This appears in the Monday August 26, 2013 edition of the Business Mirror.
One-on-one with one of the greatest defenders of our time:
An interview with Fabio Cannavaro
by rick olivares
The closest I came to ever interviewing a World Cup winner was two years ago when Pele was in Singapore. The Brazilian wonder (who was a part of the Selecao’s World Cup champions of 1958, 1962, and 1970) was in the Lion State to promote the New York Cosmos. That chance slipped away when the airfare ticket prices were too expensive and impractical for me to fly over for a five-minute interview.
|My cousin Bambina with Der Kaiser|
A cousin of mine who usually dabbles in lifestyle and society writing actually beat me to the punch by not only interviewing but also having drinks with Franz Beckenbauer (who won the trophy in 1974 with West Germany) and UEFA boss Michel Platini and FIFA chief Sepp Blatter in Austria! It was not only drat but double drat and triple drat!
When I first learned that Fabio Cannavaro was coming over to participate in the second staging of the Clear Dream Match, I pumped my fists and did my best impression of noted sports broadcaster Marv Albert by exclaiming, “Yes! Finally!”
Having played defender, I sort of idolized players who manned the backline. That’s Franz Beckenbauer (Bayern Munich and the New York Cosmos), Paolo Maldini (AC Milan), Daniel Passarella (River Plate and Fiorentina), Carlos Alberto Torres (Santos), and Alan Hansen (Liverpool). These were the players of my youth.
Of the defenders who came up in the 1990s to the mid-2000s, there’s Lilian Thuram (Juventus), John Arne Riise (Liverpool), Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid), and Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus and Real Madrid) were the players I liked and followed.
And now, Cannavaro, the man dubbed “Muro di Berlino” by SoccerItalia, the man who won the 2006 Ballon d’Or, who appeared in the Nike commercial ‘Write the Future’ where he denied Didier Drogba’s goal and was feted in all sorts of variety shows with Italy’s answer to Tony Bennett, Bobby Solo, crooning, “C’e Cannavaro. C’e Capitano”….. was in front of me.
“Buongiorno,” I said in my faux Italian eager to impress.
He replied in the same language. “Your Italian is very good…”
We both guffawed. That was a perfect way to break the ice and calm my nerves.
Rick: You are one of the most recognizable players in the world (Fabio shrugs and looks embarrassed)… and you’ve been singled out as one of the best footballers of the past decade and your generation. What does that mean to you?
Fabio: (smiles and briefly stammers) It’s nice. You feel good. I am a normal person who did my job as a football player. If people come up to me and ask for my autograph, I sign. But I am just a normal person, I must protest.
Rick: You’ve won with almost every club you’ve played for – Parma, Juventus, and Real Madrid – not to mention Italy. (Fabio smiles and once more looks embarrassed) If you can be identified with one club what would that be?
Fabio: Maybe more with the national team because I played with very big clubs. I played with my different clubs for three, four years, sometimes a little more. So it’s equal. But what is important for me is the country because those were very important games.
Rick: If you could name three of your most memorable matches what would they be?
Fabio: Only three. But there are so many. (laughs)
Rick: Sure. Let me re-phrase that… name some of your most memorable matches.
Fabio: My first game with Napoli. You never forget the first time. Like a first kiss, you know. There is the semifinals (of the 2006 World Cup) against Germany. Those two late goals by (Fabio) Grosso and (Alessandro) Del Piero made us go to the finals. And the finals against France of course! I get to lift up the trophy.
Rick: The Germany game was where you got your nickname of ‘The Berlin Wall’.
Fabio: Yes. I believe so. (laughs)
Rick: That was some of the toughest defense I have ever seen anywhere. You (Italy) conceded only one goal.
Fabio shrugs once more in embarrassed fashion
Rick: What prompted you to become a very good defender?
Fabio: In Napoli, I started from the bottom. I wanted to show the managers that I could play. If I could stop the forward from scoring then I will have a place on the team.
Rick: So that wall you formed in Madrid with Roberto Carlos playing both on the left side with Sergio Ramos and Manuel Torres Gomez on the right was solid.
Fabio (smiles at the memory): Roberto Carlos is one of the best. But he scores more goals than me. Real Madrid was a very good time for me.
Rick: You mentioned Roberto Carlos. Who would you consider the best you’ve played with from Napoli to Al Ahli?
Fabio: It is hard. (smiles) I cannot. Difficult. There are too many. I might forget someone. (laughs)
Rick: Just a few more questions.
Fabio: No problem.
Rick: The Nike commercial… Write the Future… with Bobby Solo singing ‘C’e Cannavaro. C’e Capitano’…
Fabio: (smiles broadly and attempts to sing)
Rick: What was that?
Fabio: (laughs) Nice commercial. Very nice. Good memories.
Rick: Yeah, it was a good commercial. I loved it too. I am sorry I have to bring this up but everyone who appeared on that commercial didn’t have a very good World Cup.
Fabio: Yes, it was a very difficult World Cup for us. We had plenty injuries… (Andrea) Pirlo, (Paolo) Camoranesi, (Claudio) Marchiso… Difficult.
Rick: You’ve switched careers from playing into coaching. Was it an easy decision to make – coaching and in Dubai?
Fabio: It’s no problem because I love football. I am an assistant now. Maybe coach one day.
Rick: Would you like to coach or manage Italy and possibly lead it to another World Cup victory like Franz Beckenbauer?
Fabio: That is a dream. Maybe one day it will happen.
Rick: In the meantime, you’re here in Manila for the Clear Dream Match. How do you feel about this game?
Fabio: I am excited (looks to James Younghusband who is standing next to him). I make new friends. Meet new people. Football in the Philippines is growing. If I can help it grow big that’s good. Maybe we get a win on Saturday (winks at Younghusband who beams back).
Rick: Thanks, Fabio!
Fabio: You’re welcome.
I then had my picture taken with James and Fabio then with Cannavaro alone. I was surprised that he was very even-keeled, accommodating, and honest. I actually felt that he was embarrassed with the platitudes.
I told him that I contemplated on wearing a Real Madrid or Juventus jersey to the presscon. “You like Madrid and Juventus?”
“Yes,” I nodded. “You know what the two clubs have in common?”
“I play for them.”
“True. And the same with Zinedine Zidane. And when he retired, you wore his #5.”
He put his arms around me and smiled that broad smile of his.