SARTI, THE GAME CHANGER looks back over the career of a man who changed the complection of goalkeeping

MILAN - When he was a little more than 17 years old, Giuliano Sarti used to pound the village streets of the Emilia countryside on his bicycle. He travelled around selling the artichokes, lemons and brustolini his father packed into a basket, which was to be empty by the time his son came home. Perish the thought that Giuliano wait around in one place for his customers to buy.

That is perhaps another reason why his approach to goalkeeping wasn't the most conventional. He almost happened upon the position by chance when he went to Cento di Ferrara one Sunday to watch a game featuring San Matteo della Decima, who were left without a keeper due to injury. "You're up," they told him. Though at first reluctant, he eventually agreed. He would then stay there for the rest of the season, beginning his career in earnest.

But wandering around between the goal line and edge of his six-yard box for what seemed like an eternity was mind-numbingly dull for Giuliano. That's why he started to work out ways of nipping off. While he played at local level, he'd lean up against the goalpost and every now and then "pinch a cheeky ciggie" off someone in the crowd. Then he began to work his way up the ladder, however, via eighth-tier side Centese, an unsuccessful trial at Torino and finally Bondenese, who offered him a route into the fifth division. "It was all a bit much," he later told Il Corriere dello Sport. "I knew nothing about football and no one had taught me how to play in goal. I did everything instinctively."

That same instinct convinced Mantovani, one of the directors at Bondenese, to sign him at Fiorentina under Fulvio Bernardini. In Serie A, where he had to give smoking a miss, Giuliano found other ways of escaping boredom. He began to develop a new way of playing in goal. He would come out close to his defenders and build up play from the back. An early example of the "sweeper keeper" role now in vogue with Manuel Neuer. Sarti spent nine years in Florence, winning the Viola's first ever league title and even making the European Cup final, where he only succumbed to a Real Madrid side featuring the great Alfredo Di Stefano.

In 1963 he would have another chance to prove himself on the European stage, however, as a stalwart in the early days of Helenio Herrera's Grande Inter side. Aged 30, Sarti was now the complete goalkeeper. Besides taking part in his team's play, he seemed almost clinical in his saves, staying cool and assessing where the ball could go. That earned him the nickname "The ice keeper". He also revealed the following to Inter Channel: "I had a system where I organised my team-mates in such a way that the opposition had fewer shots." All of those attributes led Herrera to dub him "the Game Changer". Under the Argentina-born coach, Sarti won two European crowns, two league titles and a pair of Intercontinental Cups. He was also the first name on the famous team sheet Inter fans love to fondly recite: "Sarti, Burgnich, Facchetti...".

Football and fate are cruel, fickle mistresses however, something Sarti knows all too well, and often goalkeepers' mistakes prove more costly. So it was in June 1967 with Inter travelling to Mantova on the final day of the league season, holding a one-point lead over Juventus. With the scoreline goalless, Giuliano failed to collect a cross from Di Giacomo. The ball ended up in the back of the net and the title went to the Bianconeri.

As it turned out, he would finish his career at Juventus as back-up to Anzolin. Florence still had a place in hi heart though. In May 1969, the Bianconeri hosted Fiorentina who took the lead through Chiarugi. Sarti couldn't contain his excitement on the bench, prompting his coach to ask him: "What are you playing at?" His response was refreshingly candid: "This is a dead rubber for us, gaffer, whereas they can win the league." The honest answer of a goalkeeper who helped to change a difficult yet unique role on the football pitch. Perhaps it's no coincidence he's mentioned before anyone else on that team sheet. A privilege, especially for him: "Sarti, Burgnich, Facchetti..."

Alessandro Bai

 Versione Italiana 

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