Once upon a time in 1985, a modest-sized club did something incredible. Unfancied by most, if not all, and with an assorted bunch of established and young players, Hellas Verona went all the way to win the Scudetto. Their achievement was made all the more remarkable given that these were the days when the likes of Michel Platini and Diego Armando Maradona were parading around in the colours of Juventus and Napoli respectively.
It was a unique moment in time for Italian football. Never before had a ‘minnow’ club usurped the greater powers emanating from Rome, Milan and Turin quite like they did. And perhaps it will never be repeated. But, the dream that that Verona team fulfilled all those years ago has been brought back to life, thanks to the class of 2013.
As in the 1984-85 season, Verona got off to a flyer on the opening day by beating one of the title favourites. Back then, it was Maradona’s Napoli that was sent back south with nothing after losing 3-1. While Milan may be out of sorts now, before the current season got underway they were expected by most to challenge for the Scudetto. But, like Napoli, Milan and Mario Balotelli were also sent home empty-handed as they lost 2-1.
To date, their victory over Milan remains their solitary win over one of the ‘big boys’. They have since been defeated by Juventus and were convincingly undone by both Inter and Roma. But nevertheless, they have still made the best start to a Serie A season since their halcyon days of that Scudetto-winning year. As then, they are punching way above their weight and this is reflected in the league table. They are currently joint fourth with Inter, ahead of the likes of Fiorentina, Lazio and Milan.
Verona’s success thus far has come largely in part to their excellent home record. They have yet to drop a single point at the Bentegodi stadium, the only side with leaders Roma to have a perfect score in their own stadium.
And just as it was back in 1985, all this has been achieved with a group of players that are a mix of seasoned professionals and promising youngsters. Luca Toni has been turning back the clock at the ripe old age of 36. The former Italy international has already scored five goals and rumours are emerging that perhaps a recall to the Azzurri is on the cards. “The national side? If Cesare Prandelli calls me, I'd surely play.”
Alongside Toni in attack, the young Argentine Juan Iturbe has been a revelation. In midfield, the Brazilian duo of Romulo and Jorginho – who could well be called an Italian if he gets his wish to play for the Azzurri at senior level – have been the creative centre of the side and scored seven goals between them. Serbian Bosko Jankovic also deserves mention, as does the centre-back pairing of Michelangelo Albertazzi and Domenico Maietta, despite the fact that Verona have not exactly been water-tight when it comes to their defence.
For the best part they have been scoring more than they have been shipping. If they keep this up, then who knows what they can achieve. Though it is highly unlikely that they will bid for the title given the strength of Roma, Juventus and Napoli. Stranger things have happened of course, as in 1985. Though, as many have suggested since, one of the reasons why Verona were able to win the title that year was because referees were selected by way of a random draw – the one and only time this has been done in Serie A history – rather than by a commission of delegates as it is done today.
Still, for Verona fans who have suffered the ignominy of seeing their team ply their trade in Italy’s third division as recently as 2010, as Verona Coach Andrea Mandorlini rightly believes, “this is a moment to enjoy”. And he will understand this better than most, as it was he who guided the northern provincial side from such lows to where they are today.
Mandorlini is not getting carried away either, for he still insists that “our Scudetto will be Serie A survival.” For those Verona fans who can remember, it won’t be quite the same. At least he has brought back to life that most romantic of footballing stories, the time David beat Goliath.