Before Trevor Francis and Sampdoria linked up in 1982, very few English players had broken into Serie A football. Francis’ move to the Italian top flight marked an unusual occurrence in European football. But, the Englishman was known for breaking new ground throughout his career.
During the 1970s, Francis broke through the ranks at Birmingham City and went on to win the European Cup at Nottingham Forest twice under Brian Clough. Francis also rose to fame when he became the first £1 million English transfer following his move across the Midlands.
Yet, in between his high-profile transfer, Francis had an element of wanderlust about his personality. He had two spells on loan with US team Detroit Express in 1978 and 1979. This was seen as a completely maverick move when football in the US was still in an amateur phase at the time. Francis then moved to Man City for an inconsistent spell in 1981/82.
It was no surprise then, given Francis’ ability and willingness to take on new challenges, that he became part of a Sampdoria side on the rise in the early 1980s.
The Blucerchiati were on the up in 1980s Italian football. Graeme Souness moved to Sampdoria in 1980. He, alongside some up-and-coming greats, such as Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli, was the face of the new-look and competitive Sampdoria in the 80s.
Francis to Sampdoria: A Step into the Unknown
At the end of the 1981/82 season, a cash-strapped Man City was looking to sell Francis. The player’s value had decreased somewhat. But he was still an England regular and looking for a new challenge post-1982 World Cup.
Luckily, Sampdoria were a team with an upward trajectory and in search of experienced talent. In Francis, the Blucerchiati saw a player add class to their forward line. In July 1982, Francis moved to Serie A for an estimated £700,000. He joined up with Graeme Souness, Liam Brady, and a young Mancini.
There was intrigue about how well Francis would fare in the Italian league. With over 300 professional appearances and plenty of international experience, fans were curious to see how well Francis would fit into a developing Sampdoria.
Completely unfazed by his new surroundings, Francis quickly showcased the talent that preceded his reputation. Sampdoria won their first three matches of the Serie A season against Juventus, Inter, and Roma. Francis also got off the mark in a 2-1 win over Inter.
However, a crunching tackle from Pietro Vierchowod in the third win over Roma gave Francis a reality check about the physicality of Italian football. Subsequently, the forward was ruled out for the next four months following the tackle.
Sampdoria won just three of their 17 matches during Francis’ absence. But he returned for the final third of the campaign to boost the Blucerchiati’s push for Europe. Francis came back with intent and struck six goals in 10 matches, including a famous hat-trick in a 4-0 win against Udinese.
The strong run-in, where Sampdoria went unbeaten in nine of their last 10 matches, helped the club to their highest Serie A finish since the 1960/61 season.
Francis Finds His Feet in Genoa
Ultimately, Francis’s time with Sampdoria in the following campaigns followed a similar pattern to his first season. Recurring injuries saw him drop in and out of the squad. But he always seemed to return from injury with consistency and urgency.
The Englishman was integral in helping Sampdoria improve year after year in Italy’s top flight. Francis helped the club finish seventh again in 1983/84, despite only making 15 league appearances.
But, the forward’s best moments in a Blucerchiati shirt came in the following campaign. A seemingly fitter and sharper Francis appeared much more consistent during the 1984/84 season. Here the Englishman played all but six games throughout the league campaign and struck six Serie A goals as Sampdoria rose to fourth place – their best-ever Serie A finish at the time.
Yet, his biggest contribution came during the Coppa Italia. Here, Francis seemed determined to over-charge the Blucerchiati to their first Coppa Italia title in history. Across 11 appearances, Francis struck nine goals in the competition and made essential contributions in the latter stages.
First, in the semi-final second leg against Fiorentina, Francis scored a decisive second goal from the penalty spot on the way to a 3-1 win. Then, in the first leg of the final against Milan, the forward crossed for an onrushing Souness to fire into the net, which gave Sampdoria the lead.
However, Francis heartbreakingly missed out on the second leg, which Sampdoria won 2-1. Yet the English forward’s contributions throughout the 1984/85 Coppa Italia are not forgotten by the Blucerchiati fans today.
Francis Leaves Samp Legacy
After the incredible highs of the 1984/85 season, normal service resumed for Francis. Ongoing injuries and a long-term health issue that weakened his muscle fibers meant the English forward’s abilities were in decline.
As a result, the 1985/86 campaign proved to be Francis’ last in a Sampdoria shirt. He made just 25 appearances in all competitions and scored twice. Francis moved to fellow Serie A side Atalanta for the 1986/87 season. But the forward was unable to recapture the heights of performance that created a legacy at Sampdoria.
The decline was a sad one for a once-in-a-generation talent. Despite fairly limited playing time in Serie A for Sampdoria, Francis was able to make his mark and produce some spectacular moments that created history for the Blucerchiati. Therefore, the question remains of how good his legacy could have been if not for injuries and some fitness issues.
In addition, the pioneering move by Francis to test himself in Italy served as an inspiration for other English talents in the following years. Shortly after, David Platt moved to Bari and Paul Gascoigne joined Lazio in the 1990s as more English players started to participate in the Italian Leagues.