As I move into the final season with Sampdoria, it is the biggest season of the three. I had matched the team’s success by securing the Coppa Italia last season, and although we were closer to Milan in-game than Sampdoria were in the 90s, I wanted to push us that one step further and claim the Scudetto. I touched on it in the last post that this summer’s recruitment was going to be crucial in leap-frogging Capello’s side, did I manage to secure the right calibre of player?

After a convincing second half of the season, I knew that this tactic would be the one to close the gap on Milan and perhaps get some joy out of them in the big games. Which meant my targets were easy enough to locate and bring in to suit this style of play.

First in through the door, were transfers I had agreed on before the end of season 2. Both Weah and Desailly were exchanging Ligue 1 for Serie A, and immediately were improvements on Chiesa and Vierchowod respectively. We did have to part with £30 million and £19.75 million to land the stars, but that was money that would be paid back through Scudetto glory and Champions League qualification by the end of the season.

And then we had to bring in players mostly due to departures. Leboeuf and Des Walker leaving was enough justification to bring in Desailly, but it was the departure of Moreno Mannini, right back, that caused a bit of a gamble. In came Recep Çetin from Besiktas for £5 million potentially rising to £7.5 million. Considering Mannini left to Benfica for £14.25 million, I was happy to spend a bit more on a right-back that would be more than capable of playing in that position week-in and week-out, especially on the cheap wages and based on being a squad player. Dejan Savićević I touched on in the last post, and his disappointment led to his departure to Shakhtar for £20 million, I didn’t feel the need to replace him immediately but it was only a week later when Monaco lodged an £18 million bid for 30-year-old Valdo, who was starting to decline. I then led the charge of bringing in some real quality.

Diego Simeone made his return to Italy from Seville for £30 million, and that would then allow Pavel Nedved to move into a more attacking and creative role left behind by Valdo. Simeone was the exact type of ball-winning midfielder I felt we were lacking, and I could only pray that his defensive capabilities would be enough to finally shore up our defence and then hit teams on the counter. Shortly after Simeone’s arrival, Rui Costa landed in Genova from Benfica in a deal worth £17.5 million. I had no issues with the performance levels of Mancini, but a nasty injury meant I had to bring in someone to play that role, and this deal felt the best solution and a good value for money.

That then completed our summer spending and we looked like this going into the new season, and I really fancied the look of this team on paper:

A successful pre-season tour in Singapore, along with a couple of games in Italy, certainly raised the confidence levels amongst the squad as we won 4 of our 5 friendlies, and played out a 0-0 draw against affiliate club Napoli. Of the 4 games we won, we scored 38 goals and shipped only 2, a real sign of things to come I was hoping for the new season. The fixture list then spat out a challenging opening-day fixture – a trip to the San Siro to square off with our competition, AC Milan.

We entered the lions’ den and left with all 3 points thanks to a superb second-half performance to turn the game on its head. And from there on in we never really looked back domestically as we started to rack in 3 points left right and centre to hold a commanding start to the season. The 3 points against AC Milan on the opening day of the season was a massive confidence builder for the squad, and I felt that this was going to be the result that really lay down the marker for the year ahead.

The Champions League was not going according to plan, and the three points against Marseille were massive, we were minutes away from a big draw in France. The win against Seville was enough to give us control of our destiny in the group as we had Celtic still to play, meaning we would qualify should we emerge as winners, albeit as runners-up.

However, I did hold some concerns. In this stretch of games, Davor Šuker, who had been clinical the last two seasons for me, was struggling in front of goal. 5 goals to his name in 14 competitive matches, it was alarming signs and I could only hope he could play his way back into the prolific goalscoring form he had been in. On the other hand, however, our flying start was down to summer signing George Weah, scoring 12 goals in the same amount of competitive games as his partner. We also had goals from midfield as Costa had helped himself to four, and Jugović & Nedved were chipping in with goals from the centre of the park. Defensively, we looked a bit shakey in some games, but as long as the goals kept flying in at the other end, nothing could take me down from this newfound high.

