The Talking Game is a regular column in which members of TheHardTackle chat with players, coaches, staff, agents and almost anybody who has a part to play in the beautiful game. In the first edition of The Talking Game, editor Amlan Majumdar caught up with Italian legend and World Cup winning captain, Fabio Cannavaro.
Cannavaro started his career with Napoli and then went on to showcase his rock solid defensive abilities with the likes of Parma, Inter, Juventus and Real Madrid. An integral part of the national setup for many years, he went on to captain the side to a triumph at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Amlan quizzes the legendary defender about his humble beginning, his brother Paolo, injuries, charities and a lot more.
Amlan Majumdar: Tell us something about your early days when you started your career at Napoli. It seems to be a wonderful tale of a young kid who was once a ball boy at the club, watched his heroes from the side-lines and then featured in team alongside them.
Fabio Cannavaro: I started playing right away, in streets, playgrounds, I lived with a lot of football and a little bit of school! My youth career began in the team of Naples and I started my career as a professional with Napoli too, entering into the First Team. For many years I have been on the sidelines to collect the ball during the official matches.
AM: We of course know that Maradona was one of your footballing idols as a kid. There is a story which says that in a training session at Napoli, you made a strong tackle on Maradona and the rough challenge angered teammates and staff at the club; Maradona himself, however, defended and encouraged you. Can you tell us something about that incident?
FC: The story is exactly as you told. Maradona, in my opinion, not only was the greatest but also the most humane and sensible colleague who a player could have in his team. He first defended the interests of his companions, then his own.
AM: You and your brother, Paolo Cannavaro, grew up playing football on the street together and then after a few years incidentally you were the player your brother replaced as a substitute while making his Parma debut. Is there any regret that both of you didn’t get too many chances of playing together for Parma? How big an influence have you been on his career?
FC: First of all it was great luck that two brothers have become professional players at a great level so we are very happy. My brother has perhaps had to fight harder to establish himself as Paolo Cannavaro and not as the brother of Fabio Cannavaro. I would have loved to play a match in the National Italian Team with my brother!
AM: You were part of a Parma team which did extremely well in Europe. What are your thoughts about the current situation in Serie A where very few clubs have managed to do well in Europe consistently? Do you think the general standard of Serie A has gone down, especially when you consider the golden period when the likes of Platini and Maradona played in this league, and even during your early playing career? And what is the reason behind it?
FC: Each period has its positive and negative sides and if one thinks of the past, we always think that times were better, but it is not so. Today Italy has a young National Team, with some great old (Buffon, Pirlo) players, and some impressive talents. For the Italian football clubs, the only difference is that we don’t have Sheikhs or Russians who have invested (For Spain it is different, but you can see the large debts both the big clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, have) and perhaps it is time that some Italian businessman looks at Italy. After Brazil we have the largest number of World Cups won and Milan is the club with the highest number of international titles in the world.
AM: Among all the clubs you played for, your spell at Inter was perhaps the least memorable one. What went wrong at Inter?
FC: A micro fracture to the foot that was not identified forced me to play at 50% of my ability. Due to the Inter medical team that finally identified the problem, I have received the necessary treatment [sic].
AM: Coming to Italian national team, how difficult was it to keep the team focused during 2006 World Cup? There was a scandal back home and players had to leave mid-way to pay visit to a former team-mate who had attempted suicide during the World Cup (Pessotto).
FC: The decision by Pessotto was not due to the scandals of football but his personal problems. Certainly the pressure, in theory, was enormous but we always knew we had won justly on the field and Mr. Lippi was excellent to isolate ourselves from those problems which, incidentally, over time have proven in the Courts, much more mild and modest.
AM: Of course lifting the world-cup as the captain of the national team must have been the proudest moment of your career, but other than lifting the trophy, what was your favourite moment during 2006 World Cup?
FC: On the night of the final I went to bed with the Cup and with my son. We did not sleep, but there I realized that I had reached the maximum for a player.
AM: You won the Ballon d’Or back in 2006 for your wonderful performances, but do you think defenders are often overlooked when it comes to these awards? Also there are many who believe that the quality of defenders has gone down gradually in the past few seasons and that defending is gradually becoming a lost art. Do you agree with it? Do you feel that the gradual changes in laws of the game have tipped the balance in favour of the attackers?
FC: The Americans say that the attackers do sell the tickets and the defenders win football matches! You are right with regard to modern defenders, they are taught too much theory (zonal defense) and not the practice of defending man-to-man. If you do not know to defend/mark a man and take the responsibility, then when you concede goals it is the fault of the system, never of the individual.
AM: Now when you look back at your career at Juventus, is there any regret about leaving for Real Madrid back in 2006? How did that move affect your relationship with the Juventus fans?
FC: I’m a professional player, I was not the flag of the club before, I’m not now, but I’ve won on the field for Juventus, 2 league titles with a very strong team.
AM: You have played alongside a lot of world class defenders both in club football and international football – who was your best defensive partner? Also who is the toughest opponent you have played against – any particular striker or attacker who gave you a hard time defending?
FC: It is not easy to rank them so I’d say Ferrara, Thuram, Costacurta, Maldini. The most difficult to mark is Ronaldo (the Brazilian of course!)
AM: The most memorable goal that any opponent has managed to score against you? Also what is the worst defensive mistake that you have made in your career – something that still flashes across your mind?
FC: I’ve forgotten them all!! (laughs)
AM: Among the current crop of Italian defenders, who would you consider to be your heir? Someone who can follow your path and lead the nation towards glory like you did?
FC: Andrea Barzagli
AM: Do you have any plans of taking up coaching as a career in near future?
FC: In June, I will be a graduate with a Fifa Coaches Masters. I have already obtained a Masters as Sports Director, with FIFA. My objective is to train, and to great levels. I think I have all the characteristics to succeed.
AM: How was your experience of playing for Al Ahli? How different is Asian football from European football?
FC: The experience has been very positive for me and my family. It allowed me to leave my active career without stress and regrets (over 20 years as a professional at the highest level produces an uncommon stress). Asian football is obviously more inexperienced, especially at the physical and tactical level, but it is the football of the future, and Japan and Korea have already expressed great talents, for example, my friend Hidetoshi Nakata.
AM: Tell us something about your charity foundation, Fondazione Cannavaro Ferrara, and how actively are you involved in it currently? Also your future plans for it.
FC: The Foundation is committed to creating well equipped sports centers for the children of Naples who live in particularly disadvantaged places. There are many achievements and you can look at our website. For 2013 we are organizing my goodbye match with my World Champions friends and a series of great foreign players who have played with or against me, and the income will be donated for the reconstruction of the Science City of Naples, destroyed by arson!
AM: Will we see Fabio Cannavaro in India any time soon? Also, would you like to give any special message to the young budding footballers of India?
FC: I twice accepted to play in India in 2011 and 2012 (I had also signed pre-contracts) but then the Championships have never been held. Among others who were to come was Hernan Crespo of Argentina. It has been a big disappointment because I believe a lot in the sports culture of the Indian people. I might come one day to coach one of your National Teams to qualify it for the World Cup!
AM: If you were asked to pick a team (a starting eleven) consisting of your favourite players you have either played with or against, what would it be?
FC: For obvious reasons, allow me not to answer this question, I have too many friends around the world. I can only say that the keeper would be Buffon, playmaker would be Pirlo and me as Central Back, of course!
We would like to thank Mr. Fabio Cannavaro and his representative Claudio Minghetti for taking their time out of their busy schedule and entertaining our request.