Our summer series has now reached back to the Premier League days, as Gareth Walker remembers the Italian maverick who cost City in more ways than one.
It is difficult to know where to begin when describing Benito Carbone from a Bradford City perspective. It is difficult to say whether he is the best player ever to play in the Claret and Amber, because everybody has a different opinion and it is impossible to compare players from different eras, and indeed players who play in different positions. In my opinion however, Carbone is probably the most technically gifted player ever to play for our club.
Unfortunately, it is not just in these terms that he is remembered, because he is also probably the most infamous of all Bradford City signings. As described brilliantly by Jason McKeown in his recent articles about City’s administration, Carbone’s wages and benefits will forever be synonymously linked with those dark days. What must be said, however, is that none of that was Carbone’s fault, he just took the money that he was offered, and as pointed out in the aforementioned article, it was largely down to Carbone’s willingness to write off 80% of what he was owed that still sees us still having a club to support today.
I am not going to go over old ground regarding City’s financial nightmares as these have been covered in depth elsewhere. Instead I’d prefer to focus on ‘Carbone – The Footballer’. However, it is of course impossible to talk about Benito without mentioning those “Six Weeks of Madness”. All I will say is that to chastise him for “only sending a pair of boots for auction” in City’s hour of need is ignoring half the story.
Before signing for Bradford City, Carbone, an Italian Under 21 international, had played for Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa in the Premier League as well as six Italian teams, including two spells at Torino. When he arrived at City, he did so with already somewhat of a reputation. He had signed for The Owls even though he couldn’t speak a word of English, and then left the club after three seasons over a contract dispute despite being their top goalscorer. Whilst at Villa, he is probably best remembered for scoring a memorable hatrick in an FA Cup tie against Leeds United.
I can remember vividly the day he signed for City. It was the summer after our “great escape” and Look North were live at VP with Carbone surrounded by fans in amongst the seats on the top tier of the Kop. City had been in the market for a big name striker and were willing to spend some money. Little did we know at the time that it was money that the club didn’t really have. We were linked with Paulo Wanchope from West Ham United and recently, at a Skipton Bantams meeting, Mark Lawn revealed that we had also been in discussions with England international Teddy Sheringham around the same time.
Nevertheless, Geoffrey Richmond wanted Carbone and he got his man. The excitement surrounding the club that summer was palpable as our marque signing was joined by other big names such as David Hopkin, Dan Petrescu and later Stan Collymore. The little Italian was meant to spearhead an assault on the Premier League table and establish City as at least a mid-table side in England’s top flight.
What City were paying the money for was evident almost every time he stepped onto the pitch. Skill, technique, passing ability, shooting ability, I could go on. At times, he seemed to be on another level to the rest of the team, “one step ahead” as some described it, and of course this caused a few problems. Indeed, one opposing manager once said of him, “Benito’s movements wrongfoot opponents but often his team-mates too.”
As City started to struggle in the top flight, it often looked like Carbone was trying to, or was expected to, do it all on his own. However, one thing that I haven’t yet mentioned was his work rate. Carbone wasn’t one of these typical “flair players” who didn’t seem to like the English weather and who was anonymous as often as he was excellent. In fact, he was quite the opposite. Nobody could ever attribute him with a lack of effort, and he could often be seen doing extra training sessions on the VP pitch with another much maligned player of the time, his strike partner Ashley Ward.
We saw flashes of brilliance during matches too, when his skills and levels of performance seemed to rub off on his team mates and they all raised their games. This was particularly evident when City entertained Chelsea for an August evening kick off. City beat the London outfit 2-0 that night with goals from Carbone and Dean Windass, but the score line only told half the story. The little Italian completely ran the show and City destroyed their illustrious opponents.
As supporters walked away from the ground after the game, everything seemed perfect and Richmond’s plan seemed to be flawless. We were genuinely beginning to talk about possible European qualification that season. Sadly, that evening was probably when Bradford City peaked as a football club and many will argue that it has been downhill ever since.
As City slipped down the table and eventually out of the Premier League, Carbone began to stand out more and more and more. That season, he won the Player of the Year award at a canter.
Of course, the following season when City were plying their trade in the Championship and were unable to get Carbone off the wage bill, he had less and less people playing near to his level because other higher earners were moved on. City finished mid-table in the second tier that season. Benito had been loaned out to both Derby and Middlesbrough and it seemed that when we had him in the team we were still a much better side than when he wasn’t at the club.
Eventually, City did find a permanent taker for the player and he ended his time in England by moving back to his homeland with Como. From then onwards, he continued his somewhat nomadic career, with short spells at Parma, Catanzaro, Vicenza, Sydney (loan) and finally Pavia, before hanging up his boots. Carbone then made the move into management, firstly with his last playing club Pavia in Italy’s Serie C. He had initial success here and earned himself a move to Varese, a club in the division above. Sadly he lasted only a few months and is now unemployed in a football capacity.
Carbone’s former teammate at Sheffield Wednesday, Paulo Di Canio has made a success of lower league management in this country during his time at Swindon Town, and the question has popped into my head on a few occasions, about whether we will ever see ‘Beni’ trying his luck on our managerial circuit. His motives for playing in England, for moving clubs so often and indeed for signing for Bradford City have been questioned by many, and it raises the issue of whether he would ever be welcomed back into football in this country.
From a Bradford City perspective we know the good and the bad of him more than most and we all have an opinion on him. The debate will continue to rage on. Was he worth it? You can deduce your own answers to that question, but in my opinion Carbone came to City and did what he was paid to do – entertain. We have those memories of him playing in Claret and Amber and I’m sure if it wasn’t him taking the money, it would have been someone else.
The Midweek Player Focus – Close Season Special series