Italy's FIFA World Cup™ winning captain Fabio Cannavaro is a worthy successor to the country's dynasty of great defenders, acquiring hero status in a land where making a perfect tackle is accorded the same importance as a spectacular volley.
Realising that the skills of dribbling and scoring goals were beyond him, Cannavaro honed his defensive attributes in the streets of the working-class Naples suburb of Fuorigrotta, overlooked by the Stadio San Paolo. Those makeshift games, played with dustbin bags for goals, served him well, and over the course of nearly 500 Serie A matches and 100 Liga outings, he has perfected the sliding tackle and the art of anticipation, dominating the penalty box with his sheer physical presence.
A ball boy during Napoli's glory years, Cannavaro was inspired by the exploits of Diego Maradona and his team-mates. His role model, however, was not the Argentinian magician but the dependable stopper Ciro Ferrara, who was seven years his elder but would quickly become a trusted team-mate and mentor.
The youngster took his Serie A bow against Juventus at the imposing Stadio delle Alpi on 7 March 1993. At the age of 22 he moved to Parma, where he formed a formidable rearguard with France's Lilian Thuram and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Having been an integral part of Cesare Maldini's U-21 team, under whom he won the UEFA European U-21 Championship in 1994 and 1996, he stepped up to the full national side in January 1997, appearing in a 2-0 defeat of Northern Ireland in Palermo. Yet his first major finals ended in disappointment when Italy were knocked out by the hosts at France 1998, with the French again thwarting Cannavaro and Co in the final of UEFA EURO 2000.
Another sad exit at Korea/Japan 2002 was followed by his departure to Inter Milan. A broken tibia cut short his season in 2003/04 but before he had made his recovery, the centre-half decided to jump ship to Juventus, where he teamed up once more with Thuram and Buffon. Before long, he had established himself as a leader of the Bianconeri pack.
Cannavaro arrived at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany having taken over the captaincy from Paolo Maldini, who had just retired from the international scene. His calm approach set the tone for the team and his outstanding performances showed that he was a player at the peak of his powers.
Stylish and unflustered throughout, Cannavaro even had the pleasure of celebrating his 100th cap in the Final, an occasion made even sweeter by Italy's shootout win over the French.
In the wake of that triumph Cannavaro signed for Real Madrid. There he pulled on the prestigious No5 jersey, worn before him by a certain Zinedine Zidane. He later returned to Turin and rejoined Juventus, where he was expected to end his playing career.
But in 2010 Cannavaro announced that he would finish his career in the UAE, signing a two-year deal with league champions Al Ahli.