Michel Platini vs Paulo Roberto Falcão: a calcio rivalry for the ages

Michel Platini vs Paulo Roberto Falcão: a calcio rivalry for the ages

THE POWER OF ONE FOOTBALLER can often have an immeasurable impact on a club. Although the collective efforts of 11 players ultimately trump the effect of a single player, teams can easily be driven on the genius of one man. At Juventus in the 1980s, the genius-in-chief was Michel Platini. The supremely gifted Frenchman was the indispensable cog in the Bianconeri’s midfield and pulled the strings masterfully during their scudetto-winning campaigns of 1984 and 1986.

Juventus at that time were very much at the forefront of Italian football. However, their standing in the domestic game came was threatened by Roma. Mirroring the current Italian football landscape in Serie A, Juventus and Roma were the undoubtedly the two powerhouses in Italy during the 1980s. Roma, who won their first Serie A title in 41 years in 1983, enjoyed a prosperous spell under coach Nils Liedholm.

Their most prominent architect of success on the pitch was Paulo Roberto Falcão. The Brazilian mastermind was signed in 1980 and instantly gelled into the Giallorossi, becoming a talismanic figure that was deeply loved by the fans and people of Rome.

Platini was signed by Juventus two years later, in 1982, after his consistently excellent displays with Saint-Étienne in Ligue 1 and in Europe. However, his introduction into Italian football wasn’t as serene as Falcão’s. Joining a squad brimming with talent from Italy’s 1982 World Cup-winning heroes, the Frenchman found it difficult to adapt to the new environment and style of football.

Platini, playing in a midfield which also contained Azzurri captain Marco Tardelli, struggled to recreate the artistry that had attracted the Italian giants to him in the first place. It was a significant culture shock for ‘Platoche’. Although football fans of French clubs were passionate, they couldn’t compare to the religious fans who marched the streets of Turin bellowing “Forza Juve” at the top of their lungs. In France, football was primarily treated as entertainment but in Italy it was a far deeper aspect of people’s lives; it was war, it was religion, it was everything. 

Under the wise tutelage of Giovanni Trapattoni, the Frenchman gradually adapted to the daunting challenge of being a Juventus star and Platini threw himself into the all-encompassing footballing obsession in Italy. The Bianconeri improved drastically with him in the squad. They reached the final of the European Cup where they lost out 1-0 to Hamburg and won the Coppa Italia. They were, however, unable to get their hands on the Scudetto. That prestigious trophy was heading to the capital as Roma claimed only their second ever league title. Key to their heroic success was Falcão. 

Falcão was a legend in his native Brazil having spent eight years at Internacional in Porto Alegre. He inspired Os Colorados to five state championships and three Brazilian titles as the club became the dominant force in Brazilian football, also finishing the entire 1979 season unbeaten. Riding the crest of a wave in his home country, Falcão was nevertheless still hungry for a fresh challenge, and when Roma identified his technical proficiency as the missing link in their quest for a scudetto, Falcão jumped at the chance to play in the Italian capital. He was signed for £650,000 after the Italian FA had lifted restrictions on the purchase of foreign players.

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The Brazilian playmaker made an instant impression in Rome, helping I Giallorossi win their second successive Coppa Italia in 1981. Roma defeated Torino in the final on penalties, with Falcão converting the decisive spot-kick. The atmosphere inside the Stadio Comunale di Torino reached fever-pitch at times as Roma attempted to fend off Il Toro to retain the trophy.

With Roma leading 3-2 after four penalties each, the chance to be a hero fell on Falcão. Stepping up confidently, the number 5 placed the ball on the spot, strolled back to the edge of the penalty area and eyed up Giuliano Terraneo in the Torino goal. With the stadium hushed in anticipation, Falcão sprinted forward and smashed the ball past Terraneo as the Roma fans erupted. He savoured every moment of the glory, embracing his teammates and punching the air in delight after etching his name into Giallorossi folklore. 