I knew we had to keep churning out the results, and not get too distracted with AC Milan and what they were up to. But I couldn’t help but look over my shoulder now and again to see Capello struggle some game weeks. In the opening 10 games, AC Milan had lost 2 games, 2-1 Sampdoria and 4-0 Udinese and had drawn 2 games, 2-2 with Torino and Genoa. For a lot of teams, this was nothing to worry about, but given their resounding success in the previous two years, it was strange to see Udinese wedged between myself and AC Milan in second place at this stage. We just had to focus on ourselves, and ensure that our unbeaten run continued.

With Champions League knockout football secured, it was time to focus on what was going to be a massive month in January; defending our Coppa Italia title, fighting for the Supercoppa and trying to keep a hold of our best players.

Both Oliver Kahn and Marco Lanna were beginning to grumble about their playing time, and although Van der Sar and Lizarazu were in fine form, neither player could accept that reasoning. Both players wanted to leave, and that is exactly what happened – Kahn joined AC Milan for £40 million, whilst Marco Lanna moved, on deadline day, to Manchester United for £24.5 million. To make matters worse, Lizarazu was on his way out as Liverpool had matched his £35 million release clause. Reinforcements were needed, and fast.

Massimo Taibi was in to become the new backup to Van der Sar, which he was more than happy with. However, it took £20.5 million to force Manchester United to part with the former Piacenza keeper, not an ideal transfer fee, but given the nature of Kahn’s departure, we were desperate. Roberto Carlos arrives from relegated Cagliari for £22 million on deadline day, as his agent had hinted about his unhappiness following that relegation. Knowing that he was not a top-flight player, Cagliari would have found the money hard to turn down as it would let them reinvest into the squad to help with their promotion prospects, and I was delighted to get a more than capable replacement for Lizarazu. Finally, flying in from Argentinos Juniors was young Juan Pablo Sorín who was more than happy to play at left-back or through the middle. £5.5 million was more than enough to secure the services of the young Argentine, and I was delighted to have a more than capable replacement on the bench should anything happen to Roberto Carlos in the next 5 months.

Moving back onto the footballing aspect, it was a mixed emotion type of run. From the highs of a local derby win, humiliating AC Milan 5-2 and a Supercoppa Italia win, to the lows of an embarrassing Coppa Italia exit and a poor defeat at the hands of Cremonese. Both defeats were hard to take, especially handing over the Coppa Italia in the manner we did. It was time to challenge the players to reach new highs – we were in control of our Scudetto chances, and I was sure to make sure this job got over the line ASAP. 20 games played, 17 wins, 2 draws and 1 defeat. 59 goals were scored and 19 were conceded, the stats were backing us up that this was going to be our year. It was only strengthened further with the return of Šuker’s form – 9 goals in these 13 matches, he certainly looked hungry for more.

The Curtain Falls

It was a matter of when we would win the league as opposed to would we, I just had to ensure that the concentration levels remained intact, whilst keeping an eye on the Champions League given our rich run of form in the competition. From a side that looked as though they were going to crash out, to a side that dismantled Barcelona 6-3 over two legs, it certainly was a remarkable change in fortunes.

Ranked at 14-1 to go on and win the competition at the start of the group stages, we certainly looked good value for money as we moved into the semi-finals. We had a chance of an all Italian affair as the Milan derby was the other semi-final, we had a confident Leeds United to square off against. A very gritty 1-0 victory at home was a good starting point to travel to England with and knowing that the first goal was going to be crucial in the second leg, I had to ensure we grabbed it first.

On the domestic front, we restarted another unbeaten streak to ensure the gap between ourselves and Milan remained intact. Yes, we did have a couple of sloppy draws in this stretch of games, but I thought that the Champions League certainly looked possible after favourable draws. Most importantly, Davor Šuker maintained his form in the season-ending run of games, and a lot of the success goes down to the formidable partnership formed between him and Weah.

On the 4th of May, it was confirmed. Sampdoria was bringing back their second Scudetto to Genova, ending the dominance of AC Milan. With four games remaining, it was not as clear cut as Milan’s wins over the past two seasons, but the job was done all the same. A fully rotated side put four past Pescara to ensure the 10 point gap remained in place, and it would be party central at the Luigi Ferraris. The domestic campaign had effectively finished for Sampdoria, but there was still a lot on offer – the dream of a treble.

