Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. If not for a few decisions which led him to different moves during his time in England, Benito Carbone would be more widely appreciated as a legendary figure today. He could’ve created more memorable moments, too.
Signed by Sheffield Wednesday for a club-record fee of £3m from Inter Milan in 1996, Carbone was a talented but under-utilised Italian forward, who made his presence felt upon arrival.
He has since expressed regret at his inability to do more off the field, though. Eager to integrate quicker with team-mates in a new country, alongside a different culture and language is easier said than done – especially when you abstain from alcohol.
“At the beginning, it wasn’t easy, the culture was very different and I made the mistake to behave as an Italian in England. I had to mix with other players, learn English culture and live as an English guy, but I did not understand that at that time.”
Carbone speaking to Planet Football.
Carbone netted six goals during his debut campaign in England. Despite possessing a diminutive figure, he managed to continually beat opposition defenders and score a variety of strikes.
Playing alongside compatriot Paolo Di Canio would’ve also contributed to Carbone’s success on the pitch for Wednesday. But Di Canio was only there for one full season after an acrimonious departure from Celtic, though his goalscoring efforts and disciplinary issues saw him leave for West Ham in January 1999.
Between the Italians, they scored 21 goals and created 12 more during their first and only Premier League season together.
Plenty of memorable goals have been netted in England’s top flight over the past two decades.
Carbone’s bicycle kick strike on the opening weekend against Newcastle in 1997/98 is no exception, though it’s rarely introduced with the fanfare it deserves.
A deft flick by the Italian proved pivotal during the build-up, setting his team-mates on their way to one of the best Premier League goals ever scored. He didn’t even need to look, instead passing into open space and racing forward towards the box.
Ian Nolan’s well-executed long pass was perfect for Carbone. He cushioned the weight with his chest before instinctively taking a touch to set himself, then striking goalwards with an acrobatic effort into the bottom corner.
All of these actions were performed in less than two seconds.
Not only is that impressive but it’s also a testament to Carbone’s technical brilliance that he had the presence of mind to even attempt it, let alone execute his effort with aplomb. It was a goal worthy of winning any game but Carbone’s equaliser was ultimately in vain as they lost 2-1.
Carbone went on to win the club’s Player of the Season award the following campaign before leaving for Aston Villa in the summer of 1999. He moved to Bradford as well as short spells with Derby and Middlesbrough before opting for a return to Italy.
It’s a decision that the former Italy youth international says he’s regretted since.
“I love England, I love English football, I love the game, the atmosphere, the fans.
I’d like to come back, it would be a dream come true. I always say that in my career I made many wrong choices: one of the biggest was when I left Inter, but the biggest of all was when I decided to leave England and come back to Italy.”
Carbone’s decision to move back for home comforts in Italy isn’t surprising. His love for the country and adoring supporters make it a frustrating shame that he wasn’t persuaded to remain longer.
Di Canio, Zola and the mercurial Balotelli are all highly-rated as the best Italians to play Premier League football. There’s no reason why Carbone doesn’t deserve a place alongside them.