Maradona, Gullit, Platini, Charles, Sivori, Schiaffino: the list of world-class players whose talent earned them a transfer to the land of the lire (much more poetic than the euro) is enormous and spans nearly a century, from back before even the start of Serie A as we know it today.
But while international focus has tended to fall on the traditional giants of the Italian game like Juventus, the Milan and Roman clubs, Napoli and Fiorentina, often overlooked is the rich history some of the lesser-lights of Serie A boast when it comes to signing and playing some of the biggest names in the world game.
Cláudio Taffarel (Parma) GK
When the Brazilian international keeper joined Parma in 1990, this was a minor club newly-promoted to Serie A for the first time and a long way away from becoming the powerhouse it did as the decade progressed.
Oscar Ruggeri (Ancona) CB
The acquisition in 1992 of this Argentinian international centre half, a former Libertadores winner and Real Madrid player was a huge coup for Serie A newcomers Ancona. Sadly he failed to settle and moved on shortly after.
Georges Grün (Reggiana) CB
The experienced Belgian international sweeper had enjoyed great success in Italy with Parma, then returned late in his career for a season with unfashionable Reggiana.
Karl-Heinz Schnellinger (Mantova) SW
One of the best defenders West Germany produced, Schnellinger moved to Italy in 1963 and spent a season with Mantova before moving onwards and upwards to Roma and Milan.
Source: Beyond The Last Man
Dirceu (Avellino) RM
Another member of the wonderful Brazilian generation of the early 1980s, Dirceu was an attacking midfielder of rare skill and craft. He played for five different Serie A clubs in five seasons, ending his time in Italy with a strong season with Avellino in the south.
Diego Simeone (Pisa) CM
Everyone’s favourite midfield ball-winner cut his teeth in Europe with Pisa who audaciously beat off a lot of competition to sign him from Velez Sarsfield. Simeone would of course return to Italy with Inter and Lazio after 5 seasons in Spain.
Dragan Stojković (Verona) CM
Perhaps the greatest of all the wonderful midfield playmakers produced in the former Yugoslavia, Stojković proved an expensive misfit at Marseille and joined Verona on loan in 1991. Unfortunately injury hampered his season at the Bentegodi and he was unable to recover his form.
Source: Old Panini
Junior (Pescara) LM
Brazil’s famous rampaging left sided defender and midfielder spent five successful seasons in Italy during the 1980s, firstly with Torino and latterly with Pescara where he continued to catch the eye with his spectacular free-kicks.
David Platt (Bari) CF
One of England’s most important and reliable midfielders around the time of the 1990 World Cup, Platt’s form suggested that he might become a target for one of the giants of Serie A. And while he subsequently performed with distinction for Juventus and Sampdoria, it was unfashionable but ambitious Bari who brought him to Italy for an enormous fee in 1991.
Gheorghe Hagi (Brescia) No.10
An unlikely signing by provincial northern Italian club Brescia from Real Madrid, Hagi spent two successful and happy seasons with the club helped by the presence of two compatriots taking the other foreigner berths.
Enzo Francescoli (Cagliari) RW
One of the greatest South American players of his generation, Francescoli was a bold signing by the newly promoted Sardinians of Cagliari from Marseille in 1990. With two other Uruguayan imports also brought in, Francescoli spent three seasons with the Serie A minnows before moving north to Torino.
This Serie A XI gallery is comprised solely of big footballers who played for small Italian clubs. No more than a single player features from any one club and our distinctive team would line up in a voguish 3-4-3 formation.
Of course many of the footballers selected here played with other Serie A clubs too, most distinctly Dirceu who spent five seasons in Italy and played for a different one for each of them.