juventus president Giampiero Boniperti informed the Irishman that he would be sold to accommodate the arrival of Michel Platini. League rules established that each club could only have two foreign players in their squad, and as Juve already owned Polish striker Zibi Boniek, a tearful Brady would be the one to make way, much to the disappointment of Juve fans.
A few weeks later that feeling of sadness would switch to one of paranoia, as Brady hovered over the dead ball 12 yards from goal. Commentators and observers couldn’t be certain that he’d score and some speculated that he might even deliberately miss to spite his soon-to-be former employers. Brady placed the ball on the spot, glanced to his right, then stared down to his toes. He took three steps forwards and opened his body, clipping the ball with the inside of his left foot. The ball went left, the keeper went right, and it cushioned into the corner. Juventus were champions and Brady departed as a hero.
• • • •
Liam Brady was born in Dublin in 1956. Earmarked as a promising talent from his early days at St. Kevins Boys (the schoolboy club in which current Irish internationals Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick were discovered), he signed for Arsenal as a 15 year-old. Quickly establishing himself as a regular in the first team, he would go on to be the star of a youthful side. They would continue to knock on the door of success without actually winning, so Brady felt it was necessary seek pastures new. He headed to Italy.
Impressed by his performances against them in the semi-final of the Cup Winners’ Cup, Juventus bought Brady for £500,000 in the summer of 1980. While it understandably took him a while to acclimatise and settle into a new culture, Brady impressed team-mates from his initial interactions. “The team really took to Liam,” Roberto Bettega commented, “because despite the obvious problem with language at first, he showed a willingness to learn.”
Brady adapted quickly and was one of the key figures as Juve won the scudetto in 1981. His velvet feet, shimmying dribbling, laser like passing and knack for scoring important goals won over Juventini. The following season, his importance increased and he earned the respect of his peers and his coach, Giovanni Trapattoni. “There is no doubt about it, [Liam] played a decisive role. We might have had seven or eight players who were in the Italian squad, but it was Brady who brought experience and personality to the side. His role in midfield was vital.”
The signing of Platini and his enforced exit left Brady feeling a sense of betrayal, but he wasn’t ready to give up on his calcio dream” “I didn’t know whether to go back to England or not. But my wife said ‘no, I want to stay’.”
Moving to Sampdoria alongside Trevor Francis, Brady reminded his old club of the exceptional ability he possessed. Donning the number 10 blue shirt, Brady scored the winner as his freshly promoted side beat Juve. They would win their next two matches as well, against Inter and Roma. Very quickly he would strike up an instinctive relationship with Francis, combining well with the England striker.
Samp’s president at the time, Paolo Mantovani, was exiled in Switzerland facing charges of transferring a mere £500 million out of Italy illegally, but his commitment and love for his football club never wavered. He would frequently make up to five lengthy calls a day and watched the tape of matches every Tuesday. Samp ultras would sing Brady’s name like a church hymn. Recognising the Dubliner’s popularity, Mantovani purchased Irish tricolours in his honour, which would adorn poles around the Marassi.
Mantovani was eventually found guilty of cash smuggling and tax evasion, much to the delight of fans from hated rivals Genoa, who regularly held up banners at games imploring authorities to throw him in Marassi – the local prison described as “a small improvement on devils’ island”. In Brady’s two years in the north of Italy, Samp failed to finish above sixth in the table. Most notably, he clashed with a spiky youngster by the name of Roberto Mancini. At the conclusion of the 193-84 season, Brady moved to Internazionale.
Gracing the hallowed turf of the San Siro, Brady and West German forward Karl Heinz-Rummenigge brought some much-needed experience and class to a club that had won just one Coppa Italia in the previous five years. Try as they may though, the best Inter could achieve was a UEFA Cup semi-final in 1985. Brady’s popularity never wavered and he was typically excellent in the blue and black shirt, but failed to win any silverware in those two years.
The final chapter of Brady’s Italian adventure took place at relegation fodder Ascoli. From an early juncture, he didn’t see eye to eye with club owner Costanino Rozzi. Rozzi, who once claimed that the people of Ascoli didn’t have to fear any damage from an impending earthquake because they were protected by the city’s patron saint St. Emidio, and was notorious for shady dealings with employees. Brady argued over unpaid wages for a year and eventually lost patience, returning to England with West Ham in 1987.
Despite the embittered ending, Brady’s seven-year stint in Italy was overwhelmingly positive. At a time when Serie A was the strongest league in world football and contained many of the games’ greatest players, the former Gunner was identifiably brilliant. Many British and Irish footballers would follow in his footsteps, but few, if any, matched the impact of the man known as ‘Chippy’.
By Conor Kelly. Follow @ConorPacKelly