“If we've won today we owe it partly to all those who started the job with us three years ago. I mean Santarini...”
Paolo Roberto Falcao
Sergio Santarini burst onto the scene in Italian football on 19 June, 1967, when famous Italian coach Italo Allodi watched him play a friendly for Venezia against Brazilian side Santos, marking none other than the legendary Pelè.
Only a few weeks had passed before Santarini was snapped up by Inter.
Helenio Herrera deployed him mainly as a substitute to Armando Picchi and after his first stint with the Nerazzurri, the Argentine took Santarini with him to the capital.
Santarini began his Giallorossi career at the start of 1968-69 in a defensive partnership with Giacomo Losi, but soon the young Santarini was leading the Roma defence himself. He would remain in this position until 1981, showing class, intelligence and dedication throughout.
Early on in his time at Roma, Santarini quickly established himself as a figurehead within the club. Moreover, his popularity around the city was so great that when movie star Alberto Sordi acted in the film ‘The President of Borgorosso Football Club’ in 1970, he personally asked Santarini to make a cameo as himself.
In 1976, Sergio was thinking about a move away from Roma, as a result Nils Liedholm made it clear that if this happened he would leave his post as head coach as well.
Santarini wore the captain's armband for four years in a Giallorossi shirt from 1976 to 1980 and never shirked his duty in defence, both in the good moments - he won three Coppa Italias and an Anglo-Italian Cup - and the bad. The images from the dramatic game against Atalanta on 6 May, 1979 remain imprinted in the minds of many Romanisti: Sergio Santarini refusing to leave the pitch with a bandaged head and his shirt soaked in blood.
Even as a player, he showed a remarkable technical appreciation of the game. For example, it was him who suggested signing Valerio Spadoni after seeing his performances for Rimini. So it was only natural after he hung up his boots in Trigoria – not before presenting every employee at the club with a gold medal – that he took up a coaching career in the Giallorossi youth set-up, rising through the ranks to take charge of the Primavera in 1984-85.
Santarini's passion for AS Roma and the capital made him give up his role as Sven Goran Eriksson's assistant at Sampdoria in 1996 to become Carlos Bianchi's right-hand man in the Eternal City. He soon found himself in a managerial dispute with the Argentinian coach over Francesco Totti's ability. Perhaps to test his new assistant's footballing knowledge, Bianchi played the young lad from Porta Metronia in the Città di Roma tournament against Ajax.
Totti's performance justified Santarini's faith and removed the possibility of a move north to Sampdoria. Just one example of the many times Sergio Santarini proved his worth in a long Giallorossi career.
“I remember our training camp in Brunico. I suggested to coach Nils Liedholm that we change our playing system. He accepted immediately, adding with a smile: ‘But… will you give me a hand?!’ Alongside him, and I say this with absolute humility, we were the first to revolutionize Italian football by playing a zonal system. There was great criticism at the start, but it was the right path to follow. I want to share that moment because without it Roma wouldn’t have become what it is today.”