Ahead of Saturday's encounter at the Bentegodi, Richard Hough previews Hellas Verona v Sampdoria.
An enduring friendship
For the "Butei" of Hellas Verona, the friendship with the "Doriani" of Sampdoria is second only to their affection for Fiorentina. The "gemellaggio" (twinning) between the two sets of fans is said to be nearly 40 years old. As ever with these things the precise origins of the relationship are shrouded in mystery.
On Saturday at the Bentegodi you'll undoubtedly hear chants of "Ve-ro-na, Ve-ro-na" coming from the away end. The Curva Sud will reciprocate with its own cry of "Do-ria, Do-ria". Compared to the standards abuse and insults exchanged by opposing curvas, this is a rare opportunity to enjoy a moment of solidarity and empathy between opposing sets of passionate fans.
In Verona's famous 1985 Scudetto winning season, a banner in the Sampdoria curve was unfurled. "Welcome the Champions of Italy", it proclaimed. At this point, however, there were still 6 games to play and the championship was far from over!
A distinguished history
Sampdoria, the port city of Genoa's second club, was established in 1946 following the merger of two rival clubs (Andrea Doria and Sampierdarenese). I Blucerchiati enjoyed particular success during the late 1980s and early 1990s, winning the Scudetto for the first and only time in the club's history in the 1990/91 season. Samp's success in this era owed much to the formidable strike partnership of Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli, who scored a combined total of 217 goals for the club.
Between 1985 and 1994, Samp won the Coppa Italia four times as well as the Cup Winners Cup in 1989. In 1992, they came close to winning the European Cup, losing out to Barcelona, thanks only to a Ronald Koeman extra-time free kick.
During this period Trevor Francis, Graeme Souness and David Platt all famously wore the iconic Sampdoria jersey. Liam Brady, although better known for his time spent at Juve, also enjoyed two seasons with the club. Less well remembered are Lee Sharpe and Des Walker, both of whom struggled to adjust to the Italian game.
Following Vialli's departure in 1993, Samp went into a slow decline, spending four seasons in Serie B in the early 2000s. Since then they have hovered around the mid-table of the Italian top flight, falling only once to the second tier in the 2011/12 season.
Last season they finished in 9th place, thanks in no small part to 26 goals from veteran striker Fabio Quagliarella.
The last time the sides met at the Bentegodi was on 20 September 2017. It is a measure of the journey that Verona have been on in recent years, that of the 11 players who started that day, only Pazzini remains.
Hellas lost the return fixture 2-0 at Genoa's Stadio Luigi Ferraris, with goals coming from Edgar Barreto and a late penalty from Fabio Quagliarella.
The 2017 campaign would ultimately end in disappointment for Hellas, with relegation at the end of an abysmal season.
Samp have had a truly abysmal start to the 2019/2020 campaign, losing heavily to Lazio, Sassuolo and Napoli in the opening three matches, before finally scraping a 1-0 win against Torino. Further defeats against Fiorentina and Inter, leave Samp at the foot of table on just 3 points.
Despite some solid performances, notably against Milan and Juve, Hellas (like Samp) have managed just 4 goals in the opening 6 encounters of the 2019/2020 campaign. Their defensive record is much tighter, having conceded just 5 goals (compared to 14 conceded by Samp). With 3 draws and a win, Verona have accumulated 6 points from the opening 6 games and sit 14th in the classifica.
Anything other than a victory could spell the end of the line for under-fire Samp coach Eusebio Di Francesco, with Stefano Pioli in pole position to take over.
Off the pitch, speculation continues about a possible takeover, with one option being a consortium led by club legend Gianluca Vialli.
Player to watch
Despite struggling to adjust to the system employed by Eusebio Di Francesco's, club captain Fabio Quagliarella is undoubtedly still a key man for Samp. After netting 26 goals last season, his international career was revitalised and the 36-year-old still dreams of making a contribution to Euro 2020. But with just one goal so far this season, the strikers future, both at club and country, remains uncertain.