The Sentimenti family make a strong claim to being Italy’s finest footballing clan.
There was either something in the genes or something in the water that led five brothers from a small rural town to forge careers in football. It was certainly an extraordinary collective achievement, but one of those brothers stood out from the rest, figuratively if not literally. The fourth brother, Lucidio, standing just shy of 5’6’’ (1.7m), became an unlikely trail-blazer, redefining the role of goalkeeper in 1940s Italian football.
Aged 15, Lucidio had taken up an apprenticeship as a shoemaker, but his dreams involved wearing boots rather than making them. He sent a series of letters to local football clubs, pleading for an opportunity to make those dreams come true. Modena took a chance on the teenager, allowing him to follow in the footsteps of his elder brother, Vittorio, who had already signed for the club.
Despite his modest stature, Lucidio was the archetypal all-round sportsman. Sprightly, athletic and strong for his size, he was equally adept whether deployed as a fleet-footed attacker or as a nimble goalkeeper. His goalscoring exploits with Modena’s junior team had made quite an impression, so it was with some surprise that he made his first-team debut between the posts for his local team. An 18-year-old Lucidio played a crucial role in helping Modena to preserve their Serie A status during the 1938/39 season.
Over the following four campaigns, Sentimenti made the Gialloblu goalkeeper’s jersey his own, with idiosyncratic style. His agility and positional intelligence made him difficult to beat, whilst his strength and tremendous leap made him a formidable competitor in the air. He played with courage and no little aggression, often inhabiting the very limits of legality with his hallmark lunge at the feet of oncoming attackers. Journalist Gianna Brera alluded to this trait when referring to Sentimenti’s “Luciferian cunning”. He was operating at the goalkeeping frontier and rivals began to imitate his methods.
However, his primary innovation foretold the role of the modern-day goalkeeper. Early goalkeepers were passive shot-stoppers, waiting on their line to deflect the inevitable volley of attacks. Sentimenti adopted an altogether more assertive approach, taking up a more advanced position that allowed him to snuff out attacks as they developed. He also became a source of attacking threat, utilising his speed of distribution and adeptness with the ball at his feet to start counter-attacks.
If Sentimenti’s pioneering goalkeeping style had not attracted enough attention, his next trick most certainly did. He made history as the first goalkeeper to score in Serie A. In May 1942, during a crucial relegation clash with Napoli, the goalkeeper stepped up to take a penalty. Remarkably, he was facing his brother, Arnaldo, in the Napoli goal. More astonishing still, Arnaldo was on a streak of having saved nine consecutive penalties. The pressure was on.
As the younger brother placed the ball on the penalty spot, a vicious verbal duel ensued between the pair. Lucidio took a deep breath, stepped up….and lashed the ball into the net. As he turned and ran off up the field in celebration, his irate brother chased after him. The pair did not speak for two years following this incident, with Lucidio later citing the spat as the greatest regret of his career.
Lucidio’s eccentric style and goalscoring exploits won him a transfer to Juventus, reuniting him with his brother Vittorio, who had made the move from Modena 12 months earlier. However, an inauspicious start to life in Turin saw him concede five goals in the derby before he began to establish himself as their first choice ‘keeper.
Lucidio spent seven war-interrupted years with Juventus, clocking up nearly 200 official appearances, and many more unofficial. During the improvised wartime championship, a fractured hand led Sentimenti to reprise the role of right-winger. And he wasn’t bad either, notching four goals in five outfield appearances, albeit in a rather depleted competition.
The 1945/46 championship marked the formal post-war return of football in Italy. That season, Sentimenti was once again entrusted with responsibility for penalty-taking, converting a late spot kick to claim a point against Atalanta in Bergamo. Encouraged by that success, he stepped up again at the San Siro a few weeks later, but with a different outcome. That penalty miss in a finely balanced game was the last time he would be given such an opportunity in a Juventus shirt.
In 1949, with nearly 400 hundred appearances in black and white between them, the Sentimenti brothers were shipped off to Lazio. At the respective ages of 29 and 31, Lucidio and Vittorio’s best days were assumed to be behind them. However, upon arrival in the capital, the brothers were pivotal in transforming mid-table Lazio into a footballing force, achieving consecutive top-four finishes in each of their first three seasons.
Lucidio’s heroic goalkeeping provided the foundation for a team in the ascendancy. Although, he did occasionally come unstuck with his short stature and advanced positioning. Opponents had wised up to the opportunity to beat him from distance, resulting in some spectacular goals scored against him. So much so that a segment of Lazio supporters became convinced he was short-sighted, forcing the club to perform an eye test on their custodian.
A third Sentimenti brother, defensive midfielder Primo, joined Lucidio and Vittorio at Lazio in 1950. It was becoming a family business. In a curious January 1952 match against Milan, Primo opened the scoring from the penalty spot to give Lazio the lead, after which an own goal from Vittorio levelled things up. In the dying embers of the game, Lucidio saved a Milan penalty to keep the score at 1-1. The following day, sports newspapers ran with the headline “Keeping It In The Family”.
In the capital, Lucidio sporadically broke out out his penalty-taking party trick. He coolly scored the only goal of the game to dispatch Novara in 1952, and added two more against Udinese and Novara again the following campaign. To this day no goalkeeper has surpassed his official Serie A tally of five goals.
If Sentimenti had a point to prove following Juventus’ decision to allow him to leave, then he certainly made it. His five years in Rome saw him roll back the years, regaining his best form and earning a recall to the national team in time for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. He also struck a fatal blow against his former employers during his final year in Rome. His penalty save from Giampiero Boniperti in Turin cost Juventus a point; the precise margin by which they would trail champions Inter come season’s end.
In the twilight of his career, Sentimenti returned north with Vicenza, where he won promotion back to Serie A. At the age of 37, he called time on his professional career or, at least, he thought he had. After 18 months out of the professional game, he answered a distress call from beleaguered Torino who found themselves at the wrong end of Serie A amidst a goalkeeping crisis. Sentimenti made four final appearances for Juventus’ bitter rivals before the curtain definitively came down on his playing career.
Sentimenti departed the game with 9 Italian caps (0 goals…) and just one trophy to his name (Serie B, Vicenza). But he earned widespread respect and admiration across the game as an athlete and innovator. In 2011, at the age of 91, he was given a standing ovation by 40,000 Juventini as he performed the Walk of Fame during the J-Stadium inauguration. Juventus President Gianni Agnelli referred to him as the best goalkeeper he’d ever seen in a Juventus jersey.
Sentiment passed away in 2014, aged 94. In October last year, a new sporting facility was unveiled in his home town of Bomporto, named after the four brothers. Fittingly, former Juventus ‘keeper Stefano Tacconi came to cut the ribbon.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, why not check out the story of Sir Tom Finney’s aborted transfer to Palermo.