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ALEX SABELLA

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ALEX SABELLA

Does anyone remember Alex Sabella ?

Was he as good as my memory seems to think he was ?

Sabella rose through the junior divisions of River Plate in the early 1970s, when his position, and the number 10 jersey, were owned by Norberto Alonso. His style reflected Alonso's, with emphasis on individual technique and short passes. In 1975, River Plate achieved its first title after a 18-year drought, and Alonso became the fans' undisputed hero. Sabella felt his talents were not exploited properly, but in 1976 he got his break when Alonso was transferred to Olympique Marseille.

Coach Angel Labruna and fans were not satisfied with Sabella's perceived individualism and slowness, and bought a few players in the transfers market. When Alonso returned to River Plate, Sabella was again relegated to the bench.

English club Sheffield United had tried to sign the teenage Diego Maradona from Argentinos Juniors, which did not accept the paltry £180,000 United were offering. So United turned to Sabella, and they signed him for £160,000 on July 19, 1978. He made his debut for the Blades against Leyton Orient on 19 August 1978.

He played for United until 1980, but unfortunately his superb ball control resulted in fewer goals than were expected, just 8 League goals from 76 appearances. After relegation to the Third Division, manager Harry Haslam agreed a fee of £600,000 with Second Division club Sunderland, however, Sabella had ambitions to play in the First Division and refused to go. His final appearance for United came with a goal in the County Cup (a regional competition between South Yorkshire teams) Final victory over Sheffield Wednesday on May 8, 1980.

During the close season he was finally sold to Leeds United for £400,000. He played for Leeds without much success between 1978-80. In December 1981 he started looking for an Argentine club, and was sold to Estudiantes de La Plata. Under coach Carlos Bilardo, the team reached the semi-finals of the 1982 Nacional tournament (Sabella was injured in the first semi-final match against Quilmes) and then, together with Marcelo Trobbiani, José Daniel Ponce, and Miguel Angel Russo, made up the solid midfield of the Estudiantes team that went on to win two back-to-back championship titles.

When Bilardo was put in charge of the Argentina National Football Team, Sabella competed for his place with veterans Alonso and Bochini, and younger players like Carlos Tapia and Jorge Burruchaga; an even larger shadow was cast by the king of 1980s play-makers, Diego Maradona. All in all, Sabella opened four times for the national team and did not make the cut for the 1986 World Cup.

Sabella moved to Brazilian Grêmio FPA, where he played from 1985 to 1986. He then returned to Estudiantes, but retired after the 1987 season.

His nicknames were el mago (the magician) and pachorra (sloth) because of his perceived slowness during play (though he could become a fast dribbler and passer given the right situation).

After retirement, Sabella became a coach, but has worked mostly as field assistant for Daniel Passarella. The duo coached the Argentina national team, Italian side Parma AC, the Uruguay national football team, Mexican Monterrey, and Brazilian Corinthians. In 2006, they were hired back by River Plate, which finished in third place in the Apertura tournament.

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Sabella was a Brilliant player. and to be honest that was a real problem as he'd often be too quick thinking for his team mates of the time! Often saw him playing Tennis at Beauchief Tennis Club.

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I remember when we signed Sabella. He was on Calendar doing various ball juggling tricks, he was swapping the ball from shoulder to shoulder, then catching it on the back of his neck etc. (I think he used to be a Coca Cola boy, they became famous during the Argentina 78 World Cup and would perform various ball skills and juggling tricks at half-time). They were making him out to be this exotic player from Latin America with abilities that are out of this world.

Expectations were very high, there was a big crowd at his debut and Sabella didn't disappoint, however he was a man of supreme style but with little substance or end product.

He was like a circus act, his skills and control were so much higher than his team mates and opponents it was embarassing. However Sabella was quite slow, had little stamina, couldn't tackle and was very inconsistant. Eg On muddy pitches or in cold Wintery conditions he became invisible and clearly didnt want to be there.

He was quite small, slim and not that physical, he was poor at heading but he had unbelievably quick feet therefore he must have been the most fouled United player of all time. The referee's got so fed up of giving free-kicks in his favour that they would sometimes ignore genuine fouls made on Sabella.

I remember him playing Dundee in the Anglo Scottish cup at the Lane. Sabella dribbled past 5 players to score one of the best goals I've seen and remember that eventhough Sabella was quite slow he was still a great dribbler due to his body swerve, unbelievable close control, balance and feinting to the left/ right etc.

Sabella was hero worshipped by the fans. He used to often do things on the pitch that you'd never seen before and his tricks were worth the admission price alone.

The problem was that some on his tricks were in non dangerous areas (centre circle) and also his team mates were often not up to speed. It was quite funny to see that he'd not only bamboozle his opponents but he'd also bamboozle his team mates too. He'd often do fantastic back heel flick passes but none of our forwards would read the situation.

In conclusion Sabella was the most skillful player I've seen at the Lane (yes, he was more skilfull than Currie, although Currie was better overall)

but he was like a circus act and the ultimate luxury player. It didn't suprise me to see him struggle in the top division at Weeds Utd.

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I saw Sabella's debut against Orient..... but does anyone remember the discrepancies in his name up until his arrival? The Star I seem to recall were calling him Alex Sabia for weeks!!!

Does anyone have a photo of him in a United shirt? 'Cos him on the front and TC on the back would make a classic t-shirt...

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