Michel Platini – The Juventus Years

Michel Platini was a unique footballer, one whose brilliance shone through wherever he played, whether in France or in Italy with Juventus. Prior to his move to Serie A in 1982, the Frenchman was a goalscoring midfielder consistently putting in good numbers with both the clubs he starred with. At Nancy he scored 98 in 181 appearances and maintained his better than a goal-every-two games ratio with 58 in 104 for Saint-Étienne. These were numbers that out and out forwards aspired towards, but Platini was achieving this from deeper positions.

Platini’s arrival in Turin in 1982 was met with great expectations. He was set to be the direct replacement for Liam Brady, the Irishman who had greatly entertained fans of the Bianconeri for the previous two seasons. At the time the Frenchman was still seen as inconsistent however which left doubt in the minds of some.

It was only two years earlier that the doors had been re-opened for foreign players to play in Serie A, and this was set to be a new era for Juventus. In addition to Platini, the Turin outfit filled their foreign quota with the signing of Polish star Zbigniew Boniek. The contracts were signed at the end of April, but the club wanted to keep quiet on the deal in order to keep the departing Brady in good spirits as they chased the title. Brady found out anyway but maintained his professionalism and Juventus would go on to win their twentieth scudetto.

 

The early weeks were difficult for Platini. Despite joining a star-studded team which included many players from Italy’s World Cup-winning side that summer, the first few weeks proved a challenge for coach Giovanni Trapattoni to create a coherent attacking line incorporating Boniek and the Frenchman. Platini opened his account with a goal in the Coppa Italia against Pescara in just his second match, but form in the league was disappointing.

The campaign started with defeats against Genoa and, ironically, Sampdoria where Brady was now playing with distinction. While the whole squad was performing below what had been expected of them, the blame was mostly heaped on the two new foreign signings. The fact that a groin strain was constantly troubling the Frenchman didn’t help matters. Early rumours suggested Platini was intent on leaving the club and moving back to France after just half a season, but those were quickly quashed.

In November 1982 there was a turning point for both club and player. Putting on a strong display in a local derby is always a good way to endear oneself with fans, and Platini took that opportunity against Torino. With a full-strength line-up, Juventus showed their true worth and were untouchable against their local rivals. Platini scored the only goal of the game after 35 minutes with a rebound from a saved shot. During the winter period Platini would return to France for further tests to alleviate his injury concerns, and when he returned he started playing much closer to his best.

Juventus’ poor start and bizarre run of six draws and one defeat over the winter period meant that the title was too far out of reach, but when that particular run ended, Platini went on one of his own scoring 14 goals in his next nine games which included efforts against Internazionale, Roma and Fiorentina. Juventus proved efficient in the cup competitions, going all the way in the Coppa Italia and thrillingly beating Hellas Verona 3-2 on aggregate in the final after losing the first-leg 2-0. Platini netted twice in that comeback win.

The upturn in form came as a result of a plea from both Platini and Boniek to change their roles in the team. Trapattoni obliged and granted Platini more freedom as the focal point of the team, giving him the keys to the midfield and a chance to show off his creativity. The results were soon evident as Juventus continued to improve. Their main focus by this stage was on the European Cup and it was on this stage that the Platini-Boniek double act clicked best. In the Quarter-Final away to defending champions Aston Villa, the Polish forward struck a crucial winner late on to give his side the advantage. In the return match a fortnight later, Platini was in top form and netted twice to take the tie away from the Birmingham side and establish Juventus as tournament favourites.

In the semi-finals Platini would find himself on the scoresheet once again, netting a late equaliser in the second-leg against Polish side Widzew Łódź to send Juventus through 4-2 on aggregate to the final in Athens against Hamburg. Italy’s most prestigious club had the chance to end its season by winning the European Cup for the first time in its history. With Platini in searing form and the rest of the team finally clicking, Juve’s chances were highly regarded. It wasn’t to be, however: in a dull Athens final, Felix Magath scored in the ninth minute and Hamburg successfully defended this lead. A persistent Juventus were unable to breakdown the disciplined German backline and missed their opportunity to make history. But with the talent at their disposal and the overall strength of their side, they knew this wasn’t to be their last chance.

Juve started the following season with real intent and Platini contributed two in the crushing 7-0 win over Ascoli. With a much-changed team from the previous season, the winning mentality was maintained despite the loss of experienced stalwarts like Dino Zoff, Roberto Bettega and Giuseppe Furino.

By Christmas they were league leaders and there was further recognition as Platini won his first Ballon d’Or. This was an incredible accolade considering, just 12 months earlier, there was chatter of his discontent in Turin and that he was contemplating leaving the club. The promising season continued from there and Platini’s form in front of goal was exceptional: an eight-game scoring streak meant Juventus finished 1983 on top of the league and well-placed to bring the title back to Turin.

The European Cup Winners’ Cup was another important objective and over the first few rounds Lechia Gdańsk, Paris Saint-Germain and Finland’s Haka were all dispatched with ease. A semi-final against Manchester United was a tougher obstacle in a vital phase of the season when Juventus were securing the Serie A title with a goalless draw against Roma. United were beaten too and Juventus had the prospect of a double if they could overcome FC Porto in the Basle final.

