Last season, as they marched to a remarkable treble, Inter received endless praise for their resolute defending and their ability to completely shut out opponents. At the heart of this incredibly impressive unit was Julio Cesar, with the 31-year-old Brazilian keeping goal behind the seemingly impenetrable defence formed by Maicon, Lucio, Walter Samuel and Cristian Chivu.
The team conceded only 34 goals in the 38 match domestic campaign as he played every Serie A game, also only allowing two goals in the Champions League knockout stages and just one in the five Coppa Italia games he took part in. Hugely impressive numbers and a great reflection on Cesar, who on January 24 this year was named Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year for the second consecutive year at the prestigious and glamorous Oscar del Calcio award ceremony.
Yet just two months before – in a much more low-key setting – a far more meaningful trophy was awarded to a player many outside Italy will barely have heard of. The Associazione italiana preparatori dei portieri (Association of Italian Goalkeeping coaches) bestowed their own player of the year award to Chievo’s Stefano Sorrentino. An odd choice at first glance, yet he allowed only six more goals than the Inter man which, given the Verona side’s fourteenth place finish, is quite remarkable.
Cesar is an international star known the world over, protected by a superb array of talent and almost guaranteed to have fantastic defence ahead of him with a career path that took him from one giant club (Flamengo) to his current side Inter. In stark contrast Sorrentino is an ultra-reliable prototypical journeyman who has bounced around Europe in trying to find a club to call home, with a career path that is as varied as it is surprising.
His father Roberto – who only retired in 1990 after a long career during which he captained a Catania side to Serie A promotion in the early 1980’s – was also a goalkeeper and it was on the senior man’s advice that Stefano joined the youth ranks of Lazio. From there he moved – aged just 18 – to Juventus where he never made an appearance and was first loaned and then sold to cross-town rivals Torino.
They too loaned him out and he spent two years in C1, first at Juve Stabia and then Varese, where his form convinced the Granata to bring him back into the fold, first as reserve to Luca Bucci and then as the starter himself. Despite the clubs well documented troubles on and off the field, the stopper impressed enough to tempt AEK Athens into bringing him to Greece for their UEFA Cup campaign of 2005-06.
A year later would be even better as AEK qualified for the Champions League and Sorrentino was Man of the Match in a 1-0 victory over Milan, a result which was vital to the Athen club finishing above Anderlecht to qualify for the UEFA Cup once again. He then requested a move following some personal problems and loans to Recreativo Huelva and Chievo followed, the latter of which was made permanent in June 2009.
Since returning to Italy he has been continually impressive despite being well off the radar of many casual fans. Comparing Chievo’s league finishes with their defensive record since Sorrentino arrived backs up the credentials of their number one; they finished sixteenth but had the sixth best defence in his first year when he made 114 saves, and last season he made 116 saves in making the records discussed earlier.
This season the Bentegodi side have the fourth best defence in the league despite sitting fourteenth in the league and the keeper has made a league high 151 saves. Only four players – Christian Abbiatti, Morgan De Sanctis, Samir Handanović and ‘Nando Muslera – have kept more clean sheets, yet three of those have more than fifty less saves.
Now he faces a dilemma, to stay in Verona and be the busy but under-appreciated figure he currently is, or make the jump to a club of real quality. It is no secret that Fabio Paratici and Beppe Marotta made moves to bring him to Juventus last summer before Chievo demanded too high a price for the backup role Marco Storari now fills. Roma could do much worse than him this summer as part of their rebuilding project and they must look to solve what has become a problem position for the capital club in recent seasons.
His Champions League and big match experience would be a valuable asset to Thomas Di Benedetto’s Giallorossi revolution, while new Sporting Director Walter Sabatini is one of the best around in the scouting and recruitment of lesser known talents. It would be no surprise to see such a move made and perhaps he could then receive some much warranted recognition. We may even see Stefano Sorrentino finally win the Oscar his talents deserve.