A quarter of a century on, people far and wide are still baffled how little old Middlesbrough managed to sign Fabrizio Ravanelli. After winning the 1996 Champions League with Italian giants Juventus and being his team’s top scorer that season, it’s a bit bewildering as to why he’d make the switch from Turin to Teesside. Pizzas to Parmos. Mediterranean summers to baltic Northern winters; but something must have caught his eye! Ravanelli signed for Bryan Robson’s Boro for £7 million and flung open the door for an influx of European superstars who went on to play in the Premier League.
Boro themselves had only been promoted in 1995 where they finished mid table in their maiden season in their shiny new ground The Riverside (then called The Cellnet) so this signing was huge. With Brazillian playmaker Juninho already at the club and then followed by the signing of fellow countryman Emerson, the 1996/97 season was certainly going to be an eventful one for the Teessiders.
Ravanelli, known as the White Feather due to his silver hair, kicked off his Boro debut with a thumping hat trick against Liverpool in a dramatic 3-3 draw on what was the tip of the iceberg in an incredibly dramatic Premiership campaign. He scored 17 goals in 35 apparences that season including the opener in Boro’s League Cup Final against Leicester City, with a certain Emile Heskey providing the equaliser for The Foxes.
With the club being involved in two cup finals and sadly being relegated, it was no doubt a tumultuous year both on and off the pitch. Boro’s new Italian front man seemed to have mystery surrounding him; from his rumoured six man entourage wherever he went to an apparent bust up between him and team mate Neil Cox ahead of Boro’s FA Cup Final after Cox said Mikkel Beck should start instead – Fabrizio Ravanelli’s season on Teesside was certainly a rollercoaster. Boro had a strong and exciting team that year which ultimately got relegated at Elland Road (cue the crying Juninho pic) which must have been a shock to Ravanelli’s system after being a European champion only 12 months prior.
After Boro’s relegation, the Italian made the move to France and signed for Olympique Marseille.
Looking back on his stint at Teesside, Ravanelli admits it was a mistake to leave Juventus when he did but loved everything about his time at Middlesbrough. In an interview with Planet Football, he said: “I had some very special emotions that season: the first Premier match in which I scored three goals against Liverpool but also the goal in the final of League Cup in Wembley, and then just having the chance to score so many more and against all the best teams. Unfortunately, we were relegated at the end of the season and so I had to change team, but I still have some special memories of English football and each time I come back in England someone still recognises and greets me.”
Fabrizio Ravanelli goes down in Boro’s history as one of the most iconic, impactful players at the club. He is always associated with the wild times the club went through during the mid to late 1990s, which are still discussed online and over a pint 25 years later. How Boro pulled off the signing we’ll never know, but it’s certainly one to remember.