Summer 1990 witnessed the rebirth of English football. On the field, the guile and tactical acumen of Bobby Robson’s England team saw them reach the semi-final, bowing out in the most agonising fashion. Off the field, the largely impeccable behaviour of English supporters on the streets and in the stands led to a shift in the way the nation was perceived by the world.
This rebirth meant that clubs from the strongest domestic league in the world, Italy’s Serie A, were once again beginning to consider the recruitment of English talent. The 1990 tournament ultimately led to the multi-million pound transfers of Des Walker, David Platt and Paul Gascoigne to the peninsula in the early part of the decade. Whilst these players – later joined by Paul Ince in 1995 – went on to experience divergent fortunes in Italy, the common thread was that all were established international players, and all were at, or reaching, their peak when they made the move.
All of this was in stark contrast to the next English player to follow them in October 1996, when veteran winger Franz Carr made a surprise free transfer move to Serie A newcomers Reggiana. In a pre-internet era, Carr’s signing carried a certain amount of excitement and mystique for Granata followers. Meanwhile. La Repubblica heralded the signing of an “offensive [attacking] joker card”.
The transfer caused a collective eyebrow to be raised in the UK. Franz Carr had been nurtured by the inimitable Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest. He built a reputation as a jet-heeled wide player, albeit one who at times lacked end product. Clough once described him as “the best bloody corner flag hitter in the country”. Despite these limitations, Carr made 131 appearances during a seven year stay at Forest before Clough finally lost patience. After leaving Forest, Carr became the archetypal journeyman, moving clubs four times in the next five years. In the two seasons preceding his move to Italy, Carr had featured just three times for Aston Villa. And so it was with great surprise and a degree of intrigue that the news of Franz Carr’s move to Serie A broke.
Reggiana hail from the provincial northern city of Reggio-Emilia, located between Parma and Bologna. They spent two years in Serie A from 1993/94, represented by players such as Paolo Futre, Michele Padovano, Sunday Oliseh and Claudio Taffarel – the latter lifting the World Cup with Brazil at the end of his solitary season in Reggio. The Granata’s forward thinking president, Franco Dal Cin, had also set the blueprint, to be followed almost two decades later by Juventus, in financing and constructing their own purpose-built stadium in 1995.
Following relegation to Serie B, Dal Cin had the foresight to hand a maiden managerial opportunity to a young Carlo Ancelotti. The Granata made a shaky start to the 1995/96 season, with Ancelotti battling to hold onto his job, before his men rallied in the second half of the season. Ancelotti’s team timed their run to perfection, creeping into the fourth and final promotion berth on the final day of the season, securing an immediate return to Serie A.
Despite this success, 1996 proved to be a summer of upheaval for Reggiana. Ancelotti’s achievements had not gone unnoticed by his first club Parma, who moved quickly to offer him a return to the Tardini. Meanwhile, there was a change of ownership at Reggiana with Luciano Ferriani taking a majority shareholding in the club. Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu was recruited to lead them into Serie A, following five yo-yoing years at Brescia.
Lucescu set about building his own team, bringing in established, but arguably fading, foreign talents such as Georges Grun (from Anderlecht), Dietmar Beiersdorfer (FC Cologne) and Adolfo Valencia (America Cali). The season could scarcely have begun better for Lucescu, taking a commendable 1-1 draw at home to the reigning European champions, Juventus. However, the Granata took just one point from the next three matches in September, including a morale-sapping away defeat at Ancelotti’s Parma.
At the beginning of October, Lucescu turned to Franz Carr to further reinforce the efforts of his international brigade. Carr was short on match fitness having not made the Aston Villa squad in the first two months of the season. A combination of this and an injury picked up at the end of November meant that Carr had to wait until 5th January to make his debut. By this time, Lucescu had been dismissed and replaced by Francesco Oddo. However, the Granata’s form had not improved under the new coach, ending the calendar year winless and rooted to the foot of the table.
In the first game back after Christmas, Reggiana unexpectedly found themselves heading into the dying minutes of their away game at Perugia defending a precarious one goal lead. Carr, donning the number 26 shirt, was called from the bench to provide an outlet for their besieged back line. The plan worked perfectly. With virtually his first touch, Carr broke down the left, squared the ball to his captain Alessandro Mazzola, who found Igor Simutenkov in space to drill the ball home from 12 yards. What then followed was a topsy-turvy few minutes involving a comical own goal from Reggiana’s Marco Ballotta, momentarily throwing the result back into doubt, before Pietro Parente sealed a 3-1 Granata victory in injury time.
Over the next fortnight, Carr made brief appearances from the bench, showing flashes of his potential against Fiorentina (0-0) and Atalanta (1-0 defeat). Next up, Reggiana faced a daunting trip to the Delle Alpi to take on league-leaders Juventus – with Carr handed a starting place on the left side of midfield. The Granata went behind after just 5 minutes following a stunning strike from their former talisman Michele Padovano. Juventus doubled the lead within the half hour. With Reggiana seeking to stem the tide, Carr’s pace provided a counter-attacking threat. First, he sent a wicked cross into the box that somehow evaded the reach of Simutenkov. Then Carr himself caught a glimpse of goal, only to shoot weakly into the arms Peruzzi. Reggiana fell tamely to a 3-1 defeat with Carr withdrawn, exhausted, on the hour mark.
That game marked the high watermark of Carr’s Reggiana career. He fell out of favour with an increasingly desperate Oddo, managing just two further appearances from the bench in March (v Udinese) and April (v Lazio). By this time his team’s fate had been sealed. It had proven to be a disastrous season for Reggiana; finishing rock bottom with two wins all season and 22 points from safety. Carr persevered in Italy, beginning the following season with Reggiana in Serie B. However, his failure to make the squad prompted an October loan move to Bolton Wanderers, before packing his bags for good in February 1998.
Almost 18 months after moving to Italy, Carr had managed just 102 minutes of football for Reggiana. Francesco Oddo had struggled to know how to use Carr’s attributes to greatest effect, playing him out wide, but also in more advanced central positions. The Reggiani were initial captivated by his pace and direct style, but quickly, as Brian Clough had done, grew weary of his erratic final ball. For his part, Carr had enjoyed at least some aspects of his Italian adventure, revealing to the club magazine his fondness for Lambrusco and tagliatelle.
It is extremely difficult to find any images of Franz Carr in the Granata shirt; even the most adept and creative Google user will struggle to track one down. However, Carr’s largely forgettable time in Italy is perhaps best summed up by his presence on calciobidoni.it – a hall of shame dedicated to remembering “rubbish” footballers of Serie A.