The Viareggio Cup is an Italian youth tournament that runs for two weeks every year during the carnival season in February. It starts on the first carnival Monday hence its nickname the ‘Carnival Cup.’
The Viareggio Cup is a creation of the Centro Giovani Calciatori Viareggio or the Viareggio Young Players Centre which was founded in 1947. Its overarching aim was to re-build a bright future for Italian sport after the considerable damage done by World War II. The regeneration plan included Italy’s five most popular sports and along with football the programme focused on athletics, hockey, basketball and volleyball.
The first edition of the Viareggio Cup for football took place in 1949, played in and around the city of Viareggio, Tuscany. It consisted of ten teams. Two teams from France: Olympique Nice and Rapid Mentone and one from Switzerland: Bellinzona. The seven Italian clubs included the likes of Fiorentina, Lucchese, Lazio, Sampdoria, AC Milan, Livorno and a youth team made up of player from the Viareggio region. The inaugural winners were AC Milan with Lazio finishing runners up.
The Early Years and Foreign Entries
The first decade of the competition was dominated by the first-time winners AC Milan who won the competition four times in the 1950s. Given the Viareggio Cup was also open to teams from across Europe it only took three years before a non-Italian team lifted the trophy after Partizan Belgrade beat Sampdoria 5-1 in the 1951 final. Since Partizan’s triumph there have only been four other non-Italian winners, those being Dukla Prague, Sparta Prague, Anderlecht and the only South American winners Atlético Juventud. As the stature of the competition grew so did the number of entries and the ten clubs soon expanded to 16.
The 1960’s brought another landmark as the tournament was broadcasted on television by Italian public station, RAI. This enhanced both the status and attraction of the competition.
The Seventies, Legends and the South Americans
The 1970s saw Boca Juniors become the first South American team to enter Viareggio however the Italian dominance continued, led by Fiorentina who triumphed four times during the decade. An abundance of future Italian legends also graced the competition. Household names such as Franco Baresi and Fulvio Collovati played for AC Milan, Paolo Rossi for Juventus, Walter Zenga for Inter and Bruno Conti for Roma.
The Eighties, Scandal, Torino, Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello.
Fiorentina continued their good showing during the 1980s with two wins but it was Torino who would dominate the 1980s, lifting the coveted trophy four times in 1984, 85, 87 and 89. The tournament had more significance during this period after the Totonero match-fixing scandal of the early 1980s had smeared Italian football. This saw the Viareggio Cup gain prominence given the fact it was founded with the aim of contributing to a brighter future for Italian sport.
Paolo Rossi, a player who impressed at Viareggio, was mired in the Totonero scandal however he soon went from villain to hero after returning from a ban to help Italy win the 1982 World Cup. These years also boasted another crop of future stars both from Italy and abroad. Argentine Gabriel Batistuta, Croatian Robert Prosinecki and Irish goalkeeper Pat Bonner made appearances along with renowned Italians including Gigi Lentini, Diego Fuser, Roberto Baggio, Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli. Two of Italy’s most famed tacticians, Fabio Capello and Arrigo Sacchi, also made their first tentative steps into the world of coaching during this era.
The Nineties, The Beginning of the modern era, Del Piero and Totti
The popular event expanded twice during this period, first to 24 teams and then again in 1997 to 32 teams. The decade begun with a surprise win for Cesena, their only triumph in the competition to this day.
With every passing year the Carnival Cup continued to provide a platform for Italy’s future stars and the 1990s can truly be considered a golden period. Modern era greats such as Francesco Totti, Christian Vieri, Alessandro Del Piero, Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon all made their Viareggio debuts. As the competition headed towards a new millennium, the field continued to strengthen with high calibre players such as Antonio Cassano playing for Bari, Alessandro Nesta and Marco Di Vaio for Lazio and Simone Perrotta for Reggina.
New Millennium, more teams and Juventus domination
The new millennium brought with it a surprise as Empoli lifted the Viareggio Cup in 2000. In 2006, Uruguay’s Juventud became the first South American team to lift the coveted trophy while Mauro Tassotti’s Milan also continued the Rossoneri’s strong tradition in the tournament. However the decade undoubtedly belonged to Juventus with four wins to their name. During these triumphs, players such as Ruben Olivera, Daniele Gastaldello, Antonio Mirante, Mattia Cassani, Abdoulay Konko and Raffaele Palladino all made their claims for a future first team be . A unique double was also achieved, as Juventus coach Luciano Bruni, who had triumphed as a player in 1978 with Fiorentina, lifted the trophy as a coach of the Bianconeri 32 years later. In 2008, as the world’s economic crisis took hold, the Viareggio Cup temporarily dropped to 40 teams in a bid to cut costs.
2010 to Modern Day and a new Format
The start of a new decade also welcomed two major changes to the competition. During the 2010 edition, an Under 15’s sector was introduced while the competition returned to its 48-team format with the availability of watching all games via the internet channel, solely dedicated to the Viareggio Cup. Juventus continued to enjoy success and the goals of Ciro Immobile fired La Vecchia Signora to another win.
2013 saw further evolution as a rule was put in place to ensure equal number of Italian and foreign teams, 24 of each. Belgian side Anderlecht marked this change with a victory for the stranieri (foreigners). In 2014 AC Milan lifted the trophy for the first time 13 years as ex-Rossoneri forward Pippo Inzaghi guided his players to a win over reigning champions Anderlecht. It was a historic ninth victory for Milan making the Diavolo the most successful club sine the competitions inauguration. In 2015 Milan’s city rivals Inter secured a 2-1 win over Hellas Verona, the first win for the Nerazzurri since 2011.
The Importance of the Viareggio Cup.
The fact the competition is officially recognized by CONI, FIGC, UEFA and FIFA shows the importance of the cup, not only in Italy but worldwide. It has become one of the worlds most important youth tournaments. The marketing of the competition via its web channel and the seriousness in which the competition is taken bodes well for the future.
The list of great players and coaches who have appeared in the competition is extensive to say the least. The quality of players that have performed on the Viareggio stage speaks volumes for the prestige of the tournament and there is no reason why this tournament won’t continue to provide a platform for the games future greats.
By Mark Neale: @neale_mark