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So, yeah, I have one of the shortest attention spans in the world. But I really think I've just become a Nesta fan for life. His story is just so dramatic.


Imagine that you're born in a family of dedicated fans, and we're not talking about watch-a-game-once-in-a-while dedication but the kind that leads in some cases to religious conversion. They, and now you, support a football club, Lazio, that frankly kind of sucks. Its been relegated to Series B at times, and while its uber-rival Roma (and, we're not talking Cubs vs Sox rivalry here; we're talking Friday Night Lights small town Texas football rivalry) isn't all that great either, it has at least managed to hang on to Series A.

You like playing football, are pretty good at it, and it isn't long before a scout from Roma takes interest and asks you to join their football club. Your father, of course, says no - it might be better not to play at all than to play for the wrong team. Fortunately for you, the right team does eventually take an interest. You join when you're eleven, rise through their squad to start playing professional games at sixteen. It is an opportunity that most Italian players don't get until their twenties, if at all.

That isn't the end of it, though. You're a star, the real thing. At eighteen you're called to play for Italy's under-21 squad, and when the team wins you're voted best defender of the games; at 20 you're named the best defender in the world by your hero, Baresi; at 21 you're nominated captain of your team, which you lead to national victory for the first time in over twenty years, and then again and again. You sign a five year multi-million dollar contract, the most lucrative contract that a defender has ever signed.

Of course there are tragedies along the way. Your injury in 1998 when it was rumored that you might not recover, the death of your sister that you refuse to discuss with the media. But you're living your dream, and that of your family and neighbors and friends and city; every day you're playing with your idols and your friends, with Chamot who you used to watch on TV and who now stands beside you on the field, with Sclosa who invites you to family dinners so you don't feel homesick, with Favalli who gave you a scooter when you first debuted, just because you looked so tired every morning from the commute. You hate talking to the press, but in one of the few statements you make, you say that you would like to play with Lazio until you're 35, that you never want to leave Rome and therefore hope that one day, like Baresi, they will retire your number. In yet another interview, you say that you have two wishes - to remain at Lazio and to always be coached by Eriksson. Nothing about becoming the best football player in the world (though undoubtedly you would like to be) or the richest or the most famous (you have never really cared for the money or the fame). You just want for this dream to last.

And then, one day, things starts to come undone. There are lawsuits over deals penned by your agent while you were injured; there is yet another injury that takes you out of the World Cup, and you watch from the sidelines as Italy suffers a devastating loss; there is talk that Lazio is going bankrupt after a series of unwise acquisitions, that it might have to start selling off players, that it might have to sell you; scouts and management from clubs throughout the continent come to see you and you play the worst game of your life, letting through goal after goal until the coach is forced to bench you. It is a catastrophe. Years later you will call it the most humiliating experience of your life. The talk of selling you intensifies; you see the same headlines in every newspaper, your face staring back at you. You spend the summer in limbo, rumors swirling around you, the city frantic and mesmerized. Cragnotti, the president of the club, assures Lazio fans that there is no way he would sell you, and even your greatest rival, Roma's star striker Totti, says that you must remain. That you're his other half, that if you left Roman football would lose its flavor.[1] So even though you've heard rumors of negotiations, deals to transfer you to other teams, you begin to hope that everything will blow over.

And then, on the last day of the transfer season, management calls you in. Tells you that the rumors were right, after all, that the negotiations have been concluded. That they want to sell you, must sell you. That Milan has offered over thirty million, and moreover agreed to resolve your lawsuit. And you are tired of the uncertainty, tired of fighting, have never had a head for numbers or enough business-savvy to contradict their claims, your new agents care more for team management than you and urge you to take this deal, and the season has already left you with little confidence in yourself. You agree.

The news comes out a day later and no one can believe it. Zinedine Zidane describes the transfer as stratospheric. You're Lazio's captain, its bandiera, the symbol of Rome, the brightest jewel on Lazio's crown, the best loved idol of the Laziali, praise heaped on praise; for many fans you are Lazio. The streets of Rome break out in riot, cars and newsstands burnt; Cragnotti is forced to call for police protection around his villa. The fans who used to worship you, follow your every game and chant your name from the stands, who wanted to name streets in your honor, who could never find words enough to describe what you meant to them - many of these fans will never forgive you for accepting management's decision, for leaving. Football isn't just a sport here, isn't just entertainment. Its riot-causing and life-threatening deadly serious, and even your own family doesn't know what to think.

