Bianconeri hands smothered the Scudetto on 13 May 1984. Juventus had just won their 21st Serie A crown, which was one less than the combined total of their nearest two challengers, Inter Milan (12) and AC Milan (10).
Yet Juve craved consequentially more than national monopoly. Inter had won two European Cups and two Intercontinental Cups, while Milan had conquered the continent twice and the planet once. The Old Lady of calcio, by embarrassing contrast, had only ever raised a European trophy once, and that was the UEFA Cup.
Juventus nevertheless improved that record three days later. With the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final against FC Porto all square, Zbigniew Boniek, surrounded by Porto defenders and goalkeeper Ze Beto, somehow chested the ball into freedom before slotting home to clinch a 2-1 victory. The goal also earned the Italian giants the following invitation:
UEFA Super Cup
Match: Juventus (ITA) v Liverpool (ENG)
Venue: Stadio Comunale, Turin
Date: 16 January 1985
One glance at the afore-listed invitation left their fans hugely optimistic. Not, as one might assume, because the fixture was taking place in their home city; nor because it was unfolding during a month in which the club had perpetually excelled. The confidence was down to the fact that it was an evening contest.
Gianni Agnelli, the then Juventus owner, later explained: “We already had the best player in the world [in Michel Platini]. But when the match was on an evening, we had the best two. Zibi was unstoppable at night. Why? I don’t know, but it was as if he had the genes of a deadly predator who did his hunting at night.”
On that dusky evening, Boniek, a hypersonic Pole who operated out wide or in a free role behind the forwards, embellished his reputation by scoring both goals in a 2-0 reverse of the Reds. Four-and-a-half months later, Juventus and Liverpool met again. And though location and prize were different - namely Brussels and the European Cup – kick-off time and Boniek having a decisive say in the contest’s outcome were not. This time the 1.81m attacker won the penalty from which Platini converted the only goal in a game tragically overshadowed by the Heysel Disaster.
When Agnelli introduced his Juventus players to Henry Kissinger, the political scientist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, at a function in New York, he called Boniek Il Bello di Notte (The Beauty of the Night). The nickname stuck.
He was a truly magnificent player. He was so fast, his movement was very clever, he was very skilful, a great passer, could score with his right, his left and his head, and was very brave.
Boniek, of course, forged his subway to stardom through daytime displays. Indeed, for seven years from 1975, he inspired Widzew Lodz to two Polish top-tier titles and three runners-up finishes through Saturday- or Sunday-afternoon brilliance.
The Bydgoszcz native made his international debut in 1976, 17 days after his 20th birthday, against Argentina, which is where he was summoned for duty two years later. Poland had finished third at Germany 1974, and with Jan Tomaszewski, Wladyslaw Zmuda, Kazimierz Deyna, Grzegorz Lato and Andrzej Szarmach, another prosperous FIFA World Cup™ campaign was anticipated.
After coming on as a substitute in Poland’s first two outings, Boniek started their final Group 2 game against Mexico and duly scored twice in a 3-1 victory that sent them through as section winners above the defending champions, West Germany. However, Jacek Gmoch’s men finished third behind Argentina and Brazil in their second-phase pool and were consequently eliminated.
Boniek was back in Argentina 12 months later to help a FIFA XI win 2-1 against the world champions, whose goal was scored by Diego Maradona. The Pole roomed with Platini and played alongside Juventus’s Antonio Cabrini and Marco Tardelli. When the latter pair returned to Turin, they advised their superiors to monitor Boniek with a view to signing him, which they did in April 1982 after beating off fervent interest from Roma.
Before Boniek had time to settle in the black and white stripes, he was representing his country of birth against his country of residence in their Spain 1982 opener. It ended goalless, but Poland ultimately advanced as Group 1 winners. Their first second-round match was against Belgium. A late kick-off of 9pm was set. The moustached predator’s mouth watered. The No11 hit a hat-trick in a 3-0 win, scoring the first with a vicious piledriver, the second with a clever, looping header, and the third after a hypnotic body shuffle around goalkeeper Theo Custers.
