Juventus vs Sampdoria Throwback: When Boskov Said “Juve Paid Ref!”

Vujadin Boskov is a Serie A legend. Between the 1980s and 1990s, the Serbian coach was one of the most characteristic and beloved figures dwelling in the world of calcio.

Not only and not mainly because he was simply a great football coach – one capable of leading Sampdoria to win their first and only Scudetto in 1992 and to battle against Barcelona in a Champions League Final the following season.

People mostly loved Boskov because of the way he was: His quiet demeanor and reassuring outlook, his eccentric wisdom often dispensed in broken, yet perfectly clear Italian, made him a fan favorite all across the Peninsula. Collecting his quirky aphorisms and eagerly waiting for the next one was among the favorite pastimes for journalists and football lovers who followed his Italian career as he coached Ascoli, Sampdoria, Roma, Napoli, and then his former love Sampdoria again.

In a country obsessed with football debates and controversies, where people are always eager to discuss whether that was a penalty or not and possibly blast the poor referee in the process, Boskov had a very simple point of view – which he left to posterity via what is perhaps his most famous aphorism:

“Penalty is when referee whistles.” Simple as that.

This is why Boskov’s angry outburst at referee Pasquale Rodomonti from February 15, 1998, was so extraordinary. Had it come from any other coach, it would have been business as usual. But not Boskov. On that day, as Marcello Lippi’s Juventus thrashed his Sampdoria 3-0 at the Stadio Delle Alpi, not only did the Serbian manager contradict his own golden rule according to which a referee ruling was to be taken and accepted.

He did so by fueling one of the most common Italian football clichés, hinting at Juventus’ alleged influence over referees and their presumed ability to manipulate their decisions by all possible means – any means.

Juve paid referee!”, a furious Boskov is reported to have boomed on that day in his clunky Italian, making journalists jolt as they couldn’t believe their ears. Juventus win because they bribe the referee: That’s calcio bantering 101, and now it was coming from Vujadin Boskov’s mouth! The press couldn’t ask for anything better.

What made Boskov totally lose it was the expulsion of his French midfielder Pierre Laigle by referee Rodomonti after just 28 minutes of play. The Frenchman, who had already seen yellow earlier in the game, had a bad idea of kicking the ball away in protest after committing a foul, receiving his marching orders by Rodomonti in return.

That is when, according to the oral tradition, Sampdoria’s coach is said to have turned to his players on the bench and delivered his infamous Juventus quote. A TV journalist standing on the sidelines captured the iconic quote that eventually made it to the Italian football cult database.

To tell the truth, Boskov had little to complain about as, when Laigle was sent off, the Bianconeri were already leading 2-0 over the Blucerchiati. Juventus could count on Alessandro Del Piero in his athletic prime, Filippo Inzaghi who – at 25 – was literally exploding and was the incumbent Serie A top-scorer, and a stellar Zinedine Zidane in midfield. It had taken Del Piero just five minutes to break the deadlock and six more for Inzaghi to score the second.

Sampdoria were simply no match for Juventus, despite the Genoan side could still boast an attacking line featuring an ascending Vincenzo Montella and two-time Serie A top-scorer Giuseppe Signori. They honestly had no need to pay any referee.

Little did Boskov know, however, that only a few months later the Bianconeri would face a much stronger storm of criticism as they beat Inter in a key Scudetto game where referee Pietro Ceccarini disallowed the Nerazzurri what seemed a crystal-clear penalty, paving the way to Juventus winning the title.

The Serbian coach must have looked at that with a sly smile, probably convincing himself that he was right and that his alleged statement reflected the truth. Boskov liked it when he could confirm to himself that he was right.

But, did he really say that in the end? At full time of that Juventus-Sampdoria, after Daniel Fonseca had made it three for the Bianconeri, that was obviously the first question Vujadin Boskov was asked by the press. They heard you say that on TV, he was told.

Boskov’s answer was perfectly in line with his elusive personality: “TVs can say whatever they want.


February 15, 1998 – Serie A 1997-98 Round 21

SCORERS: 5′ Del Piero, 11′ Inzaghi, 78′ Fonseca

JUVENTUS (3-4-1-2): Rampulla; Torricelli (94′ Aronica), Iuliano, Montero; Di Livio, Conte, Pecchia, Dimas; Zidane (76′ Fonseca); Inzaghi (61′ Tacchinardi), Del Piero (De Sanctis, Pellegrin, Pessotto) Coach: Lippi
SAMPDORIA (5-3-2): Ferron; Balleri, Dieng (69′ Scarchilli), Franceschetti, Castellini, Laigle; Vergassola, Boghossian, Veron; Montella, Signori (Ambrosio, Lamonica, Nava, Pesaresi, Salsano, Omam-Biyik) Coach: Boskov

REFEREE: Mr. Rodomonti from Teramo
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Di Livio (J), Montella, Veron (S); Red Cards: Iuliano (J), Laigle (S)