Veteran defender Amedeo Carboni is still reaching for the stars with Valencia CF.
By Graham Hunter
At 39, most football players have long since hung up their boots, and very few are still enjoying careers at the very highest level. Amedeo Carboni, however, remains at the top of his game, and will be 41 when his contract at Valencia CF expires.
The Italian left-back was offered a two-year extension to his contract at the Mestalla shortly before picking up his second Primera División title with the club. He accepted and could become the oldest player to win a major European trophy as Valencia take on Olympique de Marseille in the UEFA Cup final at Gothenburg's Ullevi stadium.
"I have not one thought of when I will end my playing career because I just adore football," he told uefa.com. "So far my physique has withstood everything and I'm in shape to keep on playing. I don't intend retiring until I get my hands on few more trophies and we are very close to getting another one now!"
The defender's athleticism is proof that football players can thrive well into their late 30s - something that would have seemed freakish ten years ago. The former AS Roma player has now made the best part of 550 appearances in Serie A and the Primera División - a phenomenal achievement.
More than sport
"Football started as a sport but now it is no longer that," explained Carbone, who won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup with UC Sampdoria in 1990. "It's work and to me it is the greatest work I could possibly find. I love it. Within this job you suffer, you earn good money, you do a mountain of things.
"You lose out to a degree because for 18, 20 or in my case probably 22 years you don't have a weekend because you are either playing the game or you are tucked away in some hotel or other. But, in the end, if you love football then it is no sacrifice."
Along with Rubén Baraja, David Albelda, Pablo Aimar and Santiago Cañizares, Carboni is one of Valencia's most reliable performers, but for the player - who won his only European honour at the Ullevi stadium - coach Rafael Benítez is the real star player at the Mestalla stadium.
"All the top coaches know how to work on warm-ups, fitness training and so on but the very best, such as we have, manage the psychological aspect of the game brilliantly," said Carboni. "What Benítez has done is ensure that every player in his team gives the absolute best in every game."
The coach has led the club to their first UEFA Cup final, but having been losing finalists in two successive UEFA Champions League tournaments, Valencia's recent history of European finals has not been a happy one. None the less, Benítez's team are in good spirits, and for Carboni, the bad old days are in the past.
Bad old days
"I remember when I first got here the club was in a bit of a mess, with lots of new players and we didn't start well," he said. "The coach was sacked and I started to have my doubts. I said to myself, 'Boy, what kind of place have I ended up in?' But, thank God, it has been a phenomenal time and Valencia is undoubtedly the best club I have ever played for."
A second cup triumph at the Ullevi and Carboni could be celebrating his own finest hour with the club he has come to love so much.