Every season since 1982/83, the National Basketball Association releases its Sixth Man of the Year Award. This award is given to the best performing player coming off the bench to help his team.
This prize is a way to award the importance of having a player who can step up from the sideline and make an impact on the game.
In football, nothing of that sort exists. However, had it existed, a definite candidate in calcio in the 1990s would certainly have been former Fiorentina player Anselmo Robbiati.
Born in Lecco in 1970, Robbiati joined Fiorentina in 1993, when La Viola was preparing to play in Serie B after their unbelievable relegation in 1992/93. Despite having a team loaded with talents such as Gabriel Omar Batistuta, Brian Laudrup and Stefan Effenberg, they won only three of their last 22 games.
Robbiati gave his contribution to bring back Fiorentina into the top tier, scoring six goals. During his first Serie A season, the former Monza player were underutilised by coach Claudio Ranieri. Club owner Vittorio Cecchi Gori spent a lot during the transfer market in the summer of 1994, bringing in Brazilian defender Marcio Santos, Portuguese star midfielder Rui Costa and forward Francesco Baiano to pair with Batistuta up front.
With these kind of players in front of him, Robbiati struggled to gain playing time, and he found himself on the bench alongside former golden boy Francesco Flachi.
Nevertheless, Robbiati’s skills didn’t go unnoticed. The following season, 1995/96, Robbiati edged his way into Ranieri’s plans, even starting from the bench. He ended the campaign with six goals, and also contributed to the Coppa Italia win against Atalanta.
The next campaign, Fiorentina added another offensive weapon in Brazilian-turned-Belgian striker Luís Oliveira from Cagliari. Despite this arrival, Robbiati still received playing time, and with his remarkable crisp left foot, would often steal the show from the likes of Batistuta and Rui Costa.
1996/97 was his best season at the club, with 11 goals, including one in the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup against Slavia Prague. This goal proved crucial in carrying Fiorentina into the semi-finals, where they met Barcelona.
Firmly a fans favourite at this stage, Robbiati definitively became a Curva Fiesole hero by scoring the third goal against Juventus during a 3-0 hammering of the Bianconeri in February 1998.
However, with the arrival of Giovanni Trapattoni in the summer of 1998, Robbiati’s playing time diminished. In June 2000 Robbiati left Fiorentina after a record of 27 goals in 155 games (mainly from the bench). Moves to Napoli and then Inter didn’t really work out for the wide player. Robbiati ultimately ended his journey as a journeyman, with gigs at Perugia, Ancona, Grosseto, Monza and Como and with a brief, unfortunate comeback at Fiorentina in between (just five appearances in 2002).
His playing career came to an end after several seasons in the Italian forth tier with Figline Valdarno, the small town that also happens to be the place where former Napoli, Chelsea and Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri lives.
Should Robbiati have deserved more from his career? According to his talent, yes. That said, his career took place in an era dominated by strong, robust players. So, if you think about Robbiati’s nimble, agile frame, the fact he gained respect in Serie A of the ‘90s, a league loaded with remarkable talent, is quite the achievement.
Robbiati found a way to stand out with his skills and also with his yellow boots, quite a contrast for the period, when footballers used to wear the classic black boots. He became one of Fiorentina’s fantastic offensive players during his era and a Curva Fiesole favorite.
Robbiati achieved cult-like status.
Words by: Michele Tossani