On April 29th 1990, when Atalanta came to the Stadio Comunale it was already the final day of the season. With Italia ‘90 just around the corner, Fiorentina had needed to play a lot of their home games this season away from Florence as the stadium underwent development work before hosting World Cup games. For the final two home games they were back in their own stadium, albeit at a reduced capacity.
Three years before this, Atalanta had lost here on the last day of the season which had meant relegation to Serie B. They now had their chance for revenge, as it was Fiorentina who needed to win this game to avoid the drop. It would also be Roberto Baggio’s last appearance in a Fiorentina jersey in Florence. There was a two-legged UEFA Cup Final still to play, but due to incidents at the semi-final, Fiorentina would be forced to play the home leg in Avellino. The first leg, in Turin against Juventus would be held three days after this must-win game with Atalanta.
Ciccio Graziani was now the manager, after the removal of Bruno Giorgi at the end of March. This was the former Fiorentina striker’s first role in management. In the Fiorentina squad, though not on the pitch for this game, were two future Viola managers, Stefano Pioli and current boss Giuseppe Iachini. Beppe was on the bench while Pioli was out injured. On the Atalanta team was Cesare Prandelli, in what was his last ever game as a player.
On the Atalanta bench was another future Fiorentina manager, Emiliano Mondonico. His Atalanta side were almost guaranteed a UEFA Cup place for the following season, although Mondonico would by then have moved on to manage Torino. Even though Baggio was on the way out, even though the official announcement had not yet been made, before the game he spoke of it as being the most important game since he joined the club. It was feared there could be trouble after the game if the worst was to happen. With the way other results went that day, Fiorentina had to win to survive. Even a draw would have meant a play-off with Udinese to stay in the top flight.
Fiorentina got off to a great start with Renato Buso opening the scoring after five minutes. Just two minutes later and Atalanta were level. Goalkeeper Marco Landucci took down the Argentine Claudio Caniggia and the Brazilian Evair slotted home the resulting spot-kick.
On the half-hour mark Buso hit the post with his shot, and five minutes later Marco Nappi’s header came off the same post. This time Nappi was able to collect the ball again and sent it across the goal, where Fabrizio Ferron in the Atalanta goal was unable to stop it reaching Alberto Di Chiara, waiting at the back post he tapped it home to put Fiorentina back in front. It was Di Chiara’s goal in 1987 which had sent Atalanta down to Serie B.
Three minutes later, and Prandelli’s own goal gave Fiorentina a two goal lead and safety almost guaranteed. A free-kick was floated into the box, and Cesare got his head to it but the ball went flying back towards the Atalanta goal and over Ferron into the net.
With Fiorentina 3-1 up at the break, the atmosphere was more relaxed when they emerged for the second half. Twelve minutes after the interval, as Baggio went on a run into the Atalanta area, he was taken down by Renzo Contratto. Just three weeks prior to this game, Baggio had a penalty saved at Roma in a game that ended scoreless. Before this game he said he was ready to do anything to help Fiorentina win, including taking a penalty. He added that he had already made one mistake this season and it wouldn’t happen again.
Yet again, it was a poorly taken penalty, straight at the keeper, but Ferron was unable to hold onto the ball and Baggio was quick to react and knock home the rebound. He had stayed true to his word, putting in a performance which helped the team achieve the required result.
The Fiorentina owner, Flavio Pontello, along with his family had already left the stadium by the time Baggio scored that final goal to make it 4-1. He had taken enough abuse from the fans, angered by those rumours of their idol leaving for Juventus. While up to now the protests had come mainly from the Curva Fiesole, on this day it was the whole stadium who had turned on the club’s owner.
After the game, Baggio certainly didn’t make things any better for Pontello, declaring that he had a nose longer than Pinocchio. He was keen to let the fans know that he was more than willing to remain at the club, and it was Pontello who wanted to sell him. The fans made their feelings clear, at regular intervals during the game they chanted “Resta con noi Roberto Baggio”. It was not to be, once the UEFA CUP Final was out of the way, lost to Juventus, Pontello announced the sale of Baggio to their bitter rivals. This saw the fans anger spill out onto the streets, and in the end the club would have a new owner by June, as Mario Cecchi Gori bought the club from Pontello.