The Champions league is a fine competition, there’s no denying it, even if it doesn’t really get going until after Christmas. UEFA’s second tier tournament, the Europa League might, having been rejigged, produce some good quality football too, who can say? However, the simple fact is that European competition is not what it once was. Whatever happened to a simple European knockout cup competition that pitted the champions of each country against each other?

One tournament that is sorely missed by many is the Cup Winners Cup. The European competition chiefly for domestic cup winners produced some great moments over its lifespan: Arsenal winning against Parma and then losing it the next year after headline writers worldwide groaned with joy as Nayim lobbed goalkeeper David Seaman from fifty yards; or the smile on Gianfranco Zola’s face as he lifted the trophy for Chelsea, having scored the winner in the final; or a young Ronaldo helping Sir Bobby Robson to take the cup back to Barcelona.

This was European football as it should be and Inside Futbol take this opportunity to revisit the reigning UEFA Cup Winners Cup champions who held onto the title when the tournament was finally dissolved in May 1999. Lazio won that day, too strong for a Real Mallorca side under the care of manager Hector Cuper.

Christian Vieri looped a header over the Mallorca keeper to put the Italians ahead early on at Villa Park, where the final was staged, before Dani latched onto a cross from Jovan Stankovic and levelled for the Spaniards. So it remained for another 70 minutes until Pavel Nedved produced a fine volley from the egde of the area, sending his shot screaming into the corner of the net. As it rippled, Lazio etched their name on the trophy for eternity.

This may have been the year of Manchester United’s famous treble, but this Lazio team managed to beat them in the European Super Cup a few months later. So…Where are they now?

The Key Man

Christian Vieri’s goal in this final, a header timed to perfection, was looped over the keeper, leaving the Mallorca man scrambling backwards, the loft of the ball beating him eventually. Born in Bologna before moving to Australia, Vieri’s professional career proper began at Torino. After serving time in Serie B, the striker moved from Atalanta to Juventus; a single pichichi winning season in Spain with Atletico Madrid followed, and then on to Lazio for a then record transfer fee.

Remarkably, Vieri only stayed for one season at the Rome giants before leaving for Inter for another world record fee, winning the Cup Winners Cup on his way out.

After many successful seasons with Inter, spells at AC Milan, Monaco, Atalanta again, Fiorentina and then, finally, Atalanta once more, he retired at the end of the 2008/09 season saying "I don’t want to play anymore and I’m not even tempted to play abroad." Rumours of a return to the game with a second division Brazilian club swirled around in the summer of 2009, yet what would have been a strange move did not materialise.

Very recent photos see Vieri enjoying the sights of New York with friends and having a relaxed lunch, enjoying his retirement and still looking like he has the hunger, if not necessarily for the game.

The Captain

Alessandro Nesta continues to ply his trade at the highest level with AC Milan, only his second club after Lazio; Nesta actually began his time with the Rome club as an academy player. The defender retired from international football after winning the 2006 World Cup, and has seen the Azzurri slide ever since.

His value to Lazio, and their fans, was great and went beyond money. Whilst the club were breaking transfer records to buy Juan Sebastian Veron and Vieri, a financial house of cards was being built and homegrown Nesta’s departure was a financial boon even if it hit hard. On 31st August, 2002, the following desperate hope was posted online:

“At 3.30 this afternoon, Lazio issued the official announcement that: ‘Late this morning, the sale was confirmed of the player Alessandro Nesta to AC Milan, for €30.2 million’. The only chink of light remaining for fans is the rumours circulating that the player himself is shut up in his house and has not yet signed any documents.”

Though injuries continue to hamper him for considerable periods, Nesta remains first choice for Milan and recently played in their 2-0 win over Auxerre in the Champions League, a competition he’s won twice.

The Match Winner

Pavel Nedved’s winning goal was not only crucial but sensational too, swivelling on one leg to catch the ball on the volley and send it smashing into the corner of the goal. The Czech provideded a worthy match winner.

Nedved retired in 2009, bowing out gracefully. “Maybe you think I’m still young but I’m almost 37”, he said after Juventus’s loss to Chelsea in the Champions League. “I will quit at the end of the season… The decision is final and I don’t think I will change my mind – I don’t need to. It is the right time to quit.
“I’m still enjoying playing but considering my physical and mental condition I understand that the time has come to make way for younger players.”

Nedved’s career included 91 caps for his country and almost 400 games in Serie A with Lazio and Juventus, also winning the 2003 Ballon d’Or. Most recently the blonde mop-haired legend is on the verge of re-entering football with a backroom role at Juventus mooted, although quite what form this will take is unknown.

The Coach

For Lazio’s coach on that famous night the past 11 years have taken him on a rollercoaster ride. Sven-Goran Eriksson, the mercurial chancer who seems ever in the frame for every big job and keeps landing on his feet, is still going strong.

The Swede’s success at Lazio saw him gain the England job, managing three consecutive quarter-finals in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and Euro 2004, most memorably grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory against a 10-man Brazil in Japan/South Korea. Often chided for his negative tactics and loyalty to key players, history may judge Eriksson better given the limited successes of his successors (Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello) who have both failed to match his achievement.

A spell at Manchester City followed his England dethroning and despite being something of a fan favourite, beating their city neighbours Manchester United twice and steering the club to a respectable ninth place finish, consolidation was not to follow. He departure by ‘mutual consent’ with two years left on his contract surprised many of the club’s fans and was put down to a failure to see eye-to-eye with then-owner Thaksin Shinawatra.

Eriksson, always in demand, stepped onto a plane in Manchester and off in Mexico City, to take a new job with the Mexican national team. Success did not follow however, and his reign featured one win in seven competitive matches and saw him again out of work. What was to come next was one of the strangest roles of his career, that of director of football at fourth tier English side Notts County, under a supposed Middle Eastern financed push to gain the club Premier League status.

When things went belly up Eriksson magnanimously waived his owed fee and did his best to get the club back on its feet, leaving him held in high esteem with the corridors of power at Meadow Lane. New chief executive Jim Rodwell praised the Swede: "He has agreed to stay on as joint life president, which is a less hands-on role but it gives people an idea of how honourable Sven has been to deal with."

Eriksson was put in charge of the Ivory Coast for this summer’s World Cup in South Africa, although the African side failed to get out of a group that included Brazil, North Kore and Portugal. A reported £2M salary for what was a summer job seems to define the career trajectory of this rare talent, well paid throughout.

Most recently Eriksson has been appointed the new coach of English Championship side Leicester City and will hope to once again taste Premier League football with The Foxes.