Think of a time before Totti was having an impact and imagine Roma? It feels nearly impossible as the great man’s tenure has been long and great, but there were heroes before. While Totti was breaking through the youth ranks and just entering the first team, a certain Abel Balbo was purchased. He would go on toplay for the Giallorossi with devastating effect, no doubt teaching the club’s bright young things a lesson or two in goalscoring.
Balbo’s career started in 1989 with Udinese in Serie B, were he scored 65 goals in 134 appearances between 1989 and 1993. In the 1992-93 season he managed to score 22 times and this turned the heads of Roma. He immediately repaid their faith, scoring 22 times again in the 1993-94 season and becoming one of the most feared strikers in the country.
He finished his time in Rome in 1998, a fan’s favourite, after scoring 78 goals in 171 games.
His career wound down after this and he endured less fruitful spells at Parma and Fiorentina before returning to Roma. He played only three games and had no goals to show for it.
Balbo was quite simply a goalscorer: a poacher, a man who would gamble on a defender or a goalkeeper making a mistake. Near-post headers, tap ins, beating the keeper to a ball by inches, this was the way he played this was the way he succeeded.
He could also score spectacular goals. Just ask any member of Parma’s 1993-94 squad (not a bad team by anyone’s standards), who watched in awe as he hammered a 35-yard rocket into the top corner. The ball was hit with such force that it promised to break the net.
His movement off the ball was superb. He made sure he was always within a 15-20 yard radius of his partner. His ability to second guess what the other striker would do left him in acres of space to score or (more often than not) beat the defender to the rebound.
Balbo played with some illustrious partners in his time and it is perhaps for this reason that he is not always revered as he should be. Totti, Claudio Caniggia, Marco Delvecchio, Roberto Muzzi, Marco Branca and Daniel Fonseca all played in this period, but from 1993 to 1997, Balbo was the top goalscorer every season.
At this time Serie A was the greatest league in the world by some distance and the Argentinian was helping his Roma side become one of the most potent goalscoring sides in the division. When calcio ruled the world, Balbo was causing the best defences in the world a lot of problems.
By Richard Hall