When Zbigniew Boniek arrived at Juventus in 1982, his new team-mates included six members of the Italy side that had won that summer’s FIFA World Cup, plus the French maestro Michel Platini.
Undaunted and with little expectation placed on his shoulders due to the stellar cast around him, the Poland international was able to quickly settle into Giovanni Trapattoni’s first-choice XI and helped them to win a Serie A title in his first season.
In his second year, they would lift the Coppa Italia, subsequently earning a place in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, and it was in that competition where he would truly shine in the club’s famous black-and-white shirt.
He scored goals in Juve’s first-round clash with Lechia Gdansk and the second-round victory over Paris Saint-Germain. Quarter-final opponents FC Haka of Finland then kept him scoreless, but Boniek was back on the scoresheet in the following round as the Bianconeri eliminated Manchester United to claim a place in the final.
While the Turin giants are now considered one of Europe’s top clubs, they had won just one international trophy at that point—the 1977 UEFA Cup—and were desperate for more. Taking on FC Porto at FC Basel’s St. Jakob Stadium, the Old Lady would start out in a bold 4-3-3 formation.
They took the lead after just 12 minutes when Beniamino Vignola powered past his marker and fired a low shot beyond the goalkeeper. Antonio Sousa equalised shortly after, scoring from the edge of the box with a shot that Stefano Tacconi had no chance of keeping out of the net.
With the half-time whistle looming, the chemistry Platini and Boniek had established would pay huge dividends, the former launching a brilliant long ball forward that picked out the latter perfectly. Boniek made no mistake and made it 2-1 to Juventus, and the game was over.
That triumph meant the Bianconeri would take part in their first UEFA Super Cup appearance. Playing Liverpool at Turin’s Stadio Comunale on January 16, 1985, that encounter would give Trapattoni’s men a chance to test themselves against one of the continent’s true giants and they did not disappoint.
Once more it would be Boniek who stole the headlines, netting two goals past a helpless Bruce Grobbelaar—both from Massimo Briaschi assists—either side of some excellent Liverpool chances.
That 1984/85 campaign also saw the Bianconeri reach the European Cup final against the same opponent, resulting in the Heysel Stadium tragedy that claimed the lives of 39 supporters and saw English clubs banned from European competition.
It was an event that would scar Juventus for years, while also overshadowing the achievement of reaching the showpiece event with some truly inspiring performances. Boniek again shone, netting in the semi-final victory over Bordeaux and earning a wonderful nickname from club president Gianni Agnelli.
“Bello di notte,” the business magnate labelled his star striker ("Beauty at night"), a nickname befitting a man who delivered in those late-evening matches when the floodlights—and attention—were at their brightest.
Boniek would move on that summer as more big-name signings arrived, and when the Bianconeri looked to honour their 50 greatest players with stars on a walk of fame at the new Juventus Stadium in 2011, they included him in their original list.
Unfortunately, he had angered fans with comments on the Calciopoli scandal five years earlier, with one Juventus supporter recently taking the time to explain their opinion of Boniek to Bleacher Report.
“He hates us because we sold him and he went to AS Roma,” Andrea said. “He started to speak badly about Juve at that time, and he continues to do so today just to get publicity from it. If you speak badly about Juve, you become an idol for our army of haters.”
A protest was quickly and forcefully made, with club president Andrea Agnelli eventually asking fans to vote on the 50th star, which would be stripped from Boniek and given to Edgar Davids.
True to form, the former Poland international used this as another opportunity to criticise his former club in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Forza Italian Football):
There is little to say, I challenge anyone to find a quote where I spoke out against Juve and the club. Evidently Andrea was young and wanted to become friends with the fans, even if many of them still like me.
In the end he preferred to give credit to someone like Davids, who was banned from football for six months on account of drug use.
He was of course referring to the Dutch midfielder’s positive test for nandrolone in 2001 per BBC Sport, but his words only caused more ill-feeling from Juve fans. “He said he was a Roma fan,” Andrea continued. “How can we love an 'uomo di merda' like him?”
Yet perhaps the strange juxtaposition of hero-turned-villain is felt strongest in Boniek’s homeland, where a huge portion of the population supports Juventus simply because he once wore their colours.
The JuvePoland.com website discussed the matter directly with Bleacher Report this week, delivering a short statement explaining their feelings towards the man the entire nation either idolises or loathes.
The statement read: "Businessman. Sportsman. Man of success. Zbigniew Boniek is a legend of Polish sport. He is the most famous Pole in Italy, apart from Pope John Paul II. He earned his reputation thanks to the great Juventus he made in the 1980s along with Gaetano Scirea, Platini and Marco Tardelli.
"Today Boniek is the president of Polish Football Association and wins again. Polish football continues its renaissance, and Zibi himself likes to needle somebody from time to time like he used to do in the past and that makes him a beloved and hated man at the same time. Because Boniek in Poland is a person you love or consider as an enemy."
Those words, while truly only speaking for the community they represent, paint a stark portrait of the divisive opinions the man has forced upon those who once cheered him the loudest.
He contributed more to the Bianconeri cause than a large majority of his team-mates. His goals were vital to the silverware earned by one of the club’s greatest sides, yet Boniek’s actions since have ensured supporters can no longer express their gratitude or appreciation.
In a world where revisiting past glories is a staple diet of football fandom, the bile and bitterness towards the club who made him a household name should really come as no surprise.
The outspoken Boniek has walked away from Juventus in the same way he appears to leave everywhere else, never crossing a bridge without first drenching it in gasoline and tossing a lit match over his shoulder.
He should have a star at the stadium and his exploits should be passed on from generation to generation. He should be lauded as one of the greatest strikers in the club’s long and storied history.
Boniek should be a Juventus legend but he isn’t—and that’s entirely his own fault.