You move to Milan, which welcomes you with open arms, relishing its coup. In the interviews you give (that you, once again, have no choice but to give) you apologize to your former fans; thank them, and thank your former team, and even thank Cragnotti, who had once said that you were non-transferable, and then later that he wouldn't sell you for less than 45 million euros, and later, after the transfer and facing threats and recriminations and repeated Why's, that of course you weren't worth 45 million anymore; you weren't the player you had been, after all.

Less than a month later you have to return to Rome, to Olimpico, to your former team. There is a practice session in which every camera is pointed at you, every reporter is scrutinizing your every move, trying to approach you. Like hunters circling their prey, ready to report the slightest abnormality. But you give them nothing. You seem so calm that they don't know how to read you; you joke with the groundskeeper about how the pitch isn't as tidy as it used to be, laugh with your -new- teammates, mock-wrestle with one during a break in the training.

The next day, the day of the match, you're welcomed to your former stadium - your former home - by deafening boos. Your expression doesn't change, but later you can't seem to stay still, can't stop adjusting your hair behind your ears, again and again. In the dressing room after the warm-ups, someone will tell the reporters that you were shaking, but that when it was time to come out on the field again, you gathered yourself together, tightened your lips and looked up with steely determination in your eyes. Another reporter will interview your brother, Fernando. Will write that Fernando didn't know who to cheer for, the team he loves or you, his brother; that he wished for a draw. (Exactly the kind of details that reporters love to write about, and this is yet another reason you hate them.)

You play for 79 minutes against your former teammates, the men you used to lead; give the game everything you can. When your captain - you have a captain now - scores, you don't rush to congratulate him, and when you leave, you see the sarcastic banners wishing you "CIAAAOOOO", hear the faint applause drowned by jeers. You don't raise your head, walk quickly away. This is the city that you were born in, that you had lived all your life in; these are the fans that had always, before, supported you, among them neighbors, friends, family. This is the day you realize that your dream has ended.

And yet, you never betray any resentment, any bitterness. You move on, try to make Milan your new home; in the months to follow, you play some of the most brilliant games of your career.


So I wrote this mainly from what my friend told me about Nesta and the articles she linked me to. (Let me know if there's anything inaccurate?) I'm completely enthralled with Nesta's career, all his high points and low ones. And this is only the half of it, too - I could seriously go on and on about the further injuries he suffered, his partnership with Maldini and how he fits into the Milan team, his friendship with Cannavaro, rivalry with Totti, etcetc. His career is amazingly dramatic, especially considering that outside Italy he's virtually unknown (and seems to like it that way, too). But I won't, because I'm lazy, and this is the part that really hooks me anyway, this and the fact that he's settled into Milan now. There were rumors last year that he would go back to Lazio, but instead he renewed his contract with Milan, said that he's happy where he is and hopes to retire there. And I really admire that, how he was able to let his old dreams go, without any fuss or bitterness, especially in the beginning when it was the last thing he could've wanted (there is an interview that says that he was hoping until the end that the transfer wouldn't go through), how he was able to move on with such grace and professionalism.

When asked about that time now, he says: "Thrown unexpectedly into a completely different reality, at first I found it hard to get used to it because I missed my world, a difficulty that was also mirrored on the pitch, in my performance. However, I found colleagues I knew, like Paolo Maldini (who helped me a lot), and managers always attentive to every situation. Now I feel fine, perfectly integrated in rossoneri ways and in the city."

When he transferred, those first few days, Milan had been crazy supportive of him, as if to make up for the way Rome had completely rejected him - they welcomed him like no other player before and, even more importantly, there were no signs of friction from the team. (One of the AC Milan players, Ibrahim Ba, without being asked, offered his #13 jersey to Nesta - because, he said, he knew that it was an important number, the one Nesta had always played under.[2]) And by now Nesta's become so integral, so instrumental in that club's victories, that its hard to even imagine it without him, and he's never expressed regrets at the way the transfer turned out. And yet, and yet. The part that grabs me, that makes it all bittersweet. Even now, when asked what the best moment of his career was. Nesta doesn't name the under-21 world cup win, or the semifinal euro win, or any one of the several championships he won with Milan. He says: "winning the scudetto with Lazio. It was really a childhood dream come true."

[2] So apparently there were times when he flirted with numbers other than 13. But, even when he was going through the experimental phase, notice how the numbers all add up to 13.
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