Not that long ago he was plying his trade in Gosford for the Central Coast Mariners but now he has finally made the big time with a move to one of Italy’s biggest clubs.
The golden era of Socceroos playing in England and Italy is long gone, so Sainsbury’s move to the Serie A is indeed a big story. Is there another current Socceroo playing at a higher level?
A regular choice for Ange Postecoglou, Sainsbury is a great central defender who has never let the national team down and would be a valuable addition to Inter if he is given a chance.
He is certainly not the first Australian to play in the Serie A. Mark Bresciano and Vince Grella were arguably the most successful two, with Zeljko Kalac, Paul Okon and John Aloisi also enjoying decent stints in Italy.
For every Bresciano and Grella however, there’s also a Josh Brillante and a James Troisi. Brillante managed two appearances for Fiorentia while Troisi didn't get a minute of game-time for Juventus.
While it’s an enormous achievement just to be signed by a Serie A club - because Italy is often regarded as the most technical league - it’s a totally different ball game when it comes to playing regular football.
So the fundamental question is will Sainsbury make it at Inter?
To alleviate my own bias and national sense of pride for an Australian playing at the highest level, I contacted a well-known Italian football journalist for an opinion.
The response? “He’ll be lucky to play a minute,” was said bluntly. And unfortunately for Sainsbury he may be spot on.
The first reaction to his signing that did come to mind was, with all due respect to Sainsbury, has Italian football fallen so far behind?
After all here is a player who is surplus to requirements in China but is now moving to historically one of the Serie A’s most glamourous outfits.
For Jiangsu Suning and Inter it’s a business decision pure and simple.
They share the same Chinese ownership and a loan deal to Inter until June ensures that he remains on their books. It’s essentially a win-win scenario.
The ownership conglomerate avoids paying out a contract and Sainsbury gets a small opportunity, however small that opportunity may be, to ply his trade in one of the world’s best leagues and undoubtedly the best league in the world in which to learn the art of defensive play.
Sainsbury essentially replaces on Inter’s books Andrea Ranocchia, who moved to Hull City, but it’s not an equal replacement.
It’s considered by many to be a transactional replacement; one player moves on and another comes in and the defensive pecking order simply reshuffles.
Sainsbury unfortunately is at the bottom of that pecking order. Sunday night’s big game against Juventus saw Jeison Murillo, Danilo D’Ambrosio, Joao Miranda and Gary Medel occupy the defensive positions.
Chilean Medel has not been fancied by the club much this season but did play reasonably well against Juventus, while Colombian Murillo is a regular fixture in Inter’s backline.
Brazilian Miranda too is a regular fixture in Inter’s defence while D’Ambrosio has played his fair share of games for the club in recent years.
There are others on Inter’s books such as Japan’s Yuto Nagatomo, Argentina’s Cristian Ansaldi and Davide Santon who would also be ahead of Sainsbury at this stage.
So it’s eighth choice or thereabouts as it currently stands for Sainsbury but nothing in football is static. The mathematics are at least in his favour.
With four positions up for grabs, it would only take an injury or two for Sainsbury to perhaps be given a small window of opportunity.
He is an unknown quantity in Italy but not on the international stage.
Sainsbury is a valuable Socceroo and would always be high on Postecoglou’s agenda. While it may be hard to dislodge Murillo and Miranda, he would not be out of his depth if given a chance.
The initial problem for Sainsbury to overcome will be getting the opportunity to show what he is capable of and that opportunity needs to be longer than the 35 minutes or so that Brillante received from Fiorentina before he was substituted during his debut.
Sainbury’s move to Inter doesn’t look to be the right fit at the moment but there won’t need to be paradigm shift to make it work.
One small opportunity, perhaps through injury, if grasped by both hands could catapult Sainsbury into a successful and respectable career in Italy.
The next few months will shed light on that.