This article was brought to you by La Copa Imposible as part of The Away End. La Copa Imposible draws on the imagination of it's talented chroniclers, pitting great teams from history against each other - with some reality and a lot of fiction.
What happens when you put Napoli’s Maradona-inspired team of 1987 against Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United team of 1999? La Copa Imposible are here to find out.
It’s impossible not to be dazzled by this game. On one side, Manchester United with Sir Alex Ferguson and David “Spice” Beckham, winner of one of the most shocking ﬁnals of the Champions in 1999.
How to forget that the great George Best have had already given up and left the stadium to the Soﬁa Hotel! Another unforgettable image was the one of Lennard Johansson, ‘the boss’ from UEFA, together with Franz Beckenbauer coming down from the box seat to give the award to Bayern Munich only to realize, when they arrived to the ﬁeld, that the champion was the United. “I read all your ﬁrst editions,” said that day Ferguson provoking the journalists who, indeed, had to throw away their in-advance- columns where the Bayern appeared as champion.
On the other side, Napoli with Diego Maradona, Italian champion 1986-87 (League and Cup) for the ﬁrst time in his history. Brazilian player Careca was there too. Even the Camorra attended Wembley.
The referee is bold-headed Pierluigi Collina, an Italian so impeccable that the United accepts him. But the ﬁnal starts and everybody stopped looking at Maradona, Beckham, Ferguson or Collina. Napoli kicks oﬀ, the ball goes to the back and the whole world stares at Claudio Garella. The goalkeeper fails to clear and Ryan Giggs takes advantage of the empty goal. Only 25 seconds had gone and Manchester United wins 1-0.
Poor Garella! Torino, his ﬁrst club, sold him quickly to the Serie C division. He returned to Seriee A with Lazio, but there his blunges gave him the nickname “Garellate.” The revenge came in the season 1984-85 with the historic Scudetto with modest Verona. And here we are, at Wembley, all eyes ﬁxed on him. But “Garellate” rebuilds himself. Gianni Agnelli, Juventus’ top dog, once deﬁned him as “the best handless goalkeeper of the world”. And, in eﬀect, true to his style, not using the hands but the rest of the body (legs, chest, even the head to stop a point-blank shot from Andy Cole), “Garellik” (now we use his other nickname, the one he has for the good games) starts saving everything.
Ferguson leaves to the recess in a rage. His historic 4-4-2 controlled Napoli, but 1-0 is not good enough.
The response begins with Bruno Giordano, a tough guy from Trastevere. He arrived to San Paolo thanks to Luciano Moggi, “Lucky Luciano”, popular around referees as he treated them with golden watches. In the halftime, Moggi asked Giordano to provoke Beckham who spent part of the ﬁrst half styling his hair.
With the second half in motion, Giordano pulls his hair, “Brad Pitt” overreacts and the United loses a player.
Rough Roy Keane responds with a strong kick to Maradona. Diego dodges him and oﬀers him the left hand, “God’s” hand.
The one that keeps England infuriated since Mexico 86, the World Cup where Ferguson, coach of Scotland at that time, got out in the ﬁrst round.
Beating Maradona’s Napoli is important for Sir Alex’s pride as he wants to demonstrate the world that he is a great tactician as well. Ferguson presses drowning Maradona. With no spaces there is no Mexico 86.
But Beckham’s silly red card ruined the plan. At 90 minutes, Diego, already fed up with the directions of Ottavio Bianchi, the coach he despised the most in his life, rushes oﬀ from the right, scatters a bunch of opponents and crosses the ball with a soft touch right when Peter Schmeichel came oﬀ (a revenge from Wembley 80 with the national team, when the shot just got near the post). It’s 1-1.
At minute 91, Diego makes a pass that only Diego can see. Careca, not being marked by Jaap Stam scores. 2-1. This time, the story turns around for Manchester United.
In the locker room, “Furious Fergie” kicks some water bottles and one of them messes with Beckham’s hair. The whole town of Napoli celebrates his famous trio “MaGiCa” (Maradona-Giordano-Careca) and “Garellik” as well. The working class gets to paradise.