In the latest edition of our History Makers series, we remember Zbigniew ‘Zibi’ Boniek - possibly the greatest Polish player in the history of the game, one who saw out his tremendous career with a three-season spell in the capital.
The man with an unmistakable moustache, his searing pace and quick feet dazzled during his time in Italy.
Boniek would represent both Juventus and Roma at a time they were at loggerheads over the Scudetto throughout the ‘80s.
It would end up being the most successful decade of the Giallorossi’s history and Boniek would play his role in that glory before hanging up his boots as a 32-year-old in 1988.
Boniek ended up in Italy in the summer of 1982, on the back of that year’s World Cup, where the 26-year-old so nearly led his team to the final.
His stunning hat-trick against Belgium in the opening game of Group A helped put Poland on course for a spot in the semi finals but a booking in the 88th-minute of the final game of the group stages took him out of the last-four meeting with Italy.
In his absence, Poland would be taken apart by Paolo Rossi’s brace as Italy went on to lift the trophy, but Boniek would return to secure third-place with victory over France before joining up with Rossi at Juventus shortly afterward.
Juve’s all-stars would be pipped to the Serie A title by Roma in Boniek’s first season with the Old Lady as Nils Liedholm’s Giallorossi clinched the club’s second championship.
That Roma side featured the likes of Carlo Ancelotti, Agostino Di Bartolomei, Toninho Cerezo, Bruno Conti, Falcao, Roberto Pruzzo and Pietro Vierchowod - most of whom Boniek would go on to play alongside.
Boniek would eventually leave Turin with Coppa Italia, European Cup Winners’ Cup, European Super Cup and European Cup trophies.
It was during his time with Juve that Boniek would also be given the nickname Bello di notte (Beauty at night) by then president Gianni Agnelli, due to Boniek’s superb performances in Europe where the Pole helped seal European glory in 1985.
Boniek won the penalty that Michel Platini converted to seal a 1-0 win over Liverpool in that year’s final, but the match was overshadowed by the tragic events that unfolded before kick-off, as 39 people lost their lives in the Heysel Stadium disaster.
Like for so many involved, Boniek’s life changed that evening.
“That proved to be quite traumatic. Seeing so many people losing their lives when they had come to enjoy a game of football was unacceptable for me,” he recalled in a 2008 interview with the Times of Malta.
"We had little cause for celebration as the image of football was tainted. Football meant so much to me but after that tragedy I began to see the game in another perspective... things were different after that final."
It would be Boniek’s last appearance for the Bianconeri before making the switch to Roma, where he would eventually settle long after he retired.
Boniek scored 23 times in 92 appearances in all competitions with the Giallorossi, and won the Coppa Italia in his first season, although he was unable to contribute in the final stages of the competition as it was played out during the 1986 World Cup.
Roma finished as runners-up to Boniek’s old club in Serie A’s 1985-86 edition and went on to finish third in his final season in 1987-88 under Liedholm - who had returned to the club following a brief spell with AC Milan.
It was an iconic side that saw Boniek - once described by Diego Maradona as the “best counter-attacking player in the world” due to his rapid speed running in behind defenders - on occasion drop into holding midfield and sweeper roles as his trademark pace gradually eased.
Boniek may not have quite replicated the same success he had at Juve in the capital, but the Pole was much loved and also found home in Rome.
“I stayed in Rome, because it’s a beautiful, wonderful, welcoming city,” he told Il Romanista in February.
“At first I thought of staying here for a few years to get the children to go to school, then a few years it turned into a whole life. Rome has become the base of my family.
“Of course we can complain about the city and some problems, but are there more beautiful places in the world? I still have to find someone who will show me a more beautiful city than Rome.”
Here are five of his best goals for the Giallorossi…
Breaking beyond the Udinese back-line, Boniek’s pace and composure in front of goal are on full display here as he put Roma 1-0 ahead in an eventual 2-0 victory at the Stadio Friuli.
It is the absolute epitome of a Boniek goal and one that kept Roma second with 13 games to go as they went in search of dislodging Juve in top-spot.
Boniek was also capable of long-range beauties and this strike against Brescia is evidence of just that.
A smart short corner, paired with a perfectly executed dummy on the edge of the box finds the onrushing Boniek who trashes home into the far top-corner on his left foot to put Roma 1-0 to the good.
Boniek sends three men packing as he tees himself up, flicks it over his shoulder beyond an onrushing Lecce defender, spins 180 degrees without the ball touching the ground and volleys home.
The close control, positional awareness, skill and finish are all sublime.
Another stunner, highlighting the world-class technique Boniek had in his locker as he lashed a volley into the back of the net from 18-yards out.
This time it’s on his right-side, proving just how two-footed Boniek was.
From the same game as above, Boniek this time sneaks in the back post to slot home for 2-0 as Roma romped to a 4-0 victory over Atalanta.
Movement, pace and a finish to match, it’s a simpler finish but serves to underline the breadth of goals the great man was capable of scoring.
It was seemingly inevitable that such an intelligent footballer - one that Pele went on to name in his top-100 living players in 2004 - would remain in the game beyond his playing days, and Boniek went on to coach Lecce in Serie A in 1990-91 but couldn’t save them from relegation to the second division.
The following year he took over the reins of Bari but was again relegated from the top-flight, before brief spells in charge of Sambenedettese and Avellino.
Boniek - who represented Poland 80 times and scored 26 goals for his country - also coached his national side for five games in 2002 (W2, D1, L2) before becoming president of the Polish Football Association in 2012.
He has remained in the role ever since and was inducted in the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2019 as recognition of his contribution to the sport in Italy.
Boniek has never hidden his affection for the Giallorossi down the years and told Il Romanista that he could never rule out one day rejoining the club.
“Obviously I'd like to help Roma grow, I say this with great sincerity,” he said. “I live here, I am Roman by adoption.”
Read more in this series:
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