It was the following season when Falcão truly became the ‘Eighth King of Rome’. This was at a time when Juventus fans grew increasingly enamoured with their new French maestro, but Platini would have to wait to become a champion in Italy as 1982/83 was the season of the ‘King’.

The Juventus-Roma rivalry reached new heights in the 1980s, when the top two clubs both had their foreign saviours in Platini and Falcão. They played out two titanic battles that season and, in both games, Falcão and Platini proved instrumental. Early in the season, the two sides contested a thrilling game at the Stadio delle Alpi when Juve edged the encounter 2-1. After Odoacre Chierico had fired Roma into the lead, Platini arrived at the back-post to tap home in the 49th-minute, and when Gaetano Scirea smashed home a brilliant winner, Falcão tasted defeat in his first battle with Juve. 

For Platini, the feeling was a new rush of exhilaration; defeating Roma and basking in the glory of victory with his fellow teammates, striding off the pitch to rapturous appreciation whilst being hailed as heroes. For Falcão and Roma, however, it was a familiar feeling of despair inflicted by their rivals in black and white. A year earlier, before Platini had arrived in Italy, Juventus and Roma played out a now-legendary tie in 1981 known as Er’ go’ de Turone

With only two games remaining, Juve hosted Roma at the Stadio Comunale in a do-or-die title decider. Juventus led Roma by a single point and victory would have given them the Scudetto. Roma, however, were gunning for only their second league title in history, and with the game locked in stalemate with 15 minutes remaining, Maurizio Turone nodded past Dino Zoff to give Roma the lead. Then, as the Giallorossi erupted in celebration, the linesman, Giuliano Sancini, raised his flag for offside. The goal was ruled out, much to the disbelief of the Roma players.

Turone had thrown his hands in the air and ran towards the Roma fans when he realised the assistant waving his flag. His elation quickly turned to rage as he queried the decision. Despite the frantic protestations from Roma, the referee Paolo Bergamo upheld his assistant’s decision and the goal was ruled out. The game finished 0-0 and, maintaining their one-point lead, the Bianconeri defeated Napoli on the final day of the season to become champions of Italy.

The replays confirmed that Turone had, in fact, been onside, making the decision one of the most controversial in Italian football history. Falcão had been highly influential in that game, giving a commanding and measured midfield performance which frustrated Juve’s attack and bamboozled their defence. Indeed, his trickery on the ball proved too much for Giuseppe Furino who attempted to stop the Brazilian’s influence by scything him down recklessly. He was duly dismissed by Bergamo but it was Furino who would have the last laugh, as Falcão ended his season without the title.

Original Series  |  The Football Italia Years

The following season, when Platini arrived in Turin, the rivalry was charged with an unprecedented level of tension as Juve’s purchase of one of the most talented midfielders in the world game only served to intensify the battles on the pitch. After Juve had lifted the title, their owner, Gianni Agnelli, had poured fuel on the fire by saying: “You have the Pope, Giulio Andreotti [the most powerful man in Italian politics] and the sun. At least leave us the Scudetto.” Juventus had won 19 of them, though, Roma only one. The Giallorossi had felt cheated; their chance of glory was stolen from under their noses.

The following season, the games between Juve and Roma were once again marred by controversy. It was March 1983 and the Stadio Olimpico bristled with excitement as Roma continued their surge towards that elusive championship. The Old Lady stood in the way as a rivalry that had steadily grown through the years gripped the nation in a championship showdown in the Eternal City. Inside the stadium, hordes of singing fans provided the perfect soundtrack to a match of paramount importance to both clubs.

Falcão, as ever, was central to the drive and determination of the home side. The Brazilian stepped up to the plate with a towering header to fire Roma into the lead in the second half, leaping over the advertising boards and sprinting towards the ecstatic home crowd. It looked as though Roma’s talisman had given them the ultimate breakthrough in their search for supremacy, but there was to be a decisive twist in the plot.

