Stefano Mammarella was just six years old when his coach told him, in no uncertain terms, "Mammarella, you’ve got a big backside; go in goals.” The obedient youngster did as he was told, and Italian fans have been grateful ever since. After two and a half decades of continual progress and success between the sticks, so is the man in question, who bears no ill will towards his former mentor. “My old coach is always delighted to see me,” Mammarella told FIFA.com. “A few years ago, he even asked me to stop by at a football academy and meet some of the kids.”
The second pivotal moment in the gifted goalkeeper’s career came at the age of 15, when he decided to quit football in favour of futsal. Mammarella found that the indoor discipline’s tighter spaces and angles suited his game perfectly, and he subsequently went from strength to strength. After making his international debut for Italy in 2008, he earned the adidas Golden Glove award (for best goalkeeper) at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012. Two years later, he helped his team-mates to UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 glory in Belgium.
As many players before him have found, talent is not always sufficient to succeed, and an extraordinary level of mental fortitude is often required. Mammarella appears to have an abundance of both, as well as a good dose of confidence tempered by humility.
“I don’t judge my own performances; I let others do that for me. Setting modesty aside for a moment, though, I think that my career speaks for itself, and I regard myself as one of the best futsal goalkeepers out there,” said the 32-year-old, who is a fan of numerous other ‘keepers, including his Kazakh counterpart, “Higuita”.
Although Mammarella’s career has moved into a completely different dimension since his initial outings in goal, there is one familiar aspect that has not changed. “My nickname is ‘Cucchiaio’ (spoon), because I love my food, although I do try to be careful about what I eat,” he said, keen to stress the latter point.
The imposing Italian is convinced that his stocky build, as well as being at the origin of his becoming a goalkeeper, now constitutes a real advantage on the futsal court. “My extra weight is actually an asset,” he said. “I hope to maintain the same weight till the end of my career, as it gives me the power and explosiveness to pull off impossible-looking saves.”
It is difficult to contradict this statement, given the recent performances he has put in for Gli Azzurri, who have twice finished third at the Futsal World Cup since earning runners-up medals at Chinese Taipei 2004. That international spotlight has inevitably brought with it comparisons with other iconic Italian goalkeepers. “It would be a dream to emulate Gianluigi Buffon’s career and play for as long as he has,” he said. “I realise that time is ticking away, and that every day brings me a bit closer to the end, but I love this sport so much that I want to keep my adventure going for as long as possible, while still giving my all.”
With Italy having again qualified for this year’s Futsal World Cup, due to be held in Colombia between 10 September and 1 October, Mammarella will have at least one more chance to excel on the global stage. After reaching the semi-finals at Brazil 2008 and Thailand 2012, the Italians have set themselves a target of going one step further and attaining the final. “I’m optimistic about our chances,” stated the Chieti native. “Not only is the squad highly talented, but we've been together for many years and have a vast amount of experience.”
Just like in football, the gap between the traditional minnows and the major nations has reduced markedly in futsal, and teams like Italy are well aware that it is no longer a case of simply turning up to win. According to Mammarella, Colombia 2016 will be no different. “There aren’t really any easy games against so-called ‘inferior’ teams anymore. We’re favourites to win our group, for example, but there’s no doubt that Vietnam, Guatemala and Paraguay will cause us problems."