Premier League fans are no strangers to eccentric Italian strikers: Paolo Di Canio, Mario Balotelli, even Massimo Maccarone, who hilariously destroyed Steve McClaren after his former Boro coach became England manager (which, in itself, is enough to earn him legend status in most parts of the country).
But, for any younger fans who didn’t get the memo, the original was Benito Carbone, the nimble pint-sized forward who turned out for Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa, Bradford City, Derby County and Middlesbrough during a six-year spell in Blighty during the Premier League’s formative years.
Carbone was an up-and-coming Serie A striker who (quite understandably) never managed to shine in a sky of stars like Del Piero, Zidane, Ronaldo and Batistuta – mid-90s Italian football was something of a who’s who of future icons – but he traded in his cushy place on Inter’s bench for a move to Sheffield Wednesday in 1996.
At the time, he was Wednesday’s record signing (£3m, for some perspective on just how football has changed over the last twenty years), and one of a growing number of foreign players tasked with turning English football into the globally recognised juggernaut it is today.
Carbone’s greatest hits include some goals any striker, in any era, would be proud of – and what’s particularly striking is the variety in his finishing. The Italian could smash one in from distance, guide a well-placed shot with the outside of his boot, and even pop up with the occasional header (despite being a foot shorter than most 90s Premier League centre-backs).
However, what makes him such a cult hero, fondly remembered by fans of all the teams for which he played (even Derby and Boro, where he only played a handful of games), is his personality. Carbone was one of those foreign players who embraced those aspects of English football that probably seemed alien to an outsider. He seemed accessible to fans, where many of his modern day counterparts (regardless of nationality) do not.
Carbone’s finest hour in English football wasn’t a pile-driver shot, neither a mazy run through the opposition defence – in fact, it didn’t happen on the pitch at all.
Carbone was a huge coup for lowly Bradford City at the time, and if it seemed too good to be true, it’s probably because it was: the club’s hierarchy were irresponsibly inflating their wage budget, and something had to give. After they were relegated, Carbone went out on loan, but with two years remaining on his deal, the club risked being plunged into further financial trouble if they were made to pay the rest of his contract. Ever the gentleman, the Italian agreed to give up more than £3m to which he was entitled.
‘I hadn’t earned anything like the amounts on offer in the Premier League today and I had a young family. But when I thought about it, there was only one choice I could make. I couldn’t be the person who put Bradford City out of business.’
Benito Carbone, in the MailOnline
It was a gesture that helped keep Bradford City afloat, and whilst it’s easy for outsiders to look at a situation like that and claim they’d have done the same thing, it’s totally different when you’re actually in those shoes. Carbone chose helping out a club whose fans had been so generous to him over lining his pockets with their cash – and, in the modern game, that’s surely an act befitting the title of “legend”.