It shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who read yesterday’s post on Fabio Cannavaro that the former Italy captain is my favourite player of 1990’s-era Parma. But Cannavaro, as good as he was, played as part of one of the tightest defences in the country and the other players who comprised this unit deserve some praise too.
Players such as Lorenzo Minotti deserve a shout here too, but their peak years were before my time (I’m 23) and I didn’t see enough of them to be able to write about their careers. Regardless, here, in short-form, are a few of my favourite Parma defenders.
Benarrivo played for Parma from 1991 to 2004 and he is Parma’s all-time appearance leader with over 300 games to his name (all competitions). He holds the honour of being the only player who was at the club for all eight of their major trophy wins, and he collected UEFA Cup (x2), European Super Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup, Coppa Italia (x3) and Supercoppa winners’ medals at the Stadio Tardini.
A marauding full-back capable of playing on either flank, Benarrivo won 23 caps for Itally from 1993-97, and was widely considered one of the best full-backs on the peninsula during his peak years. Quick, athletic and full of energy, Benarrivo shuttled up-and-down the wing as a classic wingback in Parma’s 5-3-2 system, but physicality was far from his own strength. Benarrivo had excellent technique and was so comfortable with the ball at his feet that he was often employed as a winger.
Just as Cannavaro introduced me to the concept of intelligent defending, Benarrivo taught me everything I know about attacking full-backs. He was a vital outlet for Parma over the years and I used to love watching him bombing forward and giving opposition defenders nightmares on Sunday afternoons. It’s just a shame that he had players like Christian Panucci ahead of him in the Azzurri pecking order.
One of the classiest defenders to ever play the game, Thuram made over 600 appearances in a glittering career that included spells with Monaco, Juventus, Barcelona and, of course, Parma. He appeared 163 times in 5 seasons with Parma, scoring just once, and was eventually sold to Juventus for £22m in 2001.
Thuram wasn’t just a good defender: he was a good footballer. His timing and superior positioning meant he rarely had to foul the opposition and he was very rarely booked. Equally adept at right-back or centre back, Thuram’s versatility, class and ability made him a stalwart for club and country, and he is France’s most-capped player of all-time having racked-up an astonishing 142 appearances for Les Bleus.
He’d go on to win an impressive list of honours elsewhere, but Thuram, like Cannavaro, really grew into a world-class player with Parma. He was rarely injured, almost never suspended and always a cut above the opposition. Remember when you were a kid and you and your friends would compile “dream teams” of your favourite players? Other positions would always chop and change, but I’d always have Thuram at RB and Cannavaro at CB. Fabio and Lillian would still be the first names on my team-sheet today.
Roberto Nestor Sensini
“Boquita” was one of Parma’s most important players during the ‘90’s “golden era”. I first took note of Sensini because of his appearance: at the time I thought he resembled the bastard offspring of David Platt and a salmon (I was 8 years old, cut me some slack…). Fishy appearance aside, Sensini was a very good defender. Though never as iconic as Cannavaro or as revered as Thuram, Sensini became a cult figure at the Stadio Tardini and not just because he was awesome in Championship Manager.
Sensini made over 200 Parma appearances in two separate spells with the club (1994-99, 2001-02).He was so fit that he was able to maintain a career in top-flight Italian football until the age of 39, and his composed playing style was a perfect match for Parma’s controlled defensive ethos. Having earned the affectionate nickname nonno (“grandfather”), Sensini retired in 2006 to embark on a managerial career.
More of a legend at Udinese than Parma, Sensini remains an important contributor to Parma’s success. Fingers crossed that he can recover after a poor start to his new career.
Two Italian players often popped-up during this period: Roberto Mussi and Luigi Apolloni. My memory is a bit hazy when it come to these guys and I couldn’t really tell you much about their playing styles, but both were prominent in the ‘90’s and Apolloni made over 300 appearances for Parma. These names, along with Luigi Sartor, always come into my head when I think of Parma defenders.
Fernando Couto was only at Parma for a couple of seasons in the ‘90’s (he rejoined the Gialloblu in 2005) and probably played his best football elsewhere, but I have great memories of the long-haired Portuguese patrolling the penalty area. A solid defender and a huge threat from set pieces, Couto scored 4 goals in his spell at the Stadio Tardini.