There are few players in the world that are as highly revered as Benito Carbone. During a 22 year playing career, Carbone weaved his magic across a variety of clubs in Italy and England, building a reputation as an entertainer, goalscorer and fan favourite. Indeed such is Carbone’s favour that in a recent Twitter question-and-answer session with fans, the most asked question that kept popping up was would Carbone come back to their club. That is a huge indication of how loved and respected he was as a player.
Now retired, Carbone has taken his knowledge and passion into coaching, both as a manager in his own right with spells at Pavia, Varese and Ternana and now as assistant manager to Walter Zenga at Crotone. We caught up with him recently to talk about his career, his shinguards and why he gave up millions to save Bradford City.
Back Of The Net: You began your career at Torino at an interesting time in the club’s history (Torino were relegated to Serie B for only the second time at the end of the 1988-1989 season). As a player trying to break through, was it harder to break into the side because they were fighting against relegation?
Benito Carbone: For me it was a special emotion, because I came from Calabria and after 3 years of youth sector, I found myself to debut in Serie A and be relegated in the same year. It was the dream of my life, because when I was training, I saw the first team doing the same not too far from me and I dreamed of one day being able to be part of them. It was however a very unlucky year, but I always remember it as an indelible moment of my career. An emotion too great to describe. I grew up there, Filadelfia’s son.
BOTN: You spent a few seasons out on loan where you managed to play fairly regularly. Do you think that those moves helped you develop as a player? What are your memories of that time?
BC: With the relegation and the arrival of Luciano Moggi to Turin, many things changed. Dino Baggio and I were important parts of the project, but he remained, and I was loaned to Reggina. I would have expected to stay longer there, I was treated very well at Turin. I played for several teams before returning there, but I did not feel the need to experience elsewhere.
BOTN: Let’s talk about your move to Napoli. You actually signed for Roma but days later were sold to Napoli as part of a move that saw Daniel Fonseca moving the other way. Do you remember what happened over those few days? Were you pleased to end up at Napoli?
BC: The Torino from which I came was very strong, with Silenzi, Francescoli, Aguilera, Marchegiani and Mondonico on the bench. I was able to play very well in Serie A and again I would have stayed there. But when there are changes on the bench or in the club, many situations could be reviewed, and often the new management prefers to rely on people they trust, changing the balance in the team. Many players have been put on the market. I only spent an hour in Rome, I did not sign anything, because I was immediately sold to Napoli. Over time, I enjoyed the city and its inhabitants, who gave me so much, and that was one of the best years of my career.
BOTN: At Napoli, you wore the famous number 10 jersey that was also worn by the great Diego Maradona. How did that feel? A lot of players have a preference over the shirt number they wore, did you have a favourite number?
BC: It was a very heavy shirt; the strongest player ever wore it. I did everything to wear it with honor. I think I did well there and left a nice memory. I have in mind the choirs that the fans were addressing me and even today I hear them. My favourite number was and will always be 10.
BOTN: That side also contained a very young but promising defender named Fabio Cannavaro. Looking back now, was it obvious to you what a special player he was?
BC: I met Cannavaro when I was in Turin, before I arrived in Naples, and already there I realized how special he was. I was in excellent shape, but he always managed not to leave any space. I often find myself talking to him about this again today. Surely, we knew he would have reached the top of the world. Formidable, aggressive, explosive player.
BOTN: After deciding to leave Inter, you moved to England to sign for Sheffield Wednesday. Why did you choose that club and what challenges did you face in those initial first few months having joined?
BC: England represented a whole new football and culture for me, so I knew it would be a different experience. I did not expect to do it so soon. Sheffield Wednesday was the ideal place to start my English career, the atmosphere was perfect. At the beginning, I had a hard time, also from a linguistic point of view, but all my teammates were very willing to help me, also because I was not the only foreign player on the team. It was not easy, it took time, but in the end, it went all right.
BOTN: At Sheffield Wednesday you formed a great partnership with Paolo Di Canio. What was it like playing with Paolo and did his arrival make your time at Hillsborough easier?
BC: Sheffield Wednesday acquired Paolo Di Canio the year after my arrival, and it was me to advise David Pleat (who trained us at the time) to bid on him. He was a great talent. We were very good together because we completed each other. We were friends off the field and it helped. No doubt about it.
BOTN: You also played for Aston Villa and Bradford and are widely seen by all three English clubs as one of the best foreign imports to have played for them. Why do you think your time in England was viewed so positively?
BC: I’m glad to be remembered like that by English fans, and I still notice it even from their gentle messages on social media today. I was among the very first Italian players to come to England and my style of playing was a bit different from the one you had here. It represented a new challenge for me and players like Gianfranco Zola: we were very agile players and we had to adapt to new styles of play, types of players. I think we gave that bit of technique that was missing during that period and people loved it. They still remember all the goals I scored, especially the best ones.
