Attilio Lombardo made a name for himself in Serie A with Sampdoria, where he played alongside the likes of Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini and, in his six years with the Stadio Luigi Ferraris outfit, he won multiple domestic and continental trophies.
After a successful career with Sampdoria, in which he made 201 appearances and scored 34 goals, Lombardo was snapped up by Juventus in 1995. Unfortunately for the Italian, his spell with the Old Lady was not quite as fruitful as he would have hoped.
The 5 ft 9 ace managed to win medals in Serie A, the UEFA Champions League, the Intercontinental Cup and the European Super Cup during his two-year stay in Turin but, having failed to find the net in his second season at Juventus, was allowed to leave in 1997. His next destination? Crystal Palace.
Lombardo’s switch to Selhurst Park was surprising to say the least – the Italian had traded Champions League football for a team who had just come up from the First Division (the Championship). Commanding a fee of £1.6m, he was the Eagles’ big summer signing amongst a number of notable arrivals.
Even the biggest signings often take a little while to click into gear and get going, although this was not the case for Lombardo – the debutant netted against Everton in a 2-1 win on the opening day and from then on it was obvious he would be the star player.
The Premiership new-boys got off to a flying start, taking six points from their first three games, but by mid-March those represented almost a third of their total for the term. It quickly became apparent that the SE25 outfit’s main job for the remainder of the campaign was to be a reminder to the teams above them that no matter how bad it gets, it could definitely be worse.
Lombardo continued to shine despite his side’s collapse and the certainty of relegation never seemed to impact on his performance standards – the Italian was ever at his hypnotising best.
Wilfried Zaha is regarded by many as Palace’s most instrumental player in the present day and, while the Ivorian is crucial, the extent to which the Eagles class of 1997/8 relied on Lombardo was incomparable.
The winger’s teammates would often forget they were even playing alongside him, instead reducing themselves to spectators as they stood gawping at the number 7 take on one, two, three players at a time.
If signing a serial cup winner from Italy wasn’t mad enough, there was yet another wild twist in this crazy season: Palace were purchased by Mark Goldberg and then-manager Steve Coppell took a step up, presumably in anticipation of Goldberg quickly finding man to take the wheel.
However the manager role was still vacant two weeks later and so it was time for none other than Lombardo to become player-manager. Unfortunately, the hero couldn’t guide the Eagles to safety and, having been rock-bottom of the table when he took the helm, they were still rooted there when the season finished.
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Lombardo stayed to fight for the Croydon outfit even after being relegated. However, having been relieved of his manager duties by Terry Venables, he eventually secured a return to his home-country with Lazio in January 1999. He became a Serie A champion once again that season.
The Bald Eagle’s stay at Selhurst Park was transient but, after what he gave them in his 18 months at the club, he will always be fondly remembered on SE25.