They Could Have Been One Of Football’s Greatest: Salvatore Schillaci

1990 World Cup Semi Final, Naples, Italy, 3rd July, 1990, Italy 1 v Argentina 1 (Argentina win 3-2 on penalties), Italy's Salvatore Schillaci (Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

Part 13 of this series looks at the man who was the surprise inclusion in Italy’s 1990 World Cup squad. Salvatore ‘Toto’ Schillaci ended up as the surprise of tournament and left with the golden boot and ball. His name was expected to be on every fan’s lips for years to come; however, the pressure that came with the awards from the World Cup weighed heavily on his shoulders and sadly, Italia 90 would be his 15 minutes of fame.

They Could Have Been One Of Football’s Greatest Salvatore Schillaci

Early years

Salvatore Schillaci was born in Palermo, Italy on 1st December 1964. He began his football story with local amateur side, Amat Palermo. His form soon attracted the attention of other clubs and in 1982 he signed for Messina. The club were then plying their trade in Serie C2, Italy’s fourth division.

Messina, with the help of Schillaci’s goals, began improving and were eventually promoted to Serie B. The club consolidated themselves in the Italian second division with their star striker scoring on a regular basis. During the 1988/89 season, Schillaci scored half of his side’s goals. This sort of form did not go unnoticed and that summer one of the biggest clubs in Italy came calling.

Move to Juventus

The “Old Lady” of Italian football paid £3 million for his services. By the end of the season few could argue that it wasn’t money well spent. 21 goals in all competitions helped Juve win the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup. In March 1990 his form earned him his first call up to the Italy senior national squad. An excellent year had certainly been had, but even he did not expect what would happen next

Italia 90

Even though Schillaci had an excellent first season at Juventus and made his debut for the national team, few expected him to be involved at the World Cup. Italy at the time had an abundance of top strikers to choose from. Players such as Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Mancini, Aldo Serena and Andrea Carnevale were all ahead of Schillachi in the pecking order. However, Toto was selected much to the surprise of many. He was expected to make little impact and watch the games mainly from the bench. The World Cup, however, is always capable of throwing up a surprise. Along with the Cameroon side, Schillaci surprised many and made a bigger impact than he could have imagined.

He started the first game versus Austria on the bench. With the game still 0-0 with 15 minutes to go, the striker got the call to enter the game. His bullet header to win the game made him an instant hero. He started the final group game against Czechoslovakia and scored his second of the tournament, again with a header. The opener in the victory over Uruguay and the winner against the Republic of Ireland in the quarter finals took his tally to four.

Semi-final heartbreak

Against Argentina in Naples with the whole of Italy and the world watching, Schillaci scored the opening goal. Dreams of the final were underway but Maradona and Co got the equaliser to eventually take the game to penalties. The hosts lost the shootout.

Personal success

A sixth and final tournament goal against England in the third place playoff meant the striker was Italia 90’s top scorer. It earned him the golden boot and also the golden ball, the trophy given to the tournament’s best player.

World Cup aftermath

Schillaci was now a national and world star. But it was not what he wanted, and the pressure that came with stardom was difficult to handle. It was not long before the honeymoon period after the World Cup began ending. Juve struggled and so did Schillaci. Many were expecting big things from the now national hero but he struggled with the expectations and fame and the goals dried up quickly. Just five goals were scored during the 1990/91 season. Six the following season. His appearances for the national side were also drying up.

End of international career

1991 saw his last appearance for Italy. The national side went on to miss out on the 1992 European Championships. Schillaci’s international career lasted just one and a half years. His last appearance coming in a friendly against Bulgaria. In 16 games he scored seven goals.

Inter Milan

In 1992 a move to Internazionale came about. Both player and club were hoping a change of scenery would kick start his career. Unfortunately his time in Milan was nothing short of a disaster for him. He again struggled for form, had fitness issues, went through a messy divorce and suffered abuse from his own fans. Schillaci had gone from hero to zero in a short space of time. After two years, 38 appearances and 13 goals in Milan, a move away from the spotlight came along which suited all concerned.

Move to Japan

As Italy prepared for USA 94, An escape route out of Inter and Italy was given to him by Japanese J-League side Jübilo Iwata. Away from the taunts, stresses and strains of life in his homeland, Schillaci regained his goalscoring touch and eventually became a hero again. In three seasons in Japan he scored 65 goals and won a league championship. An injury stopped him from extending his stay at Jübilo and he eventually retired in 1999.

Life after football

Since retiring, Toto returned to Italy where he has appeared on a reality TV show, tried his hand at politics and opened up a football academy in Sicily.

The Last Word

There is a consensus that he punched above his weight at Juve, got lucky at the World Cup and then got found out soon after. Schillaci was a good striker; however, he could not deal with the fame, fame he did not want. All he wanted was to concentrate on playing football.

Although he had an excellent World Cup, maybe it was also his downfall. Too much success in such a short period. Maybe if his rise had been slower we could be talking about one of the best strikers of all time. However, sadly, we talk about a striker who had 15 minutes of fame then just could not live up to the star status thrust upon him. He went on a rollercoaster ride, and it is one that will be remembered by many for years to come.

For parts 1-12, please click on the links below.

P1 Robin Friday   P2 Dean Ashton     P3 Kieron Brady

P4 Jason Koumas     P5 Brian Clough     P6 Freddy Adu

P7 Frank Worthington     P8 David Bentley     P9 Gianluigi Lentini

P10 Jean-Pierre Papin     P11 Asamoah Gyan

P12 Manchester Derby Special

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