The life and times of Beppe Signori, Lazio’s explosive Italian pocket rocket

Paul Gascoigne’s transfer to Lazio in the early 1990s brought the Roman club to the immediate attention of football fans, not just in the UK but all over Europe. While Gazza had a spell in the Eternal City, never really showcasing his talent, there was one teammate who outshone him at the Stadio Olimpico. That man was the explosive Italian pocket rocket Giuseppe “Beppe” Signori.

Born in 1968, Signori started his football career in the youth academy of Inter but was told that his mere five foot seven inch frame was too short to make it as a player. He reluctantly signed for Serie D side Leffe in 1984, a non-professional club from his hometown region of Lombardy. In his first season, Leffe were promoted to Serie C2 and Signori contributed five goals from only a handful of appearances.

Having initially played as a striker, Signori was then deployed on the left wing due to his explosive pace and impressive trickery. This would become a bone of contention for the striker throughout his career, and would later harm his international prospects. Despite the change of position limiting his goal output, Signori contributed several assists, and began to attract attention from bigger clubs.

Piacenza, playing in Serie C1 at the time, purchased Signori for an undisclosed fee in 1986, but was loaned out to Trento to gain experience before returning to Piacenza for the 1988/89 season; however, a poor campaign saw the club relegated.

In three seasons flitting between the second and third tiers of Italian football, Signori had shown great promise. He had also received plenty of praise for his performances, but a record of less than 10 league goals in that period did not suggest he was going to become a consistent goal-scorer.

As Piacenza were relegated, Foggia took their place in Serie B, and at the same time bought Signori from them. New Czech coach, Zdeněk Zeman, had seen something in the diminutive striker and decided to build his team around him. After finishing a respectable eighth in 1990 then returned to Serie A for the first time since 1978. Foggia surprised everyone during the 1991/92 season by finishing ninth in Serie A, missing out on a place in the UEFA Cup by just five points.

Signori had been crucial to everything Foggia had achieved, and had scored eleven league goals in his first campaign in Italy’s top flight. His outstanding pace and acceleration had made him a deadly weapon, but his incredible range of finishing was beginning to catch the eye.

Because of the media circus that surrounded Gaza’s move to Lazio in 1992, the transfer of Signori to the same club slipped under the radar. Moving to for a fee of around £3 million. Resplendent in his infamous number eleven shirt, he scored twice on his league debut away to Sampdoria. In his first home match a week later, he scored a penalty at home to Fiorentina, but this was no ordinary penalty. Signori would stand over the ball and strike it fiercely without taking a run-up and it proved so successful that it would become the striker’s trademark.

He scored nine goals in his first seven games for Lazio, including a hat-trick against Parma. Shortly after this he was called up to the Italian national team. Three months into the campaign, he scored possibly his most iconic goal for Lazio against Inter. After receiving the ball on the left at the halfway line, Signori ran towards the opposition box, evading the attentions of three Inter defenders, entered the danger area and smashed it past the goalkeeper, putting the seal on a 3-1 victory for the Rome club.

By the end of the 1992/93 season, Signori topped the Serie A goal-scoring charts with 26 league goals. Milan would win the title that season and their two world class forwards, Marco van Basten and Jean-Pierre Papin, only managed to score 26 between them. The following season he again topped the Serie A scoring charts, this time with 23 goals from just 24 appearances.

Signori had scored almost 50 league goals in two seasons, helping Lazio achieve fifth and fourth placed finishes respectively and had qualified for the UEFA Cup in successive years. It was no surprise when Italy manager Arrigo Sacchi selected the striker in his squad for the 1994 World Cup. However, Sacchi played him on the left-wing even after finishing as the top scorer in Italian football two seasons running. Despite being played out of position, Signori enjoyed a successful tournament, providing two crucial assists – including Roberto Baggio’s winner against Spain that saw Italy reach the semi-final.

Unfortunately a bust-up with Sacchi following Italy’s win over Bulgaria saw him dropped from the World Cup Final against Brazil. Frustrated at constantly being played out of position, his protests meant that he didn’t even make the bench and had to watch as his side lost on penalties (although Signori has since spoken of his regret for his actions, which he admits denied him the chance to play in the biggest game of all).