Platini also played a starring, albeit controversial, role in the game’s closing stages. The Frenchman first delivered a piece of magic, putting his expertise at dead ball situations to good use in curling a 30-yard free-kick into the top corner for a sensational equaliser. Suddenly Roma looked shell-shocked and, as the Stadio Olimpico fell eerily silent, Falcão drifted into the periphery of proceedings with Platini in the ascendancy. 

Platini’s influence would prompt pandemonium and unbelievable scenes for his part in one of the most controversial goals ever awarded in Italian football. With less than 10 minutes to play, Platini ran in behind and floated a cross to the back post, which was headed home by Sergio Brio. Juventus celebrated as Falcão and his Roma teammates hung their heads in despair, entertaining thoughts of watching the title slip through their grasp once again.

The Giallorossi had every reason to be furious with the nature of Juve’s winning goal as Platini appeared to be clearly offside before he played the ball into Brio, triggering haunting memories for Roma of Turone in 1981. Rome, in a footballing sense, looked to be lying in ruins in the aftermath of that game. It appeared that Platini would reign supreme at the end of a highly successful debut campaign with the Bianconeri and that Falcão would agonise over another valiant effort a scudetto glory falling just shy. 

But the footballing gods smiled warmly on Falcão that season. Despite the killer blow that was the Brio goal, Roma held their heads high and refused to stand idly by as their title charge derailed. They dusted themselves off in fine style, with Falcão and his teammates kissing the Scudetto at the end of the season thanks to a late wobble by Juventus. 

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The Bianconeri’s first slip-up came against Torino when they let their city rivals overhaul their two-goal lead and claim a significant 3-2 victory at the Stadio Comunale. Platini had put his side 2-0 up after 65 minutes but the Frenchman was powerless to stop a stunning fightback from the hosts. Platini continued to influence games decisively in the climactic weeks of the season.

He scored against Ascoli, Catanzaro, twice against Inter, once against Cagliari and a brace in the 4-2 win over Genoa on the final day. However, his 16 league goals proved inadequate as Falcão’s Roma romped to victory. Falcão scored in the wins over Avellino and Torino as he inspired the excellent Romans to only their second Serie A title ever. 

Juventus avenged the pain of missing out 12 months later by edging their rivals in a tight race for the title with Platini more than playing his part with an impressive haul of 20 league goals. The Frenchman was inarguably the key player in what was his first taste of league success in Italy.

The 1983/84 season witnessed a contrast in fortunes for Platini and Falcão. As the Juve talisman enjoyed being the toast of Turin, Falcão’s relationship with Roma soured after declining the chance to take a spot-kick in the European Cup final against Liverpool at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. It was an odd decision, especially considering the Brazilian had converted the decisive kick against Torino in the Coppa Italia final three years earlier.

That final was not Falcão’s greatest hour at the end of a season blighted by a serious knee injury. The following year, he made the headlines for the wrong reasons as he embraced the playboy lifestyle during his lengthy spell on the sidelines, which sparked tension between himself and the club’s hierarchy. His contract was terminated after flying to New York to undergo an unsanctioned knee operation as he returned to Brazil with São Paulo.

In the same season, Platini’s powers were waning for Juve as they finished a disappointing sixth in the league, while their European Cup success over Liverpool was marred by the Heysel disaster, with Platini himself widely criticised for celebrating his winning penalty. In his final season, he once again led Juve to Serie A glory over Roma with 12 goals, but that season drew the curtain on the Frenchman’s Italian odyssey and with it, the great rivalry between Juventus and Roma. 

In the 1980s, during the heydey for Italian club football, when Serie A thrived with great teams and the world’s best players, it was the intense rivalry between Juventus and Roma which gripped the nation. Platini was indispensable for the Bianconeri while Falcão’s instrumental influence in the Roma side drove the Giallorossi to their first title in 41 years and ensured that the rivalry brought success to both teams.

The two clubs’ successes during this period were epitomised by attacking lights operating at the peak of their powers; they are players that both clubs still cherish to this day. The story of ‘Platoche’ and the ‘Eighth King of Rome’ is one which will endure for many decades to come 

By Matt Gault  

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