In the second part of our series looking at where former players ended up, we track the career of mercurial Italian winger Ivano Bonetti and find out what the former Rovers winger is up to today.
- This article was first published in March 2005 (By Richard Ault)
After starting his career with Atalanta in Italy, Bonetti went on to have spells with Juventus, Sampdoria and Torino before trying his hand in English football. Eyebrows were raised over on the East coast in the summer of 1995 when he joined Grimsby Town on a free transfer.
Bonetti was a massive success with the Mariners and is still held in high regard by many fans there, some even looking upon him as a Town legend. In fact, you can still buy T-shirts today heralding “The Italian One’s” time there. His stint at Blundell Park ended on a sour note after a fall-out with boss Brian Laws following the infamous ‘plate of chicken’ incident.
In August 1998, then Tranmere manager John Aldridge finally convinced the Italian to join Rovers. His skills and flair found favour with the Prenton Park faithful, though he only managed 15 appearances for the whites. The most memorable came in the 4-3 win over Portsmouth at Prenton Park in which he scored a last gasp injury-time winner (below), a game that was shown live on Sky.
Things did not go as well as they may have done though, and less than six months after joining, he was gone, his last appearance as a sub in a game played in dense fog against Norwich City at Prenton Park.
One man who speaks fondly of Bonetti is former Tranmere favourite Pat Nevin, the man whose role Bonetti took in the team upon his arrival in Birkenhead. Speaking to the BBC in 2000, Nevin said: “He was well liked with the players at Tranmere and they have very fond memories of him.”
Nevin also introduced the Italian to Scottish football, something that was to prove vital a few years down the line, when he took Ivano to watch an Old Firm game in 1997. Nevin recalled: “He couldn’t believe the passion. As we came out, he phoned a top Italian international on his mobile and said “you’ve got to come to Scotland and see this’.”
Bonetti later joined Crystal Palace (left) on a monthly contract where he made only two appearances before returning to Italy a few weeks later. There he joined Genoa where he remained until the end of the 1997/98 season.
The friendship of Bonetti and Nevin nearly saw them re-united at club level in England. A consortium looking to take control of Grimsby Town wanted Bonetti to take over as manager at the club, and it was Nevin that Ivano asked to become his assistant at Blundell Park. As it happened, the move fell through, though the pair still hope to work with each other one day.
Bonetti returned to British football in June 2000 in one of the most unlikely places – Dundee. He was appointed player-manager at Dens Park and his brother Dario, who also had a trial with Tranmere previously, came in as his assistant. Dundee fans were not prepared for what they were about to get.
Over the early weeks, Bonetti used his extensive contacts to recruit players from around the World. Four Argentineans, two Georgians, an Italian and a couple of players from China all joined the now cosmopolitan set-up at the club. There were some real coups though, not least Argentinean striker Claudio Caniggia whose move shocked Scottish football and saw Pars matches screened widely across South America as a result.
On the field, it wasn’t the best of starts for Ivano as he was sent off on his debut. Things recovered though, and a roller-coaster season of poor discipline, stunning football and even rumours of Diego Maradona’s arrival built the excitement of the Dundee fans up to fever-pitch, as their team managed to briefly top the SPL.
The first season at Dundee was a wonderful one for Bonetti, finishing in the top six and bringing European football to Dens Park in the form of the Inter-Toto Cup. Despite a couple of high-profile fall-outs with some of his players, Bonetti began negotiations on a new five year contract and slammed a 10m price tag on Scottish midfielder Gavin Rae in light of interest from Chelsea.
The second season was not quite as successful as the previous one, and despite arrivals of the likes of Temuri Ketsbaia, Dundee failed to finish in the top six and rumours of a possible departure from Dens Park for Ivano started to circulate. In July 2002 Bonetti officially left the club by mutual consent, taking brother Dario with him. The club reportedly brought in a London-based agency to try and offload some of Bonetti’s expensive squad.
His match record at Dundee was; Played 90, won 29, lost 40, drawn 21.
He returned home to Riccione in Italy, but he was by no means forgotten in Scotland. Dundee fans will forever remember the time affectionately known as the ‘Bonetti years’ and a side that was labelled as “entertaining underachievers”. He certainly left his mark in Scotland, and was also voted the tenth best foreign manager in Scottish football history, a list that included Wim Jansen, Dick Advocaat and Martin O’Neill.
After a break from the game, Bonetti has now pulled his boots back on again, only in a slightly less serious environment. He is now playing for a team known as ‘Maifredi Team’, a side of former players in Italy coached by Gigi Maifredi.
The team participates on Italian TV show “Quelli che il calcio” each Sunday afternoon during the Serie A games in which they simulate the goals that have been scored for those that haven’t seen them. They also play charity matches, and some of Bonetti’s team-mates include Lamberto Boranga and Massimo Bonini.