Well he’s gone. After seven consecutive years of utter devotion to the cause, Paolo Cannavaro has left Napoli and signed for Sassuolo. “Napoli will always be in my heart, but it always has been,” said the 32-year-old, who grew up in the area around the stadium. “As a child playing in the streets with the other ‘urchins’ I used to dream about playing in the San Paolo someday and I am very proud to have done so.”
It is this heart, this feeling that the fans loved and like his former teammates they knew he possessed the irreplaceable values only a Neapolitan can have for his team. “Paolo will always remain as our captain,” insisted Gokhan Inler only last month.
More than anyone else Canna represents the remarkable rise Napoli have experienced these past seven years, a journey which reached its zenith when he led them into their first Champions League game.
Making his debut in Serie B in 1998-99 as a raw 17-year-old, he was sold purely for financial reasons to Parma the following summer. He returned in 2006-07 and rose to the challenge of taking them from Serie B to the very top of Serie A. Former Coach Walter Mazzarri made him captain in 2009 and in all this time he rarely missed a match until this season. This is where the mystery deepens.
After Coach Rafa Benitez said he trusted Paolo at the start of the season. he only played him in three games, which resulted in two wins, a draw and just two goals conceded. Then the fateful defeat by Roma came in mid-October. Canna gaveaway a free-kick, from which Roma scored and then he conceded a wrongly-given penalty, which was converted after he was sent off. OK anyone can make a mistake and although Raul Albiol is number one in central defence, in all honesty are Miguel Britos and Federico Fernandez better than Cannavaro? Not according to World Cup winner Marco Materazzi. “Paolo is no less talented than any of the other players in that role,” he said.
Celebrated for his leadership qualities and decisive tackling, Paolo’s acute awareness fitted in well with Napoli’s counter-attacking policies. Yet with Rafa’s change of system and President Aurelio De Laurentiis’ change of mind, it appears he is no longer needed. “My client has given so much to Napoli, but many unpleasant incidents have occurred during the last three months,” said his agent Furio Fedele. “And if we want to find a negative side to Benitez’s tenure, it’s his rapport with Paolo.”
So why wasn’t he playing? Once it was warranted, but then it turned whimsical. Surely it can’t have anything to do with not wanting to pay his wages, can it? There was a clause in his contract, a “mysterious” one by all accounts, that highlighted a few anomalies. With 18 months still left on his contract it’s reported that if his appearances dropped below a certain number (apparently 15) his wages would have been cut by 50 per cent.
It is pretty difficult to believe Napoli would stoop that far surely, but after all De Laurentiis seems to have little respect for him. Following Gonzalo Higuain’s fall in Capri when he needed 10 stitches DeLa told students who secretly filmed him that Paolo was an idiot: “Higuain had just arrived and what does this a*****e Cannavaro do? He gets this boat that was paid for under the table, goes to Capri and he even makes him trip on a rock.”
It gets curiouser and curiouser. Canna was an untouchable until this season and many believe he’s been treated unfairly. “Discrediting Paolo in such a short time didn’t seem right because he’s done a lot for Napoli,” insisted Materazzi. Paolo’s brother, Fabio mysteriously added: “It was a mistake to stay, he had a chance to leave in September and the opportunity was there but it was not done for corporate reasons.” The Ballon d’Or winner also tweeted a sarcastic thanks to “those who made you feel like a stranger in your own home.”
As much as fans may dislike the idea that the bandiera of the last decade has left, it is probably best for all concerned, but it could have be done in a better and much nobler way.