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The speed, flair and drugs of Claudio Caniggia, an icon who lived on the edge of greatness

The speed, flair and drugs of Claudio Caniggia, an icon who lived on the edge of greatness

The first stanza of the Argentine nationwide anthem had barely concluded on a balmy summer time night time in Rome when the digital camera panned to Diego Maradona. “Hijos de puta,” Argentina’s captain uttered in disdain, intentionally spelling out the phrases in order that the message wouldn’t be misplaced on TV audiences throughout the globe that had tuned in to observe the 1990 World Cup last.

A glance of disdain for the cacophony of boos that had accompanied his nation’s anthem, Maradona then repeated the line a second time to dispel any lingering doubts of what he thought of the Italians who had packed the Stadio Olimpico.

The proven fact that Maradona was idolised in Naples, with whom he had gained a second Scudetto simply months earlier, did little to endear him to the relaxation of the nation, which has typically handled Neapolitans with suspicion – a largely mutual feeling. That Argentina knocked Italy out in the semi-finals – in Naples, of all locations – solely fuelled the anti-Maradona sentiment.

Nevertheless, whereas Napoli’s maestro was the designated enemy, had it not been for an additional mercurial Argentine plying his commerce in Serie A, it might have been Italy taking on West Germany in the remaining as an alternative. Footballer, chain-smoker, icon and bon vivant par excellence – not essentially in that order – throughout his six-year spell in calcio, Claudio Caniggia’s star shone as brilliant as any of these of the different glamorous imports who graced the peninsula in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In a exceptional coincidence, Caniggia and Maradona had first met when the former made his worldwide debut in a pleasant towards Italy in Switzerland in 1987, and subsequently grew into very shut associates.

In Naples, with Italy main Argentina 1-Zero in the semi-final because of a typical Salvatore Schillaci objective, Caniggia seized on a uncommon mistake from Walter Zenga to go the defending champions degree. La Albiceleste would go on to win on penalties as Italy started sowing the seeds of the curse that might afflict them from the spot for the subsequent two tournaments, however Caniggia was pressured to observe the remaining from the stands.

A yellow card in the last-four coupled with a reserving he had acquired earlier in the event dominated him out of the showdown towards West Germany. Whereas Paul Gascoigne broke down in tears after enduring the similar destiny in the different semi, Caniggia acquired on with the job and was scheduled to take Argentina’s fifth penalty, though he by no means did as Italy missed twice.

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Understandably, his enforced absence from the last is one thing which nonetheless irks the Argentine 28 years later. “I was so good and I felt to so confident,” he informed broadcaster TyC Sports activities in April 2018. “I saw the Germans as being easier than the Italians or Brazilians. They would have brought me down and resulted in a penalty or someone would have kicked me. I’m sure that we would have defeated the Germans.”

Justified confidence or misplaced vanity? Maybe a mixture of each. Definitely, with Caniggia of their workforce, Argentina would have had a greater probability to retain the trophy.

Apart from the equaliser that broke Italy’s coronary heart, that they had already scored an important objective in the World Cup, rounding off a mesmerising run by Maradona to internet a late winner towards Brazil in the spherical of 16. He later described the objective as “the most important goal of my career, because we were really on the back foot and because of the rivalry we have with them”.

Up till the objective towards the Seleção, Caniggia’s identify had solely risen consideration at the World Cup for all the flawed causes, none of which he might be blamed for. 

It’s uncommon for the opening recreation of a World Cup to offer one of the event’s iconic moments however that’s precisely what Benjamin Massing’s notorious assault on the ahead proved to be. The image of Caniggia flying after being scythed by Massing’s hopelessly late deal with instantly turned one of the footage of Italia 90, and the incident has been replayed advert nauseam ever since.

Whereas there might be no doubts that Massing was intent to carry out a hatchet job on Caniggia – “The general intention seemed to be not so much to break Caniggia’s legs, as actually to separate them from the rest of his body,” wrote Pete Davies in his e-book, All Performed Out – the incident gave Cameroon a status for thuggery they didn’t deserve and that they might dispel with some sensible soccer in the event.

Shortly earlier than Massing’s intervention, spectators had been handled to a sight quite common to Serie A followers; that of Caniggia in full movement, his blond flocks waving behind as he left defenders in his wake. Unsurprisingly for a person referred to as El Hijo del Viento (The Son of the Wind) velocity was one of Caniggia’s greatest belongings, which allowed him to tear via defences and, crucially, to vary course with the swiftness that might make a rugby full-back proud.

