It is twenty years ago, yesterday, since Marco Negri scored five goals against Dundee United to equal Paul Sturrock’s record from way back in 1984 v Morton. He had already scored five goals for the season despite it only being a few weeks old. Rangers fans had no idea and had little warning about the unprecedented goal scoring run he was about to go on. Especially after he had arrived from Perugia with a goal every two games ratio, albeit a decent record against notoriously frugal Serie A defences.
Negri arrived during the summer with fellow Italians Lorenzo Amoruso, Sergio Porrini and Gennaro Gattuso for a fee reported to be £3.75m. There was little known about him other than his respectable goal scoring record for an unfashionable team in Italy. He soon got a reputation for being moody off the Scottish press, celebrating goals with a simple handshake or a quick hand in the air to acknowledge the fans. He simply saw it as his job.
To the game in question and Rangers had started the season well, except for a 3-0 loss to IFK Gothenburg in the second Qualifying Round for the Champions League. Negri was bought to replace the ageing McCoist but he had also started the season well with seven goals in his first five games. It was Negri that got the nod upfront against Dundee Utd with Gordon Durie given the supporting role because of his extra physical and energetic presence. McCoist had to content himself with a place on the bench.
Rangers were set up in what looked like a 4-4-2 but throughout the game the midfield was fluent between a diamond in midfield, 4-3-1-2 and with Durie and Miller playing wide in a 4-2-3-1.
The first half hour was relatively uneventful other than a couple of trademark Paul Gascoigne runs from deep, beating a few defenders before getting crosses into the danger area. In the 35th minute Negri came to life. He wasn’t lazy and in pressuring Dave Bowman, the defender played a suicidal square ball that Stale Stensaas did well to chase down and knock past the on-rushing Stewart McKimmie before squaring the ball for Negri to tap in from close range.
It didn’t take long for Negri to get number two when a Gascoigne corner was curled into the six-yard box at the front post and, what should have been, an easy take for the goal keeper Sieb Dijkstra. Negri showed another quality, his great body strength to challenge Dijkstra in the air and hold him off, heading in from just a few yards out.
The best was yet to come and Rangers fans didn’t have long to wait for it. Just two minutes later, on the stroke of half time. A quick throw out from Goram was collected on the turn by Gascoigne midway inside his own half. He then played a beautifully floated ball into the inside left channel for Negri to chase onto. What happened next was a thing of beauty. First, he turned McKimmie inside and with the ball still in the air flicked it back over him. With McKimmie and Pressley ending up in a heap on the ground, Negri, the calmest man in Ibrox stood and lobbed Dijkstra from outside the box. Demonstrating his technical brilliance to match his strength and predatory instincts.
Negri wasn’t done there though and after 66 minutes he had his fourth. A deep cross from Miller on the right took out Dijkstra and Durie kept the ball in, nodding back for Negri. With his back to goal he controls the ball on his chest, takes a touch and despite close attention from McKimmie manages to turn (whilst slipping and almost on the ground) and bury the ball past Dijkstra.
A consolation penalty from Pressley a couple of minutes later made it 4-1 but Negri wasn’t finished. Great interplay between Durie and Negri led to Negri and Rangers’ 5th. A long ball from Goram was flicked on by Durie, Negri held it up and laid it off again to Durie before spinning and running towards goal. Durie then played a wonderful ball splitting the Dundee Utd defence for Negri to run onto and volley first time into the bottom corner past the despairing Dijkstra.
Negri scored an incredible 23 goals in his first 10 league games for Rangers and 30 before January, a statistic that will surely never be beaten. He is one of the most fascinating and intriguing stories in Scottish football. A freak eye injury reportedly sustained whilst playing squash with Sergio Porrini stopped him in his tracks followed by pneumonia, a back injury and a hernia operation. He was never to recover his early season form again, ever.
Acknowledged by Jorg Albertz as “a bit of a recluse” he never entered the social party of the famous drinking culture at Ibrox at the time. Had he stayed fit and 10-in-a-row ultimately secured there is little doubt Negri would still be on the highest of pedestals. The biggest “what might have been” story Ibrox has seen.