Serie A has been lucky enough to witness some of the best South American footballing talent ever produced. From Il fenomeno Ronaldo to Gabriel Batistuta, or Cafu to Kaka, Italy really has been spoiled over the years. So often it is the entertainers like Diego Maradona or goal scorers like Hernan Crespo who grab the headlines. However, we should never forget the importance of the players who go under the radar - just ask any Udinese or Parma fan, or for that matter any Argentine, how important Roberto Nestor Sensini was to their respective teams. As Sir Alex Fergusson famously said: “strikers win you games, defences win you titles”.
When Udinese brought the 23-year-old defender to Serie A in the summer of 1989, they weren’t signing a rookie. This was an Argentine champion, a natural leader on the verge of breaking into his national side having won the Argentine championship with Newell’s Old Boys. During his four-year spell in Udine, Sensini mainly played in a defensive role. However, later in his career, he demonstrated how much more he had to offer. The versatile Argentine was one of the most technically gifted players in Serie A, whose reading of the game was second to none and his ability to time a tackle made the art of defending look simple. Sensini’s consistency was such that when he happened to miss a game, his importance became glaringly obvious.
After close to 150 appearances for Udinese, Sensini was on the move. His destination was European Cup Winners Cup holders Parma, who were on something of a spending spree as they prepared for the 1993-94 season. Nevio Scala had already added Gianfranco Zola from Napoli and ensured Sensini was the next to arrive at the Stadio Tardini. Sensini spent six years with Parma, and they were the most successful years of his footballing career.
It was at the Tardini that Sensini showcased his versatility, as Scala opted to play him in midfield and sometimes as an attacking full-back. Sensini effortlessly played each role as if it were his natural position. The Argentine helped guide Parma to two UEFA Cups, two Italian Cups and a UEFA Supercup in what became the most successful era of the Gialloblu’s history. Despite coming close, Sensini failed to win his first Scudetto with Parma, yet that would change as Sensini swapped Emilia Romagna for Rome.
A brief spell under Sven Goran Eriksson saw Sensini collect another host of medals with Lazio. During the 1999-00 season, Sensini finally got his hands on the Scudetto as the Biancocelesti pipped Juventus to the title on the last day of the season. The triumph completed a historic double for Eriksson’s men, who also beat Inter in the Coppa Italia final. Despite such a successful season however, Sensini wasn’t a regular, playing only a bit part role under the Swedish tactician. As a result, the Argentine swiftly returned to Parma for the 2000-01 season.
The Parma to which Sensini returned was a different team, as the Crociati had to make do without star striker Hernan Crespo, who had left for Sensini’s former club Lazio for a world record fee. Nevertheless, the Gialloblu still had a relatively strong season, finishing fourth and qualifying for the Champions League. The following campaign saw Parma lose yet more star performers. Goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, and defender, Lilian Thuram, both departed for Juventus and this left a huge void that could not be filled. As a result, the club only managed a mediocre tenth place finish, as well as going through three head coaches during the season.
Luciano Spalletti managed to lure Sensini back to Udine to see out the final years of his playing career. The Italian tactician made Sensini the leader of his team, and the veteran Argentine helped the Friuliani secure a surprise Champions League qualification spot in 2005. Once again, Sensini had been part of a club’s most successful season in history. As Sensini fast approached 40-years-of-age, he finally announced his retirement, hanging up his boots after over 400 appearances in Italian football.
When Calcio ruled the world, Roberto Nestor Sensini was one of the toughest, yet most gifted players to grace the Serie A stage.
Words by Giovanni Dougall: @giovannid86