Carlo Sartori’s career at Manchester United is significant in the fact that he was the first non-British player to play for the club. The Italian born Mancunian enjoyed several runs in the first team under the management of Sir Matt Busby and Wilf McGuinness before enjoying a successful decade playing in the country of his birth.
Born in Italy, Carlo moved to England whilst still a baby and his family eventually settled in the Collyhurst area of Manchester.
He joined United in 1963 after being spotted playing for Manchester Boys: “I joined United when I left school, I played for Manchester Boys where United scout Joe Armstrong used to come and watch our games and that’s how it all started in those days. I supported City and United growing up but my idol and influence for joining United was Denis Law who was at the club at the time, it was a pleasure and an honour to go on and play with him.”
He made his first team debut five years later on the 9th October 1968, coming off the bench in a 2-2 draw with Spurs at White Hart Lane: “I was on the bench and came on for the last 20 minutes when Francis Burns got injured.
“I got involved quite a bit, in the last five minutes a ball was played through for me on the edge of the box by Paddy Crerand. I could see out of the corner of my eye that Pat Jennings was coming out and I got there before him and knocked it past him but Mike England came across and cleared it off the line.”
Carlo was in the side three days later for a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield before making his third appearance for the club as a substitute in the Intercontinental Cup game against Estudiantes De La Plata where a Willie Morgan goal in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford wasn’t enough to give United the victory over two legs.
“I came on for Denis Law after he got injured. Matt Busby came down from the stand and all the subs were sat on the bench with towels over our heads as it was pouring down and there were no dugouts then. He told me to get ready and get on, it was a great honour to be chosen to replace Denis Law in that game.
“George Best got sent off, the referee was Italian, George had been involved in an incident with the linesman and I tried telling the referee in Italian to forget it but he wouldn’t have it. We drew 1-1 after losing the away leg and just couldn’t get that winning goal.
“Estudiantes were unbelievable with the way they played the game. They kicked the hell out of us, they used to say that Nobby Stiles was a killer but they were a lot worse.
“We were disappointed after the game because on the night I think we deserved to win, we had our chances and I think we had a goal disallowed as well which was very dubious. We gave it everything but it just wasn’t to be.”
United finished mid-table that season and Matt Busby retired in the summer of 1969, his successor Wilf McGuinness last 18 months as the club started down a slippery slope that would eventually lead to relegation in 1974: “The transitional period came after the European Cup win, the team was growing old together and it needed a bit of new blood but Sir Matt stuck with his team and things faltered a little bit.
“I had a couple of good runs in the side under Matt and then Wilf took over and things didn’t work out for him, then Frank O’Farrell came and didn’t use me very much and I was in limbo for a couple of years.
“Matt Busby was like a father figure and everybody loved him to bits, Wilf was a former United player and had grown up with Bobby Charlton, Shay Brennan and the rest, he was part and parcel of the club and was the same age as some of the players when he became manager.
“It was hard for him to give himself that authority and he struggled with it. It was a very difficult situation for him and unfortunately it didn’t work out, he loved Manchester United and is red through and through.”
Carlo scored a handful of goals during his United career, a couple of which were quite important: “My favourite is the most important one against Anderlecht in a European Cup game. We won 3-0 at home and then went over there for the second leg, I scored after ten minutes but they came back and beat us 3-1. That goal put us through as an away goal.
“I also scored against Arsenal, I came on as a substitute at home and we won that game 2-1. I scored against Gordon Banks in a draw at Stoke and got another in a 2-1 win against Nottingham Forest.”
Carlo left United in early 1973 after finding his first team opportunities heavily restricted under the management of Frank O’Farrell. He made a total of 56 appearances for the club, scoring six goals. He joined Bologna in his native Italy before moving down the leagues there.
“I could or perhaps should have left 12 or 18 months before because I wasn’t getting many games in the first team. Then I got asked if I fancied moving to Italy, I went over in January 1973 and trained with Bologna and they took me on.
“Being an Italian national I had to do my national service and the signing wasn’t finalised until July, I was there about 12 months before they sent me out on loan. We won the cup while I was there, I played in most of the rounds but in the final they put the strongest team out but I’ve got a cup winners medal.
“I was in the Army national team and three or four players who played in our team played for Italy in the World Cup final in 1982. We went to Africa for the Army equivalent of the World Cup and won it so I’ve got a World Cup winners medal as well! It was a great experience with some very good players in that team.”
After retiring from playing, Carlo ran a knife sharpening business in Manchester for many years. Now retired, he still maintains a connection with United and is very proud of his time there as a player: “I finished playing in 1984 when I was close to 37, during the last couple of years of my career I did my coaching badges thinking I was going to stay in Italy as I was settled over there. I was offered a job as a player-coach but that year my brother passed away and I was asked if I wanted to come back and help out in the family business.
“We had a decision to make and decided to come back, I don’t regret it one bit and highly enjoyed my job but you do sometimes wonder what might have been. In retirement I play a bit of golf and am involved with United’s association of former players, I’ve got my family around me and often go back to Italy as I have relations over there. I love going back.
“I’m absolutely privileged and honoured to have played for United and been part of a history that is just immense. When I look back on my career I feel fulfilled, I never reached great heights but was loved and idolised by the fans which means everything.”