With the modern Roma era dominated by the attacking qualities of Francesco Totti, Vincenzo Montella and Gabriel Batistuta, there was one central defender who Roma relied upon throughout the 1990s in order to dictate their defensive displays, Aldair.
The 6’1” Brazilian was signed by legendary Napoli Coach Ottavio Bianchi in the summer of 1990 from Portuguese side Benfica. Aldair became a regular fixture in the Roma side during his first season at the Olimpico due to his invaluable pedigree and undoubted ability.
Roma circa 1990-2003
With Roma not benefiting from the constant changes in managerial ranks in the capital, the giallrossi and Aldair, in particular, did not reach their peak until under the guidance of current England boss Fabio Capello. Aldair’s composure was a trait that Capello was keen to exploit in a side that was requiring balance in order to succeed in the demanding tactical merry-go-round that was Serie A in the early 2000s.
Admittedly Roma had now begun to build a team around talisman captain Francesco Totti but this ‘tactic’ was based around the defensive qualities of Aldair through his commanding directions and passing ability, long and short, he was able to not only cut out attacking plays from opponents but launch his own passing move after making a crucial interception with calmness under the utmost pressure from onrushing attackers. It was not uncommon to see Aldair performing a back heel or a deft turn to dodge an opponent near his own goalkeeper in order to evade danger. In contrast to this, there was a no nonsense approach to the Brazilian’s game in knowing when to just get rid of the ball, whether it was into row Z or just clearing the ball up field. It was this contrast that established a decision making process that the rest of his side could relate too and therefore benefit from.
One particular teammate to benefit from Aldair’s was a fellow Brazilian, Cafu. The speedy full-back was known for his bursting runs into attacking positions. With the attacking full back firmly in Roma’s mind, the issue of covering such an offensive move was to break down. The solution was Aldair. His sense of positioning and awareness were qualities that allowed Aldair to retain possession in times that called for him to move out of his desired position to cover for his advancing full back.
The culmination of these attributes brings to the forefront one word that managers crave in a commanding central defender, a ‘leader’. The leadership qualities were something that Roma’s dedicated tifosi respected which made him a fans favourite over his 13-year career at the Olimpico.
Aldair would go on to have unsuccessful spell with Genoa which seemed to reiterate the value of the partnerships he created at Roma with fellow teammates, coaching staff and the Roma faithful. The modesty of the man nicknamed ‘Pluto’, which was a reference to the Roman God of the Underworld, was especially clear on Aldair Day where the club he spent the limelight of his career at retired the No 6 jersey in his honour. You could feel a sense of ‘I don’t deserve this’ on Aldair’s face, but everyone connected to the club felt he did.
Name – Aldair Nascimento dos Santos
Age – 44 (30/11/1965)
Position – Centre-back
Clubs (Appearances/Goals)– Flamengo (185/11) Benfica (33/6) AS Roma (415/20) Genoa (17/1) Murata (10/0)
Club level honours – Flamengo (Rio State Championship 1986) Benfica (Portuguese Super Cup 1989/1990) AS Roma (Italian Cup 1991, Italian League 2001, Italian Super Cup 2001)
Nationality – Brazilian
Caps/goals – 81/3
National honours – Copa America (1989, 1997), FIFA World Cup (1994), Confederations Cup (1997)
Lessons in Calcio