All Serie A fixtures were suspended on Sunday 4th March 2018 as the league paid respect to Davide Astori, the Fiorentina captain who passed away in his hotel room, in Udine.
The death of any young person is always tragic and can provoke hyperboles of nostalgia and untruths as people look to push their own agenda amidst the rhetoric of grief, but make no mistake: Astori’s passing has profoundly and sincerely shaken the game in Italy and beyond.
Astori had the world at his feet
This is not just upsetting because he was a footballer, because of his age, his primed physical health or the brutally sudden nature of his death, but also because Astori was an honest and likeable man. Captain of his club, the Italian national was a widely appreciated personality on and off the field. This modest and endearing man had the world at his feet, and the sad immediacy of his passing leaves behind a widow, Francesca, and a two-year-old daughter.
The lucidity of all this, of course, drives home just how unfair such a loss can be. Tributes have fittingly come pouring in, with Gianliugi Buffon writing on social media of “una grande persona perbene” – a truly great person – and a man of tradition, diligence and pride in today’s society, where such values are not always at the forefront of our concerns:
“you were the best expression of an old-fashioned world, one that people have left behind, with values like altruism, elegance, politeness and respect towards others,” said Buffon.
As well as Italian and French clubs, Premier League teams and others further afield have paid heartfelt tributes. Antonio Conte, who coached Astori with the Italian national team, provided an appropriately poignant and dignified response on Sky Sports earlier today.
A young Paolo Maldini
Born in Bergamo, a city in the Northeast region of greater Milan, Astori was a product of AC Milan’s noted youth sector, joining the club as a 14-year-old. His aforementioned likability combined with composure on the ball lead many to draw early comparisons to the great Paolo Maldini; the latter of which was comfortably in his 30s when Astori started knocking on the door of the first team. That was always going to be a tough act to follow, and one Astori, by his own admission, was unlikely to ever supercede. But he had an enviable career entirely on his own merit, despite the expectation placed on his shoulders.
Before Astori made an appearance for Milan, he joined Sardinian outfit Cagliari in a joint ownership deal in 2008, after successful spells in the lower leagues. In 8 seasons on the other side of the Tyrrhenian Sea, he would play almost 200 competitive games for Cagliari and earn 9 caps for Gli Azzurri. In search of a cash injection, Cagliari accepted a €15m bid for the player from Spartak Moscow in 2012, amid interest from Manchester United. The Red Devils were looking for long-term successors to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, to shore up a side deflated by the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. David Moyes’ tenure was nonetheless cut short and an offer from Manchester never officially materialised. Astori declined the concrete offer from Russia, wishing to stay in Italy. Already a firm favourite with the fans, he became something of a club icon by declining such a lucrative contract abroad in favour of staying with the Rossoblu.
Astori made his name at Cagliari
Inevitably, Cagliari eventually decided they should cash in on Astori’s reputation on and off the pitch and received sizeable loan fees from Roma and Fiorentina respectively. Between these two loans, Roma were left aggrieved as, after a successful season, his stock had risen such that Cagliari declined Roma’s subsequent transfer offer and had the payer sign a new contract with them.
At La Viola the following season, he flourished and decided to sign a permanent deal in Florence. With his family well settled in Northern Italy, he was named the captain at the beginning of the 2017-2018 season, when fellow defensive stalwart and centre-back partner Gonzalo Rodríguez returned to his native Argentina. A club of Fiorentina’s history and stature is always of great interest to the wider footballing world, and with his aquiline nose, Astori was the face of their recent return to stability. They narrowly missed out on the European places last season and remain in touching distance with a little under a third of the current campaign left.
Davide Astori’s premature departure from this world will leave many not only mourning a veritable footballing talent, but also a gentleman.
Editorial credit: Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock.com