Cannavaro tackles life after playing career

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 September, 2011, 12:00am


Underwear, mozzarella and being an Emirati ambassador - the start of Fabio Cannavaro's post-playing career means 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 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 2011-12 campaign.

'My role consists of being with the president [Abdullah al-Naboodah], consulting with him and being his adviser,' Cannavaro says. 'We talk often about the team and how it can be improved.'

A fit-looking Cannavaro, who turns 38 in 10 days, 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 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.

'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 buffaloes. A visiting American businessman, looking to develop a chain of Italian eateries, gate-crashed Cannavaro's official press conference to pose for photos 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 I can.'

A coaching stint in Europe remains a future option for a man who is a big admirer of 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 it's something I could use to help younger players to have success in their careers,' he said.

One gets the impression the low-key Cannavaro might have a different style to Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho. He said: 'He's an intelligent coach who attracts attention to himself, giving space to his players and the possibility for them to relax more.' The most capped Italian player of all time is watching with interest as a national team, in transition under new boss Cesare Prandelli, heads toward qualification for the 2012 European Championship.

His 136th and last appearance was the final group game of last year's World Cup in South Africa where the Azzuri were eliminated without a win.

'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 they'll do well at Euro,' he said.

Cannavaro is less assured about the immediate prospects for Serie A, after the season was delayed by a players' strike. 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 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 and 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.'