The letter written by the fans, addressed to the hated Juventus legend Zbigniew Boniek and endorsed by the largest supporter groups, sites, forums and associations, has formally requested that Boniek’s star be dedicated to Andrea Fortunato instead. We examine why the youngster who ‘was criminally forgotten by our society’ deserves the honour.
Blessed with divine feet, an astounding ability to deliver the perfect cross and a white heart, Forunato was considered a star for the future and his career blossomed at extraordinary pace – almost as quickly as his swift feet could whizz down the flanks. Discovered at an early age, football for him was nothing but a mere hobby that was only ever enjoyed during the hot summer months. So obvious was his startling talent that over the course of one of these summers, he was spotted by Alberto Massa, a talent scout who persuaded him to try out for an amateur squad before he finally moved to Como. Endowed with technical ability and an eye for goal, Como’s sporting director Sandro Vitali was convinced that the boy possessed the necessary skill-set needed to be the club’s new star striker. However, the Coach had other ideas and after first transforming Fortunato into a left winger, he quickly realised that his true abilities lied in defence and hence began to train him as a left-back.
Educated and respectful, the boy went on to get a diploma in accountancy to please his parents before he indulged in his favourite sport. Genoa soon took notice of his talent but could only enjoy him briefly before the giants of Turin came knocking. They dropped 12 billion lira before they jetted off with the player they would then go on to catapult to unimaginable success at the highest level. At Juventus, Fortunato immediately took off and continued to grow and was often referred to as the boy with wings on his feet in an effort to describe his insane ability to storm the wings. As a full-back, he was the complete package. He defended with authority, picked out his forwards with pinpoint crosses and was often found trying to score a header from set-pieces.
Moreover, he was physically attractive, outrageously gifted and defined lo stile Juve with his modesty. When he arrived at the home of the giants, he was handed the honour of wearing the infamous No.3 shirt that was previously owned by the legendary Antonio Cabrini. When asked about the similarities between the two defenders, Fortunato self-effacingly replied: “The comparison made with Antonio Cabrini angers me because he was the strongest defender in the world, does it even seem logical? For me, no. If I was ever to succeed in reaching his level, it will take a very long time.” And with such humble replies, the player grew in the hearts of the fans.
He was the future of Italian football before he became the poster child for tragedy. Just as he seemed to be scaling new heights with his talent, it began to appear as though he took his foot off the pedal by almost displaying an indifferent attitude to important matches. He slowed down, began making mistakes and attracted the wrath of the Juve fans who felt his new found fame had gone to his head. So furious were they with his performances that one ultrà even took it upon himself to slap the defender to remind him of what a great privilege it was to play for the grand Old Lady. Unfortunately fame was not the reason behind the poor performances and the player was soon diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia.
Even through his darkest days the player supported his black and white team – attending all the matches he could to cheer on his teammates – especially his ‘brother’ Fabrizio Ravanelli. “The most beautiful days in these months of illness, I experienced was when he [Ravanelli] scored five goals against CSKA in the Cup – that night I really understood what happiness was.” Despite a successful second bone marrow transplant from which the player made a full recovery, the youngster died on the eve of an Azzurri match against Lithuania. Buried at the tender age of 23, Juventus dedicated their 23rd Scudetto, won just weeks prior his death, to their beloved defender.
Just before his death and in one of his very last interviews, the Bianconero was asked if he still wanted to be a footballer to which he wistfully replied: “That is one thought I never abandoned. I felt like an athlete even in the most difficult days, when I was more dead than alive.” Most fans would be hard pressed to recount the memories of the youngster without feeling an overwhelming urge to honour him. When it comes to trophies Boniek certainly triumphed, and whilst he may never give up that star, Fortunato boasts a far greater honour – he rests in the hearts of all Juve fans now and forever.