Born in Henderson, in the province of Buenos Aires, roughly 400km from the Argentine capital, as a teenager Caniggia’s blistering tempo had seen him excel as a sprinter, and he frequently took half in the 100m at regional degree with spectacular outcomes. Lengthy bounce, 200m and 400m additionally typically featured in his repertoire, however ultimately the attract of the pitch usurped Caniggia’s ardour for the operating monitor. Just some months after his 15th birthday he joined the River Plate academy.

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Inside three years he burst onto the scene as he made his debut for Los Millonarios and a yr later, nonetheless solely 19, he was half of the River group that secured a historic treble by profitable the league, Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.

In 1988, Caniggia crossed the Atlantic to start his journey in Serie A with Verona. Now a daily at both the improper finish of the prime=flight or languishing in Serie B, Caniggia arrived in the metropolis of Romeo and Juliet solely three years after Osvaldo Bagnoli had guided the Gialloblu to the title in what stays one of calcio‘s biggest fairy tales.

There was, nevertheless, valuable little fabled about Caniggia’s first season in Serie A. A damaged leg restricted him to solely 21 appearances and three objectives as Verona secured a modest 11th-place end, already displaying the indicators of the worrying decline that might result in relegation the following season. By then, nevertheless, Caniggia had left them behind and moved simply over 70 miles to the west, to Bergamo, the place he signed for Atalanta, with Swedish worldwide Robert Prytz – who would later take pleasure in a curiously peripatetic spell throughout Scottish soccer – going the different method. 

For a person who had fleetingly skilled the febrile environment of the Superclasico, enjoying for an additional provinciale – as groups from provincial cities are described in Italy – may need appeared a step again. Nevertheless, if the steep studying curve did hassle Caniggia, he didn’t let it present. 

Beneath Emiliano Mondonico, Atalanta had been promoted to Serie A and reached the semi-finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup – which they entered by advantage of having misplaced the Coppa Italia remaining to league winners Napoli the earlier yr – in the 1987/88 season and had secured a sixth-place end and UEFA Cup qualification the following marketing campaign.

Caniggia’s first marketing campaign in Bergamo noticed him rating 10 objectives in 36 appearances in all competitions as La Dea completed seventh and secured European soccer for a 3rd consecutive yr. Following the World Cup heartbreak, Caniggia returned to Bergamo, once more netting 10 objectives in all competitions earlier than serving to Argentina clinch their 13th Copa América in the summer time. Regardless of Maradona’s absence, La Albiceleste gained all 4 of their group video games, with Caniggia scoring twice, earlier than topping the four-team group that determined the event. 

His performances in Chile and a strong third season in Bergamo put Caniggia firmly on the radar of some of Europe’s most prestigious golf equipment, together with Actual Madrid, Barcelona and Marseille, then bankrolled by Bernard Tapie. Caniggia, nevertheless, shunned the curiosity of the two Spanish giants and opted to stay in Italy, embarking on a 370-mile southbound journey on the A1 motorway that may take him to Rome.

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If Atalanta had repeatedly punched above their weight, Roma appeared like a staff prepared to determine themselves amongst the crowded heavyweight division that dominated Serie A. In the two seasons earlier than Caniggia’s arrival, the Giallorossi had gained the Coppa Italia, misplaced the UEFA Cup and the Italian Tremendous Cup remaining and reached the quarter-finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup, ending fifth in the league.

If Caniggia felt the Giallorossi have been the first group he had performed for since his River Plate days that would compete for silverware, then Roma felt a person of the Argentine’s calibre can be the catalyst to make the ultimate leap and problem for the Scudetto.

Even with out Rudi Völler, who had swapped the Everlasting Metropolis for Marseille, new Roma coach Vujadin Boškov might rely on 1990 World Cup winner Thomas Hassler, former European Cup winner Siniša Mihajlović and the likes of Giuseppe Giannini – the Prince of Roman soccer – Ruggiero Rizzitelli and Brazil worldwide Aldair. 

Nevertheless, a troublesome first half of the season – 15 factors in 17 video games, in an period when wins have been nonetheless value two factors in Italy – swiftly put paid to Roma’s lofty ambitions and a lot worse to return for his or her Argentine striker.