The big occasions brought out the best in Platini and over the course of the season he had scored in a number of important matches, such as those against Milan, Inter, Torino and Roma; so it was only natural that in the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup he would step up again. Beniamino Vignola (set up by Platini) and Boniek scored the goals, but Platini was making the noise as Juventus added a second trophy of the season.

For the second successive season the Frenchman finished top scorer in Serie A and he went into the European Championships of 1984 at the peak of his form and confidence. The Euros, hosted in his home country, saw the player’s best form in a national shirt as he scored a record-breaking nine goals to inspire France to a first-ever major international honour. It was the icing on the cake of another excellent year for the creative genius. The 1984-85 season brought contrasting fortunes. For Platini, there was an individual success: he was the league’s top scorer once again and his exploits for club and country earned him another Ballon d’Or at the end of 1984 – only the fourth player to win the prize in consecutive years. Juventus, however, were in a terrible run of form at the start of the season and were floundering in the lower depths of the division. Platini’s magic illuminated a little of the gloom: he scored some wonderful goals, especially one deft lob against Atalanta.

Dropped points against the league’s lesser sides saw Juventus fall out of contention to win Serie A once again, so all their focus shifted to the continent and the quest to win that elusive first European Cup. On the continental stage they were in fine form overcoming Finland’s FC Ilves 6-1 on aggregate in the first round with Platini scoring three-times over the two legs. A similar fate awaited Switzerland’s Grasshopper Zurich in the second round, Platini contributing two of the six goals Juventus scored to take the Bianconeri forward. In the quarter-final, Slavia Prague offered scant resistance and Bordeaux awaited them in the penultimate stage. This was Platini’s moment to shine.

In the home leg Boniek and Massimo Briaschi set Juve on their way against the French champions, but 20 minutes before the end Platini stole the show by scoring one of the best goals of his career. As the ball was crossed in from the left side, the charging Frenchman thumped the ball with a first-time right-footed volley to net Juventus’ third and take the tie away from Bordeaux. The French side gave Juventus a scare in the second leg scoring twice, but the deficit was too big to recover and the Turin giants reached a second European Cup final in three years. With the Serie A campaign concluding with an embarrassing sixth-place finish, a win over Liverpool in the Heysel Stadium was necessary to erase those domestic woes. The two sides had already met earlier in the season in the Super Cup with Juventus running out 2-0 winners on a snowy day in Turin giving them a slight psychological edge, but events prior to the match start changed everything.

The disaster before kick-off took the lives of 39 fans and left hundreds more injured. The match itself, for what it was worth, was a dour affair settled by a highly controversial spot-kick. Boniek was believed to be fouled just outside the box, but the penalty was awarded nonetheless. Platini slotted it cooly into the bottom corner for what was the deciding goal. The post-match coverage was dominated by the events before the game, but on the field Juventus had finally won that first European Cup with Platini as their talisman. For three straight seasons Platini had been Juve’s top scorer despite not being a forward, and he now he had led them to their most elusive honour.

It was a given that Platini would retain his Ballon d’Or for a second time, but the second half of 1985 was a wholly different proposition from the previous three years. Platini added the Intercontinental Cup to his and his club’s honours list – he duly scored in the match against Argentinos Juniors in Tokyo – but after the European Cup final, this next era felt like a different version of Le Roi. He was still on the scoresheet regularly and Juventus were back on top of Serie A, but there was a regular suggestion the Frenchman would leave the club with Barcelona a widely-touted destination. In the end and much to the relief of the Juventus faithful, Platini agrees to extend his stay in Turin. The league title followed as this extraordinary Juventus side – who lost just three times all season – return to Italy’s pinnacle.

One of Platini’s individual highlights came in a game against Bari early in the season. He netted a hat-trick and the third goal encapsulating all the very best of his qualities. He received the ball from just outside the box, confidently cut it inside leaving a defender trailing and then coolly slotted it home. Another came with a wonderful free-kick against local rivals Torino to win the Derby della Mole.

The 1985-86 European Cup run ended against Barcelona at the quarter-final stage and Juventus would finish the season with just the league title to show for their efforts. Platini went off to chase World Cup glory in Mexico with France and helped his nation to an impressive third-placed finish, but when he returned to Italy he was surpassed by the man who dominated the Mexico tournament: Diego Maradona.

The Argentinian’s Napoli side swept aside the rest of Italy during the 1986-87 season and Juventus toiled. Trapattoni’s departure affected the team and his successor Rino Marchesi proved unable to sustain the levels the club was used to. This would be Platini’s last season in football. Whether it was the titles and trophies or the famous goals on the biggest occasions, it could be argued that Platini is the most influential player in Juventus club history. The likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Gianluigi Buffon and Cristiano Ronaldo followed him with considerable distinction, but Platini perhaps surpasses all of their legacies for the impact he made in such a short space of time.

KARAN TEJWANI

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