The late 1980s was a time of coaching revolution in Italy. Few have forgotten the transformation enacted by Arrigo Sacchi at Milan or Zdenek Zeman’s cavalier Foggia side. Not so many remember Gigi Maifredi’s little masterpiece at Bologna.
His move to the Rossoblu job in the summer of 1987 was little more than a footnote on the sports pages. He had successfully taken Ospitaletto to promotion to Serie C1 which was enough to convince the famous Emilia-Romagna club to snap him up. It prompted a protest from the Italian Manager’s Association as he did not yet have the necessary qualifications to take over at a Serie B side. Nonetheless, the move went ahead.
Maifredi was quickly seen as a second Sacchi. His style was dubbed “champagne football” as a tribute to its exciting approach and his own background in the wine business. Like Arrigo, he was another coach from outside the traditional football world who was shaking up the game.
Things certainly fizzed in his first season at the Dall’Ara. The Bolognese sparkled in the second division and won it at a canter scoring plenty of goals along the way. The end of the season was accompanied by the pop of corks and a clink of glasses as they won promotion as champions.
That performance grabbed the attention of the club where Maifredi definitely saw himself ending up - Juventus. They were meditating a move like Milan’s approach for Sacchi which had proved such a success. Could the Bologna boss be the man to add some extra style to the Bianconeri’s play?
In the end, the Turin giants hesitated. In the summer of 1988 they went for the more obvious option of club legend Dino Zoff. They would come calling again for Maifredi at a later date but, in the meantime, he carried on his work at the Stadio Dall’Ara.
Arrival in Serie A was not easy. An opening day win over Pisa was a false dawn as top division sides proved more than capable of coping with Gigi’s brand of exciting football. Three consecutive defeats were not the ideal build-up for the visit of Juventus in week five of the season.
Maifredi (above) chose to cover-up and play a more defensive line-up than usual. He stuck to his zonal guns but tried to shore up the back line to better fend off the attacking talents of the likes Alessandro Altobelli, Michael Laudrup, Rui Barros and Sasha Zavarov. It singularly failed to work out.
Zoff’s men were ahead within 15 minutes. An Altobelli assist saw little Portuguese Rui Barros show his usual quick wits to chip goalkeeper Nello Cusin - brought in from Ospitaletto along with Maifredi. It was the opener of a genuine goal glut with both defences all over the place.
Going behind saw Maifredi decide that his more cautious approach had not been rewarded. He took off another Ospitaletto import (and future Juve man) Marco De Marchi and threw on forward Giuseppe Lorenzo. But before half time the expert ex-Inter man Altobelli turned finisher and extended Juve’s lead when he met a Zavarov cross to nod home.
"This Bologna side, thanks to Maifredi, seems happy to lose as long as its play gets plaudits and applause," wrote one slightly snide match report. It certainly looked like they were out of their depth when they went 3-0 down when Barros struck again (although some credit it as an own goal to Belgian import Stephane Demol). The home fans in the Dall’Ara were openly applauding, right enough, but it was Juve’s play - not that of their own players.
Eventually, however, the Rossoblu started to show that their commitment to attacking football did involve a goalscoring threat as well as a leaky defence. Fabio Poli finally narrowed the gap, only for Laudrup to strike again to restore Juve’s three-goal advantage. In the old days, the Bianconeri would have shut up shop at that stage but they had defensive frailties of their own.
It was an on-loan Juventino, Angelo Alessio, who gave the game a final twist. He came on and hit a quick-fire double which had the visitors’ legs trembling. He only scored four goals all season for the Rossoblu, but half of them came against the club which owned him. There was visible relief in the Bianconeri ranks when the final whistle blew to clinch their win.
"We have to take a lot of the blame on all four goals," said Maifredi afterwards. "You need to pay more attention in Serie A."
"When a team tries to win, it opens up a bit," added Juve netminder Stefano Tacconi, in explanation of the goal glut. "But the important thing is scoring one goal more than your rivals."
Despite the defeat, Bologna were probably more happy with their season by its conclusion than Juve were. Zoff’s men finished fourth as their defensive problems cost them dear while the Emilia-Romagna side dodged relegation by a couple of points. Maifredi’s work could continue in the top division for another year.
The following season he managed an even more impressive eighth place finish which took Bologna into the UEFA Cup. With Juve finishing fourth once more, they decided the time was right to move for their man. Maifredi moved north in 1990 for his dream appointment with the Turin giants. It turned into a bit of a disaster.
In that single season with the Bianconeri he achieved something which had been impossible for a generation and managed to fail to qualify for Europe. It was enough to convince the club’s hierarchy to put the cork back on champagne football. Giovanni Trapattoni was called upon to make his return to the helm.
As for Maifredi, his stock never quite recovered. He went back to Bologna but the magic had gone and he ended up travelling around Italy, Europe and even north Africa to try to restore his reputation. It never really worked and he now has a role on the technical staff with Brescia. But there is still a little twinkle in his eye when asked about his days with Bologna.