Caniggia was a person who lived his life like he ran previous defenders on the pitch – at 100 miles an hour. His rockstar way of life – and, as some have been fast to recommend, his shut friendship with Maradona – noticed him enterprise off the path skilled footballers are purported to stroll and into the world of illicit substances.

Traces of cocaine have been present in the urine pattern Caniggia offered after a 1-1 draw towards Napoli on 21 March – sarcastically the workforce that had misplaced Maradona to the similar drawback two years earlier – and, after a month-long investigation, he was banned for 13 months by Serie A’s Disciplinary Fee.

Whereas athletes who discover themselves on the mistaken aspect of the regulation at present are virtually routinely afforded a second probability, Italian soccer was a really totally different panorama in 1993 and Caniggia’s 12-month enforced absence introduced down the curtain on his days in Rome.

Following a prolific season in Portugal with Benfica, Caniggia returned to Buenos Aires, this time on the blue and gold aspect of the divide as he joined forces with Maradona at Boca Juniors. Regardless of the visceral hate between Boca and River, it isn’t unusual for gamers to characterize each golf equipment and the Bombonera trustworthy shortly warmed to Caniggia, who scored 12 objectives in 29 league video games in his first season with the membership.

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At Boca, nevertheless, as was the case at another membership he’s ever performed for, the fundamental story was Maradona. After fleeting spells with Sevilla and Newell’s Previous Boys, El Pibe de Oro had joined Los Xeneizes in a bid to revive his status, which had been tarnished after he failed a drug check at the 1994 World Cup.

Caniggia and Maradona have been meant to be the icons heralding the starting of the Mauricio Macri period and publicity adopted at each nook in Buenos Aires. Sadly for the newly-appointed Boca Juniors president, trophies didn’t. In the first half of the 1990s, Boca had introduced an 11-year look forward to a league title to an finish by profitable the 1992 Apertura and lifted three cups, however they completed 11th in Carlos Bilardo’s solely season in cost, regardless of a stellar squad together with Juan Sebastián Verón and Kily González, in addition to Caniggia and Maradona.

After managing 24 appearances in his first yr again with Boca, the latter performed solely a mixed six video games in the following two seasons as his glittering profession got here to a self-destructive finish, whereas Caniggia racked up virtually half a century of Primera División video games earlier than leaving Argentina for a second time in 1999.

As had been the case over a decade earlier, El Hijo del Viento sailed in the direction of Italy but once more. Bergamo, the metropolis the place Caniggia had arguably reached the pinnacle of his profession, welcomed him again with open arms, however his second spell in Lombardy was removed from the fairytale Atalanta followers have been hoping for. A solitary aim in 17 Serie B video games quickly satisfied Caniggia and the membership that they might be greatest served in the event that they parted methods once more, a choice which definitely didn’t tarnish the Argentine’s legacy. “Bergamo and its people are always a fantastic memory,” Caniggia stated a number of years later.

“From the moment I arrived right until when I left I’ve always found myself at home with the club, my teammates and with the whole environment surrounding me. The fans were brilliant and I think I’ve enjoyed the best years of my career in Bergamo. I’m always happy to go back. From a professional point of view I didn’t make the right decision when I went to Atalanta in Serie B in 1999. The league was very different from Serie A and harder. I didn’t enjoy it, but I was happy to go back to Bergamo and I would it all over again for the fans.”

Neither Atalanta nor Caniggia lived to remorse their determination to go separate methods as La Dea have been promoted to Serie A at the finish of the season, whereas the Argentine moved to Scotland and unexpectedly revived his profession with seven objectives in 21 appearances in his first season for Dundee. 

Rangers supervisor Dick Advocaat noticed sufficient of Caniggia with the Darkish Blues to be satisfied the 35-year-old would nonetheless do a job for a prime membership and signed him in the summer time of 2001. Two home cups adopted in his first season at Ibrox, adopted by a shocking call-up for the World Cup in Korea and Japan, the place Caniggia managed to get himself despatched off with out enjoying a single minute as Argentina crashed out in the group levels.

His second season in Glasgow introduced Caniggia solely his second ever league title, earlier than fleeting spells in Qatar and with semi-professional aspect Wembley FC wrote the final chapter of an exciting profession lived largely with the foot on the fuel. It’s precisely as the Son of the Wind would have appreciated. 

By Dan Cancian @mufc_dan87