A rocking Elland Road awaited Sampdoria as the semi-final stage drew to a close, and it was end-to-end stuff. Marcelo Delgado struck first for the hosts as they tied the game on aggregate, but it was mere moments later that Rui Costa stepped up for Sampdoria with a massive goal to take the sting out of the Leeds faithful. George Weah then added a second Sampdoria goal on the night which looked to have deflated the English representation in Europe, but King Eric was on hand to tie the game the night and bring the score back to 3-2. The task was simple, 45 minutes to see out the tie, could the Italians muster a massive performance?

Everything was going all so well for Sampdoria in the second half as they controlled the tempo of the game and frustrated Leeds, but Roberto Carlos gave them hope in the 79th minute with a lazy tackle inside the box, and Gary McAllister dispatched the penalty with real conviction. Leeds 3 Sampdoria 2, 3-3 overall. The game was on a knife edge. Injury time was announced. Four minutes of it, and in the 5th minute, we had a freekick on the edge of the box. Rincon swung one into the back post. Bodies getting in the way of each other. Roberto Di Matteo met the ball, and silence fell around the stadium until the ball nestled into the net. The away end went up in raptures, the last gasp goal to secure passage to the final! But the assistant was frantically waving. Di Matteo had started his run just too early and strayed offside – it was extra time that would be required.

The message was simple, keep everything cool, calm and collected, whilst giving nothing cheap away. But under the pressure of a full Elland Road, it appeared to fall on deaf ears. Leeds was gifted a tap-in following a lack of communication in defence, and the English side had the biggest advantage of them all after only 3 minutes. 4-3 on aggregate, time was against us. We huffed. We puffed. But we could not break down the Leeds defence. Just as we looked to get in on goal, another Leeds player appeared out of nowhere to see out the attack. We slumped out in one of the most entertaining games across Europe. And it was sore given the stage we were at. Two crucial moments at crucial times of the game killed us off. I was devastated.

With the final three games of the season being meaningless games, it was good to give the squad players a chance to run out in front of the fans and enjoy the moment of being league champions. It had been a long campaign, but the title party following a derby win was all so sweet.

At the start of this save I set out to match, if not better, the results of Sampdoria between 1992 and 1995. During these years, Sampdoria managed to win the Coppa Italia, and finish as high as third, whilst reaching the semi-finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup and losing the Supercoppa Italia. AC Milan’s dominance in the 90s was too much for I Blucerchiati and Italia to handle, but in the world of Football Manager, we did manage to break that dominance.

Our final season saw us finish 14 points clear of AC Milan, whilst out-scoring them and keeping it far tighter at the back in comparison to previous years. George Weah was injured for the final two games of the season, and his absence played a big part in not hitting 100 league goals in a season.

Sampdoria 94/95 OfficialGames WonGames DrawnGames LostGoals ForGoals AgainstGoal DifferencePoints
Sampdoria 94/95 FM SaveGames WonGames DrawnGames LostGoals ForGoals AgainstGoal DifferencePoints

In comparison to history, the season’s accomplishments dwarves what actually happened, but that was the result of squad building for the prior two seasons also. It was good to bring the league back to Genova for the second time in the club’s history, although it was not disappointing to go further with a defence of the Coppa Italia.

Our accomplishments in this save were as follows:

  • 1 x Scudetto
  • 1 x Coppa Italia
  • 1 x Supercoppa Italia
  • Cup Winners Cup Runner-up

The trophy haul was 2 more than what Sampdoria did manage in the early 90s, but this was more a team built for success now with the quality throughout the side. Fabio Capello’s Milan was a true force to be reckoned with, and with the reinforcements made over the years in Football Manager, the task certainly got more and more difficult signing players like Cafù, Redondo, Romário, Balakov, Klinsmann, Couto, Zidane and Figo, whilst only really losing Ruud Gullit in the second season.

It was a fantastic feeling ending Milan’s reign as the best team in Italy, and who knows, perhaps with the AI at hand they would regain the title immediately and go on to be the best side for years to come. But in the here and now? This was a good feeling.

Forza Doria.

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