Throwback Thursday: Prince Francescoli’s Most Precious Pearl

On September 1, 1991, Cagliari were scheduled to receive Sampdoria at their home ground Sant’ Elia Stadium in the opening match of Serie A 1991-92. In the eyes of a football fan from today, that wouldn’t look like a terrible test for the Rossoblu. But, back then, things were different as the Blucerchiati were the incumbent Italian champions, having conquered their first and only Scudetto at the end of the previous season.

Sampdoria were a big name back in the days. They were coached by that football genius that was Vujadin Boskov and could boast a formidable attacking line featuring Gianluca Vialli and current Azzurri coach Roberto Mancini – one of the many pairs of strikers who deserved the epithet of Gemelli del goal (Twins of Goal). In the 1990-91 season, Sampdoria had shocked the football world in the Belpaese by overcoming the Milan degli Olandesi, the Inter dei Record, as well as Diego Maradona’s Napoli to be crowned the king of Serie A.

The Sardinians, on the other hand, were in reconstruction phase. Time had not dealt kindly with Cagliari, which had spent most of the ‘80s decade swinging between Serie B and even Serie C, and only in the previous year had finally managed to make it back to the top division of calcio.

The most representative player of the Rossoblu was Uruguayan offensive midfielder Enzo Francescoli, part with José Herrera and Daniel Fonseca of a charrua trio who landed in Sardinia the year before, after having represented their national side at World Cup 1990 played in Italy.

Francescoli was known as il Principe (The Prince) for his elegance and his neat style of play. He was quite an exception in a poor, brutal Uruguay lineup which were mostly known for their rough style of play and for paying absolutely no compliments to their unfortunate opponents. Miguel Bossio’s expulsion after just 19 minutes in a World Cup 1986 game against Denmark, which ended with La Celeste losing 1-6 (!) to the Danes, perfectly summed up how football was conceived around Montevideo in the ‘80s, and why Francescoli was so special.

Another Principe – former Genoa and Inter striker Diego Milito – would draw his nickname from of his resemblance to the former captain of Uruguay. Additional estimators of the Prince included Zinedine Zidane, who saw Francescoli playing in his native Marseille in the 1989-90 season, and would eventually go as far as naming his son Enzo in honor of the Uruguayan.

Just like Enzo Francescoli (on the left), Diego Milito (on the right) was nicknamed “El Principe.” By looking at these two pictures, it’s not difficult to understand why…

Enzo Francescoli spent three seasons in Cagliari, and while he didn’t exactly score loads of goals – 17 in 98 games – he still managed to win his supporters’ hearts, if only for the magnificent goal that helped his side knock Sampdoria down in that famous opening match of September 1991.

The game quickly took an interesting turn as the score changed three times early in the first half and in the space of four minutes.

Brazilian midfielder Paulo Silas drew first blood for the Italian champions from the free kick spot, marking his debut with the Blucerchiati in the best possible way. However, Francescoli himself answered straight back with a penalty conversion.  One minute later, another Brazilian – Toninho Cerezo – found Roberto Mancini in the box with a soft lob pass. The Mancio’s movement between Cagliari’s center backs and subsequent shot left no chance to keeper Mario Ielpo.

Then, six minutes after the break, along came Enzo Francescoli’s magic: The Principe dribbled no less that the “Tsar” Pietro Vierchowod (a rock-solid Italo-Russian defender, among the best in Serie A back in the days) on the left side, moved forward into Sampdoria’s area and beat Gianluca Pagliuca with a sublime curl on the far post. Pure poetry. Something that is still remembered among the best goals ever seen at the Sant’ Elia.

Francescoli’s fellow countryman José Herrera would eventually make it three for the hosts. Gianluca Gaudenzi evidenced himself for a thundering progression into Sampdoria’s area. He was pushed down in the box, but before referee Gianni Beschin could award a crystal-clear penalty, Herrera had continued the action and put the ball past the keeper to wrap Cagliari’s shocking 3-2 win.

Cagliari’s 3-2 win over Sampdoria, propitiated by Enzo Francescoli’s brace, paved the way for the Rossoblu’s Serie A renaissance after years of football despair

Coach Boskov had tried to change the game a few minutes earlier by sending in Gianluca Vialli, but it would be Cagliari to come closer to score again as a header by Daniel Fonseca was parried back by Gianluca Pagliuca. During stoppage time, the Blucerchiati goalkeeper was also seen venturing into Cagliari’s box to support his teammates, and even produced a header which was blocked by Mario Ielpo.

That was the beginning of the end for Sampdoria, which never reached the Scudetto peak again, even if a few months later would still be contending the Champions League to Barcelona in a dramatic Final at Wembley Stadium.

Cagliari, on the other hand, started to build the base for a progression which would take them up to the 6th place in the table the following season, and then to a UEFA Cup Semifinal in 1993-94. The Prince of Montevideo had already left them and moved to play for Torino by then. However, he is still remembered at the Sant’ Elia Stadium for that true gem of a goal, which marked the first time after many years of football anonymity that the Sardinians could raise their heads high again.


September 1, 1991 – Serie A 1991-92 Round 1

SCORERS: 11′ Silas (S), 14′ Francescoli (C, pen.), 15′ Mancini (S), 51′ Francescoli (C), 67′ Herrera (C)

CAGLIARI: Ielpo, Napoli, Nardini, Herrera, Festa, Firicano, Cappioli, Gaudenzi, Francescoli (76′ Bisoli), Matteoli (58′ Villa), Fonseca (Di Bitonto, Criniti, Pistella) Coach: Giacomini
SAMPDORIA: Pagliuca, Mannini, Invernizzi (68′ Orlando), Pari, Vierchowod, Lanna, Lombardo, Cerezo, Buso (62′ Vialli), Mancini, Silas (Nuciari, Zanutta, Dossena) Coach: Boskov

REFEREE: Mr. Beschin from Legnago