Regrettably, Boniek was cautioned in a 0-0 draw with Soviet Union that earned him a suspension and Poland a semi-final place. The match ultimately belonged to another Juve player. His name was Paolo Rossi. His two unanswered goals ended Polish dreams of lifting the hallowed Trophy. Boniek did take a portion of consolation by propelling his nation to a 3-2 win over France in the match for third place.
Boniek and Platini may have wanted different results that day, but over the next three years they were fighting for an identical cause. And what a terrific, telepathic tandem they formed, with Platini’s stately passes over the top proving a perfect supply for the elusive movement and electric speed of Boniek. Together, they helped Juventus win a Coppa Italia, Scudetto, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Super Cup and, crucially, their first European Cup.
Giampiero Boniperti, Juve’s president during that era, recalled: “They were good friends off the pitch, and they had a wonderful understanding on it. When Platini received the ball, Boniek was already off. And when Platini was making a pass, you knew it would be pinpoint, and when Boniek was running, you knew nobody could catch him.”
Boniperti added of Boniek: “He was a truly magnificent player. He was so fast, his movement was very clever, he was very skilful, a great passer, could score with his right, his left and his head, and was very brave. And he had a knack of taking his game to another level on an evening, when we played the huge European matches.”
With such a wealth of attacking riches at Juventus, including Marco Tardelli, Platini, Rossi and an emerging Michael Laudrup, Boniek was forced to play in an unfavoured position. It proved the catalyst in his departure to Roma, whose initially sceptical fans he won over during three seasons in the Eternal City, in which he helped I Giallorossi win the Coppa Italia.
During the Pole’s six years in Italy, he was showered in praise by some of the sport’s most successful figures. “There are players with bigger reputations, but very few players better than Boniek. He is too good to be restricted to one position,” said Pele. Maradona remarked: “He’s a totally unique player, the best of his kind in the world,” while Enzo Bearzot later reflected: “He was a supreme performer both physically and technically, one of the greatest there’s ever been. He was a brilliant goalscorer and one of the finest creators I’ve ever seen.”
Platini would not dispute that. When Boniek left Juventus in 1985, the Frenchman, who seized three successive Capocannoniere awards alongside the Pole, was asked if he expected to make it four in a row. “No,” he replied. “The Capocannoniere will go to someone who has Boniek as a team-mate.” Sure enough, it did, with Roma’s Roberto Pruzzo the beneficiary of Boniek’s imperial invention.
Boniek’s assists proved insufficient to thrust the capital side to the 1985/86 Scudetto, with defeat in both their last two games seeing them finish second, four points behind Juventus, though Il Bello di Notte did manage to help them win the Coppa Italia. That was hardly a surprise. Cup matches were played on an evening, after all…
Did You Know?
On 30 April 1982, the last day Italian clubs could purchase foreign players before the FIFA World Cup, Juventus and Roma directors were both in Warsaw as they attempted to sign Boniek. Unaware, both parties booked into the same hotel!
Less than 20 hours after helping Juventus beat Liverpool in the 1985 European Cup final in Belgium, Boniek started his country’s FIFA World Cup qualifier away to Albania. Incredibly, despite the hangover of Heysel and jetlag, he was the game’s solitary marksman to move Poland top of Group 1 on goals scored.
Boniek won the Polish Footballer of the Year award in 1978 and four years later, made the All-Star Team at Spain 1982, and was named in the Serie A team of the season during each of his three seasons with Juventus.
After losing his revered pace, Boniek remodelled himself as a sweeper, excelling for Roma and Poland.
After hanging up his boots, Boniek moved into coaching. However, he suffered brief but unsuccessful spells in charge of Lecce, Bari, Sambenedettese, Avellino and Poland.