Cannavaro waves Calcio goodbye

When Fabio Cannavaro announced his retirement from football at the weekend, the Calcio world heaved a heavy and collective sigh as a persistent knee injury caught up with one of the greatest defenders of his generation. The tributes poured in as if he had passed away. He has not, but Cannavaro, along with the likes of Alessandro Nesta, was one of the few truly legendary Italian defenders to have been still playing.
The diminutive defender, just 5ft 9in tall, made his professional debut for his hometown club Napoli in 1993 after progressing through the youth ranks. Having grown up watching the Vesuviani in their golden period of the Maradona era, he spent two years as a regular before joining Parma in 1995, in the process helping create a golden period of his own for the Emilia-Romagna side.
During his seven season spell with Parma, Cannavaro was instrumental in a strong Ducali defence which included Gianluigi Buffon as goalkeeper and defenders Lilian Thuram, Roberto Sensini and Antonio Benarrivo. He won two Coppa Italia trophies, a Supercoppa Italiana and the Uefa Cup and it was no surprise therefore to see that Cannavaro, along with three other members of the fab five, had departed the Ennio Tardini by 2002.
Two relatively unsuccessful years with Inter were followed with two successive Scudetti wins at Juventus which were later revoked in the aftermath of the Calciopoli scandal. To this day Cannavaro protests that the Bianconeri won the titles on the pitch, but as Juve were relegated to Serie B, he left to join Real Madrid where he won La Liga twice in three seasons in the Spanish capital.
Despite all the honours at club level, his finest hour was Italy’s World Cup campaign in 2006. He proved an inspirational captain by leading the Azzurri to glory without conceding an opposition goal from open play in the whole tournament and then celebrated his 100th international cap by muzzling France’s attack in the final on that glorious night in Berlin.
Those performances won him the Balon d’Or in 2006, becoming only the third defender to win the award after Franz Beckenbauer and Matthias Sammer. But as it was so rare for a defender to win the award, the decision was incredibly questioned by some.
Pundits such as Leonardo defended the decision, and in 2006 while working for the BBC, he summed up why he was such a great player: “Cannavaro has this low centre of gravity, which means he is very fast. He reads the game well and always arrives before the forward when he tackles.”
“He has incredible concentration, inner strength, and superb physical condition. He is not very tall but he is rarely beaten in the air because he jumps so well.”
The latter point was never more prevalent in the World Cup semi-final versus Germany in Dortmund when in the 120th minute of an imperious display, he headed clear a German cross, followed it up with a charging interception and then laid the ball off to Francesco Totti in the build up to Italy’s second goal.
It was fitting and almost fate that Cannavaro’s decision to retire would come on an anniversary of that famous night in Berlin. The image of him with his flashing smile, stood above the rest of his Azzurri team mates on the podium holding aloft the World Cup trophy is the most enduring of his glittering career. Calcio is in mourning. It may be a while before an Italian defender of Cannavaro’s quality emerges again.

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