The Italian job

Dressed in a smart grey suit and crisp white shirt, Fabio Cannavaro looks just the part. As he stands for photos, the former World Cup captain poses effortlessly. He is clearly used to having his picture taken.

Visiting the luxury Palm Jumeirah villa for the second time, I scan the room for football memorabilia, but can see only pictures of Cannavaro’s three children. Just last month, I played football with them in Cannavaro’s back garden, curious to see if any of them would follow in their father’s footsteps. Looking at the pictures, I am reminded of how happy they seemed running around their Dubai mansion.

Cannavaro sits down on the sofa, and instantly you can tell he is not your typical celebrity sportsman. Shy and humble, the 38 year-old speaks quietly as he talks me through the highlights of his career, and modestly recounts a string of great achievements.

“I started playing football professionally when I was seventeen years old,” he says. “My mother always wanted me to study, but it was something I didn’t want to do. I only knew I was going to play football. That was all I knew. I was a normal guy, but with one big dream, which was to play for my city team Napoli [Naples].”

Napoli was a very strong team at the time, he says, their most famous player being Argentina’s Diego Maradona. Though Maradona left shortly after Cannavaro’s signing, the move proved a great opportunity for him to observe his childhood idols at close quarters.

“When I joined, Maradona left, but it was okay because the team was still in high spirits. At that time Napoli had won two Serie A league title and the UEFA Cup. In Italy, we were the top team.”

Cannavaro spent three years with Napoli, during which time he rose up the ranks to the first team, proving his worth and gaining a reputation as a budding star. He recalls how being at the top meant some big life alterations, starting with his eating and exercising routine.

“When I became a professional player my life started to change. If you want to do the sport, you need to live a totally different life. You need to sleep well and eat properly, and you need to have the right mentality. The most important part for me was off the pitch.”

Cannavaro also noticed some changes in his private life; that being part of the package when you play for the second most successful club in Southern Italy and the fourth most supported in the country. Thrown into the public eye, he quickly became an icon in his home town and beyond, whilst instantly charming Napoli fans.

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