The 1994/95 season saw Signori coached by his old mentor, Zdeněk Zeman and another 17 league goals from the striker helped Lazio to second place in Serie A, although Fiorentina’s Gabriel Batistuta was the division’s top scorer. This saw an attempt by Parma to purchase Signori, which Lazio originally accepted until thousands of supporters protested outside the Stadio Olimpicoand the deal was scrapped.

Signori did not let this affect his form going into the new season, as he once again hit top form for the Rome club. A perfect example of this was when reigning Serie A champions Juventus visited the Stadio Olimpico in October 1995. The Turin side had made a stumbling start to the defence of their title and things did not get any better for them in the Eternal City as Lazio thumped them 4-0. Signori had opened the scoring with an absolute rocket on the half volley, a goal which demonstrated the power and accuracy of his range of finishing.

By the end of the 1995/96 season, Signori once again topped the goal-scoring charts with 24 league goals, although this time the award was shared with Bari’s Igor Protti (who would become his teammate at Lazio the following season). This impressive form did not, however, secure either player a place in Sacchi’s squad for Euro ’96.. He did not know it yet, but Signori had made his final ever appearance for the Azzurri the previous September, having made 28 appearances and scoring a total of seven goals.

1996/97 would be Signori’s final full campaign as a Lazio player. Zeman was replaced as manager midway through the season, as club president Dino Zoff took charge until the end of the season. While Lazio finished fourth in the Serie A table, Signori saw his goal output diminish to 15, although, for the fifth consecutive season, he finished as the club’s top scorer.

When Sampdoria manager Sven-Göran Eriksson arrived at Stadio Olimpico in the summer of 1997, he brought their club legend, Roberto Mancini, with him. He also bought Alen Bokšić back from Juventus, and favoured the two new signings in an attacking trio with Czech superstar Pavel Nedvěd. A starting berth looked doubtful for Beppe.

In December 1997, having made just six league appearances that campaign, Signori was transferred to Sampdoria for an undisclosed fee. In contrast to a few years earlier, when fans had been up in arms at the striker’s possible sale, the team were now doing fine without him. Despite winning no trophies during his stay in the Eternal City, he remains their second highest goal-scorer of all time, with 127 goals in all competitions. Only the all-time top scorer in Serie A, Silvio Piola (who left the club in 1943), had scored more times.

Signori only stayed at Sampdoria for six months, making just 17 appearances and scoring three goals in an injury ridden stay with the Genoa club. In 1998, he agreed to join Bologna on a season long loan as the club needed a replacement for the Inter bound Roberto Baggio. He made an immediate impact as the club won the Intertoto Cup, scoring in the second leg of the final. This ensured that Bologna qualified for the UEFA Cup, only narrowly losing to Marseille on away goals in the semi-final.

At Bologna Signori rediscovered his best form, scoring 23 goals in all competitions. In the summer of 1999, Sampdoria and Bologna made an arrangement to make the transfer permanent. Now aged 31, Signori would spend a further five years at the club, and thoroughly enjoyed his time there. He left with an impressive record of 84 goals from 178 appearances in all competitions.

Signori spent the final two years of his career playing first in Greece with Iraklis, and then in Hungary with Sopron, before retiring in 2006. Signori scored 188 goals in Serie A,and to this day is in joint ninth position (tied with the great Alessandro Del Piero) in the league’s all-time top scorers list.

After his retirement, in the June of 2011, Signori was placed under house arrest, following allegations of match fixing and placing illegal bets on lower league games. He was released without any criminal charges after two weeks, but the Italian Football Federation conducted their own investigations. In total, 18 clubs were investigated and almost 150 people were charged.

Various fines and points deductions followed for the clubs involved, for the individuals concerned were given bans from all footballing activity for various lengths of time. Signori was given a five-year ban.

Despite the scandal, Beppe Signori remains one of the finest strikers that Italy has ever produced. A total of 283 goals from 541 appearances in all competitions is testament to that. In the eyes of Lazio and Bologna fans, he remains a legend.

It’s quite remarkable that his trophy cabinet boasts just one Intertoto Cup and one Serie B title, such was Signori’s talent. After all, to be the top goal-scorer, Capocannoniere,just once in Serie A in the 1990s was an incredible achievement. Beppe did it three times in four seasons. Grazie mille numero undici.

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