Italians in Spain (Part 4) – Age is just a number: Amedeo Carboni

Of the many Italian players to have graced the stadiums of Spain, few have made such an impact as Amedeo Carboni. In fact, no Italian has made more La Liga appearances than the reluctant Tuscan legend, who also went on to become the oldest player ever to feature in the Spanish top flight at the age of 41 years, 1 month and 10 days (Valencia vs. Osasuna, May 16, 2006).

The Tuscan son

The Arezzo-born left-back began his footballing career in the youth ranks of his home town club at the age of 10, before switching to the senior side eight years later in 1983. At the time, Arezzo were playing in Serie B and Carboni had already caught the eye of Tuscan neighbours Fiorentina. A loan move was soon arranged; however, things did not work out as planned, and the shy 18-year-old failed to make a first-team appearance for the Viola.

The following year, the youngster returned to his parent club where he broke into the first team, making a total of 22 appearances in the 1984-85 season. As a result of his impressive performances, yet another loan move was initiated – this time to Bari – where Carboni fared slightly better, making a total of 10 appearances for the newly-promoted Serie A side. Unfortunately, the club was immediately relegated back to Serie B and once again, the young left-back returned home to Arezzo.

Despite making only 10 appearances during his first year in Serie A, Carboni had done enough to impress scouts at another newly-promoted side, Empoli.  A deal was struck and, at the beginning of the 1986-87 season, the 21-year-old made the permanent move northwest to play for the Tuscan team. After making 11 appearances and helping the club to retain their top-flight status, he was sold to Serie B club Parma whose promising young coach Arrigo Sacchi had just left for Milan.

One of Carboni’s first games for Parma was a friendly match against a Real Madrid side featuring the legendary “Quinta del Buitre” (Emilio Butragueño, Hugo Sánchez, Míchel, Rafael Martín Vázquez and Miguel Pardeza). The game was held at Parma’s Stadio Ennio Tardini and against all expectations, the home side ran out 2-1 winners thanks to goals from Turrini and Gambaro.

The scenic route to success

Now playing for his fifth club in as many years, Carboni was gradually building a reputation as a hard-working left-sided player with a bright future and had overcome his tendency for homesickness. He enjoyed his best season yet at Parma and was soon back on the Serie A radar. In the end, it was Vujadin Boškov of Sampdoria who lured the player back to the top flight where he became an instant first-team regular for the team from Genoa.

His two-year spell at Sampdoria was a resounding success and resulted in a Coppa Italia triumph in 1988-89 and back-to-back UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup finals including victory in the 1989-90 edition.

Now aged 25 and approaching his prime, Carboni aroused the interest of Roma who waded in with an offer that neither the club nor the player could refuse. After playing for six different clubs in a seven-year spell, the player now enjoyed the first settled period of his career, spending the next seven years in the Italian capital.

The move to Rome may have provided stability but it did not bring the expected silverware. During his first season at the Giallorossi, the left-back added another Coppa Italia medal to his collection but the next six seasons remained barren. A runners-up medals in the 1990-91 UEFA Cup provided scant consolation as the club failed to finish higher than fifth in the league or to make any further impact in the cup competitions.

In 1997, now aged 32 and having been installed as club captain at Roma, Carboni made the difficult decision to leave Roma and head to Spain.

A nightmare start in Spain

When Valencia first showed an interest in Carboni, he was initially reluctant on the move and his club even less so. The player did not have an agent but was approached by Robert Baggio’s representative, Antonio Caliendo, who had just overseen the transfer of Ariel Ortega to Valencia.

After a long period of soul-searching and discussion on all sides, a deal was agreed and Carboni signed his first contract for the Spanish club on the back of a napkin.

As if to compound his initial reservations, the Italian defender’s career in Spain got off to the worse possible start. On his home debut against Louis van Gaal’s Barcelona on September 8, 1997, Carboni was sent off after a crunching tackle on Luis Figo earned him a second yellow card. The game ended 0-3 and the new left-back was widely criticised for his hot-headed performance. A couple of weeks after that game, Valencia boss Jorge Valdano was relieved of his duties and replaced by former Fiorentina boss Claudio Ranieri.

Carboni later admitted: “When I first got here the club was in a bit of a mess. The coach was sacked and I started to have my doubts. I said to myself, ‘Boy, what kind of place have I ended up in?'”

Fortunately, having an Italian in charge made things easier for Carboni and from that point on, his performances improved and he soon became a favourite with the home crowd – despite receiving two more red cards during that first season.

Time can wait

What happened next perhaps defies all logic for a player who was approaching his mid-30s and presumed to be playing out the final days of his career.

Over the next nine seasons, Carboni went on to make 370 appearances in all competitions for Los Che. In that time, he won La Liga twice, the UEFA Cup, the Copa del Rey, the UEFA Super Cup, the Spanish Super Cup and the UEFA Intertoto Cup. He was also twice a runner-up in the Champions League and was picked as a member of the IFFHS World Team of the Year in 2004.

In addition, when Valencia won the UEFA Cup on May 19, 2004, Carboni became the oldest player to win a European club competition (39 years, 1 month and 13 days). He broke a further record on October 23, 2005 when – at the age of 40 years, six months and 17 days – he officially became the oldest player ever to have played in the Spanish league (although there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that former Real Sociedad coach Harry Lowe took to the field at the age of 48 on March 24, 1935).

Amedeo Carboni finally played his last game for Valencia against Osasuna on May 16, 2006 at the age of 41 years, 1 month and 10 days.

Underappreciated

Despite his illustrious club career, Carboni was regularly overlooked for selection at international level. In fact, he did not make his debut for Italy until he was nearly 27-years-old (in a 1-0 friendly win over Germany in 1992).

He went on to make just 18 appearances for the Italian national team and only appeared at one major championship – when Arrigo Sacchi included him in the squad for the 1996 UEFA European Championships in England.

Later career

Following his retirement, Carboni spent a year as Director of Football at Valencia but left following several disagreements with Coach Quique Sanchez Flores.

In June 2009, he teamed up with former Valencia teammates Juan Sánchez and Miroslav Dukić at R.E. Mouscron in Belgium. Dukić was coaching the team at the time and Carboni and Sanchez were recruited as Sporting Director and Technical Director respectively. Unfortunately, due to severe financial difficulties, the club was forced into administration just before the end of the year.

The following year, a spell as technical consultant to former boss Rafa Benitez at Inter was also brought to abrupt end when the Spaniard was sacked after just six months in charge.
Carboni has since worked as commentator and pundit on various television and radio shows including Canal 9 in Spain, and Premium Calcio and Guida al Campionato in Italy.

The legend of the orange wig

In the museum at Valencia’s Mestalla stadium, Carboni’s legacy is honoured by the presence of a tatty orange wig. When the team won the league title in 2002, Carboni gave his shirt to a young child in the crowd who insisted on giving him an orange wig in return. Carboni wore the wig during the celebrations and again on the open-top bus parade around the city.

The wig drew great attention from the media and caused much amusement amongst the fans. When the team bagged another league title in 2004, Carboni once again sported the comedy hair-piece, forever securing its place in Valencian football folklore.

Read Italians in Spain Part 1 here

Part 2 here

Part 3 here

Words by Neil Morris: @nmorris01

Neil was seduced by Italian and Spanish football at a young age thanks to the likes of “La Quinta del Buitre”, Sacchi’s Milan, Cruyff’s dream team and Batigol. His football obsession has taken him all over Europe but he currently lives in Spain where he works as a freelance writer/editor. A first novel is also in the pipeline. When he is not writing, he heads for the sierras to indulge his passion for mountain biking.