Say cheese: Cannavaro stripped bare in Asia

Italy’s most capped player talks to Al Jazeera about football, retirement and his new role as Al Ahli ambassador.

Fabio Cannavaro
Persistent knee injuries forced the 2006 World Cup winning captain into retirement this year [EPA]

Underwear, mozzarella and being an Emirati ambassador: the start of Fabio Cannavaro’s post-playing career means that conversation topics waver beyond the once familiar realms of defensive strategies and silverware.

Two months ago, Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning captain was forced to announce his retirement after just one season at UAE club, Al Ahli, because of a chronic knee injury.

Last week, he toured Singapore and Australia, re-inventing himself as a consultant and envoy for the Dubai-based outfit.

A dream-team match-up with ex-Leeds United manager David O’Leary failed to reap rewards as Cannavaro missed the last seven games of last season and O’Leary was sacked after Al Ahli finished a disappointing eighth. Ex-Czech international Ivan Hasek has been installed for the 2011-2012 campaign.

“My role consists of being with the president (Abdullah al-Naboodah), consulting with him and being his advisor,” Cannavaro said.

“We talk often about the team and how it can be improved.”

Looking good

Turning 38 on September 13, a fit-looking Cannavaro appears little different to the inspirational skipper who guided Italy to victory over France and a head-butting Zinedine Zidane five years ago.

The diminutive centre-back would later become the first defender to be named Fifa World Player of the Year.

He realised that his career was finally over this summer during a beach holiday to the United States with his younger brother, Paolo, who captains his hometown club, Napoli.

“Everyone has to stop at a certain point and I knew that my time had come”

Fabio Cannavaro

“Everyone has to stop at a certain point and I knew that my time had come,” he said.

“We went to train on the sand and I felt my knee really hurting. So I went back and spoke to the (Al Ahli) chairman who had the idea to make me club ambassador.”

His other business interests include being president of a Naples-based cheese business, La Fattoria Gaia, which produces mozzarella from rural buffalos.

A visiting American businessman, looking to develop a chain of Italian eateries, gate-crashed Cannavaro’s official press conference to pose for photos with him and talk pizza and dairy products.

“I have a lot of time to think about what my future’s going to be,” Cannavaro said.

“Whatever I do, I’ll do it in the best way that I can, just how I played my entire career.”

Future roles

A coaching stint in Europe remains a future option for a man who is a big admirer of current England manager Fabio Capello. He followed his bespectacled countryman from Juventus to Real Madrid in 2006.

“I intend to get my coaching licence soon because I feel that it’s something that I could use to help younger players to have success in their careers,” he said.

One gets the impression that the low-key Cannavaro might have a different style to Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho: “He’s an intelligent coach who attracts attention to himself, giving space to his players and the possibility for them to relax more”.

‘Relaxed’ seems a good way to describe Cannavaro, whose nature was accommodating, professional and pleasant during our chat at Jalan Besar Stadium, home of the Courts Young Lions in Singapore’s S-League.

However, he cancelled several scheduled interviews the following day, reportedly after an argument at a local restaurant.

Azzuri legend

Hard times at the 2010 World Cup as Cannavaro’s Italy were knocked out by Slovakia [GALLO/GETTY]

The most capped Italian player of all-time is watching with interest as a national team, in transition under new boss Cesare Prandelli, charts a steady course towards qualification for the 2012 European Championship.

Cannavaro’s 136th and last appearance was the final group game of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where the Azzuri were bundled out after failing to win a match.

“Most of the new players are maybe not as well known as the previous generation, but the results, including our wins against Spain and Germany, prove that they’ll do well at Euro,” he said.

“I think we have a very good coach and a bright future.”

Cannavaro is less assured about the immediate prospects of Serie A, whose 2011-2012 season has been delayed by a players’ strike.

He played for four Italian clubs, including seven seasons at Parma where he broke into the national side.

“I think they have to work a lot because Serie A has been left behind already by La Liga and the English Premier League,” he said.

“They have to invest in the infrastructure and the youth because they haven’t done so in the past years.”

A Serie A corruption scandal failed to cloud the Italian team’s unlikely triumph at the 2006 World Cup.

Cannavaro’s memories of winning the final in Berlin – which guaranteed him legend’s status – remain vivid.

“I remember it being a very tough game against a strong side, both physical and technical, whose challenges were done at the highest strength,” he said.

“That victory paid off all the hard work and sacrifices I’d made in my career.”

He is less effusive when asked about the Dolce and Gabbana underwear advertising campaign that featured Cannavaro and four 2006 teammates, including Gennaro Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta, on huge billboards.

“Once I was travelling saw a poster of myself in the underwear,” he blushed.

“I thought to myself, maybe I over-did it a bit. But at the time it had a lot of success.”

Jason Dasey ( is an Asia-based international sports broadcaster and host/executive producer of Kopi-O, a new football chat show for Singapore. Twitter: JasonDasey

Source: Al Jazeera