Italian World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro visited Sydney for Tiger Street Football and caught up with footballaustralia.com.au associate editor Michael Cockerill.
Q. Fabio, welcome to Australia. My first question, your memories of the World Cup game against Australia in 2006?
A. This was a very fundamental moment for that particular World Cup because we had a great team which had fantastic players, we had a team which had the best players.
We played against a team which had some great players along with a fantastic coach (Guus Hiddink). We were very well prepared for the match, but unfortunately (Marco) Materazzi was sent off which complicated our situation and plan. Notwithstanding the fatigue and tiredness of the team, we ended up winning because of our grand heart.
I know within Australian minds it was a controversial match, especially with that particular penalty. Regardless of the penalty I still think we deserved to win the match and go through.
Q. After the red card to Materazzi, which came after 50 minutes, were you surprised that the Australians didn-t attack more?
A. Yes, but jokingly, because I was there, it was difficult for the Australians to attack more. In all seriousness, it-s not easy to play with an extra man.
People think that once you-re playing against 10 men it-s easier to win the game. In fact, it-s not as simple as this. In football, it-s much more complicated. The team with 10 men have the mental burden of playing with one less man and the team with a full compliment take on the responsibility of trying to break the opposition team down. For me, it is harder to play against 10 men than with 10 men.
Q. Perhaps the most famous of all the photographs of Fabio Cannavaro is the one with the World Cup trophy. Can you remember your emotions at this moment, when you lifted the trophy?
A. It-s difficult to describe. In that particular moment there was so much enthusiasm, excitement and adrenalin. In fact, these were adrenalin levels which we had never reached before. This was a moment that you don-t get very often. I get more emotional now when I look at the images of this moment especially when I realise what this meant to Italy and all the fans.
Q. You have the most caps (136) for the Azzurri. Do you remember every single game?
A. No, not all of them. I played a lot of games - games where I played well, games where I didn-t play well, plus the odd game where I scored a goal. I am very to honoured to have played for my country on so many different occasions and to have the most caps. I think that Italy are one of the best, if not the best, footballing country in the world with a very proud history.
In conjunction with Brazil, we are the country with the most World Cups, the countries who have flexed our muscles in football. For a small country, we are a powerhouse footballing nation.
Q. Obviously 2006 was the high - when you won the World Cup - but what about the low (eliminated after the group stage) in 2010? What happened?
A. Obviously, this wasn-t a great moment for a great country like Italy to be knocked out after the group matches. This is not something where used to. For us, it wasn-t a great look, but it happens. Just like it happened to us, it happened to the Azzurri team who won the World Cup in 82. In 86 they had a changing of the guard and were knocked out early and also suffered.
Q. Most players tend to talk about the team, and not the individual. But for you, being awarded the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2006 must have been special. You were the first defender to win the award, and the oldest (33) winner as well. Was this a big personal achievement for you?
A. Yes, it was a great achievement for me but more importantly a reward for the year that we had as a team. I was never considered a great player, but given my hard work and professionalism along with my day in day out effort, I got to reach the levels that players dream of. Being a defender as well, the first defender to win the award, was a great honour for me. All in all, we did our service for the nation that year and this was another part of it.
Q. That hard work started at Napoli - where you were a ball boy - and then, of course, you came into the professional team. There-s a famous tackle on (Diego) Maradona when you were a young boy, there was a lot of excitement about this tackle. What did you learn from this? About Maradona, about yourself, about professional football?
A. Maradona was a great player. After this particular tackle, one of the director-s said to me ‘Fabio, take it easy-. But to Maradona-s credit he said to me ‘Don-t worry, keep playing as normal because for me it-s better that you do-. At the time, when the director yelled at me I was embarassed.
However, once Maradona told me to keep going I was overawed with excitement, satisfaction and joy. A simple gesture like that just shows the mark of the man, a man I regard to be the greatest football to have ever played the game.
Q. Another great player was Zinedine Zidane. You went to Real Madrid and got his number five shirt. Was this symbolic for you? Important for you? An honour for you?
A. No, maybe it was an honour for him because I was always used to being the famous number 5. It just happened that when he left, I was given the number. Zidane was actually a number 10 and more suited to that number. In all seriousness, the number we wore was insignificant when compared to wearing the Real Madrid jersey. It was a jersey that gave me great satisfaction as Real Madrid is a fantastic club.
Q. Another famous player is, of course, Alessandro Del Piero. You are friends with Del Piero. Do you keep in touch? Have you heard about his Australian experiment, and what is your opinion of what he has done?
A. I think he made a great decision in coming to Australia, for the quality of life and the football experience. Alessandro is a very intelligent man, he-s always been a person I have admired for his sensibility and he-s been very smart in decisions he makes both on and off the pitch. Certainly, this isn-t the style of football that he may have been used to. However I know he thinks it-s more important for him to experience the culture and meet new people.
Obviously, he-s staying for another year, and I wish him all the best.
Q. Final question. Alessandro is still playing, (Gianluigi) Buffon is still playing, (Francesco) Totti is still playing, (Javier) Zanetti is still playing. They are all about your age. Do you miss playing?
A. Because I-ve played many matches and experiences a lot. Now, at 37 years of age, I-ve had many experiences and I think I-ve done everything that I could do. I believe that if you played a year less or a year more it doesn-t really make a difference to your career. I-ve had a great career and I-m very thankful for where football has brought me. I learnt Spanish when playing for Real Madrid, and I-m learning English whilst in my Dubai. For me, these are the most important things in life. The time was right for me to stop. Am I missing football? No.