Brits abroad - Trevor Francis
Continuing our Brits Abroad series, Trevor Francis discusses the reasons for his success in Italy with Sampdoria as well as his earlier stint in America with the Detroit Express.
By Adam Bate - Follow @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 04/03/13 5:23pm
He was British football's first million-pound player, a European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest and his name is immortalised in the Only Fools and Horses theme tune. But Trevor Francis was also a star in Italy, having spent five seasons in Serie A from 1982 to 1987. Four of those were spent with Sampdoria, during which time the club won their first-ever major trophy, triumphing in the Coppa Italia in 1985. Adam Bate caught up with the man himself to discuss the reasons for his success in Italy as well as his time playing in the North American Soccer League in the 1970s...
Although your most famous spell abroad was in Italy, your first move overseas was with the Detroit Express as a youngster. What are you memories of that time in America?
I thoroughly enjoyed it because obviously I was quite young and it was a great experience. I very much enjoyed playing in the Silverdome in Detroit on the astroturf.
It was a real challenge to play one week on astroturf, the following week on another type of astroturf and then the next week on a grass surface. There were a lot of challenges like that.
What I really enjoyed about my time in America was the opportunity to visit so many new states that I would never have considered going to on a family holiday.
But I had the opportunity to go and play football there. I spent the two summers in America and it was just a great experience.
Did that success in America give you added confidence that you could be a success abroad in the much tougher environment of Italian football?
No it didn't actually. I had absolutely no thoughts of going to play abroad when the opportunity came along to go to Italy.
I had just finished my first season at Manchester City and gone off to play in the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
I wasn't aware that Manchester City were in financial difficulties. And equally, I wasn't aware that Sampdoria were looking for a forward and had been following my progress in the World Cup. It was a huge surprise.
Serie A, with its emphasis on tactics, must have been the ultimate challenge for a forward player?
Football has changed now. There is so much more protection for forwards and the backpass rule has changed the game. And, in particular, the Italian approach has changed.
In the days when I played there wasn't such an emphasis on attacking. It's so refreshing to watch a lot of European football these days and see the onus on both teams going forward and looking to score goals.
Obviously that's to the detriment of defending, which is not as good as it used to be, but that's a small price to pay for seeing great games of football.
Undoubtedly, away from home it has become slightly easier to get results. We regularly see teams playing on the counter-attack now and finding themselves in space.
But despite all that, you did well out there. Fabio Capello even claimed you remain the greatest English footballer to play in Italy. Did it suit your style to an extent?
One of my greatest assets was my pace, which was always an important weapon that I had. First-touch, being able to control the ball and pass it, were also important qualities for an attacking player in Italy.
But the greatest attribute that helped me succeed in Italy was my movement. And whenever you watch forwards in Italy, even now with players such as Alessandro Matri and Mirko Vucinic at Juventus, they've always got clever movement.
It's an essential part of football and you can't get to the very top in football as a forward-thinking player without good movement.
How about life off the field? Did it help to have Liam Brady and later Graeme Souness there at Sampdoria with you?
Well it was reassuring to have somebody there who could speak English. Having already been there in Italy with Juventus, Liam Brady could speak Italian which was also helpful.
Liam moved on after two years and I took over his role then with Graeme Souness in terms of helping Graeme. It was good to have an English-speaking person there as the other foreigner because in the 1980s there were only two foreign players permitted in each team.
The Italian players were an impressive group too though with Pietro Vierchowod, Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli in the Sampdoria side. Fond memories?
Yeah, we had a good side. We were always playing to win trophies and finish as high as we could both domestically and in the UEFA Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup. They were fantastic times and I played with some very good players.
And you're still remembered fondly - as shown by the fact that you attended the Genoa derby in November as a guest of the club...
It was marvellous to go back and see so many old friends. It had been 30 years since I'd seen some of those people! I was greatly appreciated by the supporters and they gave me a warm welcome on my return.
It was a wonderful two or three days and it was particularly nice to go back there with my son because he wasn't born when I had been out there. So while he'd heard about it and seen photographs, it was lovely for him to see all that.
Trevor Francis was speaking at the half-time inspection of The Football Pools 90 Day Community Challenge. For more information or if you would like to get involved with the 90 Day Challenge at Frome Town AFC through donating time, funds or materials please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Play The Football Pools at www.footballpools.com