BOTN: You finished your playing career back in Italy with spells at Como, Parma, Catanzaro, Vicenza and finally Pavia. How important was it for you to finish your career back home?
BC: Honestly, I was not expecting this career ending. I had imagined a different one, despite having gone through important stages like Pavia, which I consider almost a second home for the fantastic people I met there.
BOTN: Your manager at Parma, Cesare Prandelli, is credited with influencing your decision to go into management. What was it in particular about Prandelli that influenced this? What did you learn from him?
BC: I was bought by Parma on the last day of the transfer market and the team was full of talents. I proved that I wanted to play with all my strength and Cesare appreciated it. He managed to create a fantastic group, both among us footballers and with the staff members. It was the year of the Parmalat crack and despite everything we were very close to qualifying for the Champions League. An unforgettable year for me. With him I learned that if the team that you are training is united, you can get any result. And this is what I try to communicate to each team that I train or contribute to coaching. We were a family.
BOTN: You played for Italy at various youth levels and won the Under 21 European Championship in 1994 but never gained a full cap at senior level. Is that your biggest regret from your career? What do you remember from that win in 1994?
BC: It did not depend very much on me. I left Italy to go to England at the peak of my career, and footballers who went abroad came out a bit from the National Team radar. There was not the same response as there is today. Moreover, I was born in an era in which the phenomena we all know have blossomed in Italy, so the struggle to succeed was great. The victory of ’94 is the best memory I have in the Italian National Team, at that time our national youth teams went very well. We have won many tournaments around Italy and Europe. The future was ours.
BOTN: After retirement, you moved into management and have managed a variety of Italian sides. How would you categorize your style of management? Do you have ambitions to manage abroad, perhaps back in England?
BC: My coaching style is very personal. I have a vision of football and my way of relating to footballers. Having experienced football on several levels and being able to think with the footballer’s mind help me a lot to understand their needs even before they ask. The coach for me must be like a psychologist and relates in a different way according to the player in front of him. Everyone is different from the other, they have different thoughts and different football visions. The skill is being able to understand these situations, even before the modules, tactics and types of training. And yes, I would love to manage in England.
BOTN: You had a spell working as a consultant for Leeds United under Massimo Cellino which evolved over time to include first team and Academy duties. What did you learn from that experience and why did you leave in the end?
BC: The experience I had with Leeds was beautiful. I grew up on a human and managerial level, being basically President Cellino’s trustee. I have covered many roles in a short time, even training the U21 team (which was my original objective). It was a pity that it ended so quickly, but it was a fundamental experience for my career.
BOTN: Throughout your career you have been used in a variety of different positions including out on the wing, as a central attacker or in an attacking midfield role. What was your most comfortable position and at what position do you think the fans saw you at your best?
BC: My favorite position on the pitch was always next to a striker, I’ve never been an offensive midfielder. Sometimes I played as a midfielder on the right, but I was not comfortable, I could not give my best. As a supporting forward, several strikers I played with became top scorers in that season or played for the national team.
BOTN: You famously gave up £3.3 million that was owed to you by Bradford City FC which in turn saved them from going into administration. That’s a lot of money to give up. What made you do that?
BC: I made that choice to save the club. I left the team 2 years and a half before the end of my contract. I don’t want that money back because I decided with my heart and I would never do that, especially to a team that I respect a lot. Passion and respect always came before money and fame.
BOTN: Finally, some quick questions: Is it true that you wore specially created shin pads with the faces of Maradona and Roberto Baggio on them during your career?
BC: True. They were my idols. I wanted to know everything about Maradona once I arrived in Naples, all the details, even talking with his personal historical masseur. For me Roberto Baggio was the strongest Italian player ever, I have an immense admiration of him.
BOTN: Best goal you ever scored? The overhead kick for Sheffield Wednesday vs Newcastle?
BC: That is without doubt one of the most beautiful goals. There are others of which I have good memories, like the lob against Nottingham Forest or the one against Bolton. If I have to choose one, the most significant was the third goal against Leeds in the 3-2 that allowed Aston Villa to qualify for the quarterfinals of the FA Cup. That never happened in 25 years before.
BOTN: Toughest manager you played for?
BC: I have not had very tough coaches. As I said before, the one who taught me the most was Cesare Prandelli at Parma, who really knew how to work with every type of player, regardless of his experience. I still consider it one of the best ever.
BOTN: Thank you Benito and good luck for the rest of the season.
With thanks to Maurizio Russo at NF Sport Management