Massimo Bonini: Meet San Marino's finest ever player

They may be the world's worst team but they have produced one star player, who graced the Juve midfield, played at Heysel and won trophies galore. He talks to Jonathan Wilson

Nineteen years ago, when San Marino last played at Wembley, their captain was Massimo Bonini. He was 33 by then, his career winding to a close after seven years at Juventus and a further four at Bologna, but the thrill of international football was still fresh: San Marino had become a full member of Uefa only in 1990. If anybody ever asks whether San Marino really merits a national team, point them in the direction of Bonini.

He was one of the finest midfielders of his generation. At Juventus, he played alongside Michel Platini, Paolo Rossi and Zbigniew Boniek and won Scudetti, a European Cup, a Cup-Winners' Cup and a World Club Championship. He played for Italy's Under-21 side and was repeatedly asked to play for the full national side. Each time the call came, though, he turned it down: he was San Marinese and wanted to play for San Marino.

For all his national pride, though, Bonini has no illusions about San Marino's status or what they might achieve against England. "We have to consider that basically every San Marino player is a non-league footballer, so they crave to play on one of these famous stages," he said. "Playing at Wembley is possibly the best thing they are going to experience in their lives if you consider that many players in Serie A can only dream of playing there.

"We have to consider that San Marino has a population of no more than 30,000 and every player leads another professional life that comes before football. They normally train at night. All this hinders any hope of being able to snatch a good result. Emotions will run high but we should all consider that playing in London must be a good advertisement for our country and tourism."

His excitement at the prospect isn't hard to make out; is he, then, jealous of the younger generation who will run out on Friday? "Jealous of what?" he asked. "I've played at the real Wembley and that's just incomparable, to be honest. This new Wembley is fascinating, huge, that's for sure. But it still has to struggle for many years if it wants to match the appeal and history of the other one.

"But even so, I think that playing in England is always fantastic for any footballer. English fans are my favourites. That day at Wembley we lost, of course, and I remember there were only 50 or so away fans. England were really impressive. They never gave up attacking. That's what English football is about after all. People are there to enjoy themselves."

It is a surprising endorsement, given Bonini also experienced the worst of English fans. He was in the Juventus side that faced Liverpool in the 1985 European Cup final at Heysel and remains so distressed by what he witnessed as 39 fans were killed as a wall collapsed amid rioting that he refuses to count his team's victory that night among his honours. "It was just senseless. I just couldn't celebrate," he said.

Bonini was at Stamford Bridge to see his former club draw 2-2 with Chelsea in the Champions League last month and believes he could return to London to see Juventus in the Champions League final at Wembley. "There are three or four teams who on paper are stronger than Juventus but, as Chelsea themselves showed last season, it's not always the stronger side that wins," he said.

For now, though, his focus is on his national side and very different expectations. "San Marino have good endurance for the first 45 minutes," he said. "They then collapse after an hour or so but that's normal when you are not a professional. The most important thing is to see this side play some football, not just defend but try to play somehow. But they don't have much choice, do they?"

Additional reporting by Federico Farcomeni

San Marino: The squad and their jobs

(GK) A Simoncini 26, accountant.

(GK) F Valentini 30, bank clerk.

(D) S Bacciocchi 35, office worker.

(D) G Bollini 32, owns removal company.

(D) C Brolli 20, student.

(D) A Della Valle 30, bank clerk.

(D) M Palazzi 25, pro footballer for Rimini Calcio in Italian fourth tier.

(D) D Simoncini 26, accountant.

(D) D Vannucci 35, gym owner.

(D) F Vitaioli 28, co-owns a bar with brother, Matteo, the midfielder.

(M) L Buscarini 21, student.

(M) M Cervellini 24, student.

(M) E Cibelli 25, barman.

(M) M Coppini 23, works for olive oil company.

(M) A Gasperoni 28, owns lighting company.

(M) P F Mazza 24, student.

(M) M Vitaioli 22, co-owns a bar.

(F) M Marani 28, works for a soft drinks company.

(F) A Selva 36, plays for non-league Italian side Fidene.

(F) D Rinaldi 26, works for a furniture company.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones