Football has a way of marking the milestones in your life, making you realise the passing of time and the mortality of your heroes. Susy Campanale tells you to relish every moment.
Age creeps up on you and nothing dates you more than your love of the beautiful game. Who were your heroes growing up? Which players or teams first really got you hooked on watching football, made you realise this was the sport that would define your life?
What it also does is mark milestones in your existence, seeing goals that bring back a Proustian rush of memory, returning you to the elated state you were in at that very moment when you first saw the ball travel towards the net. Don’t fight the emotion, embrace it.
The first thing to make you realise time is passing rapidly is when your heroes hang up their boots. Inevitable, of course, but still emotional seeing Francesco Totti or Alessandro Del Piero wave goodbye to their fans after decades, especially if you – like me – remember when they made their debuts. The next I’ll be truly weeping at will be Gianluigi Buffon’s swansong. He made his bow against my beloved Milan for Parma and I was watching that game live, thinking who is this kid the coach decided to use out of nowhere? He’s good…
Think how you felt when Gianluigi Donnarumma made his unexpected bow for the Rossoneri. Now fast forward over 20 years. Will he still be pulling on the gloves, getting down remarkably quickly for a man in his 40s and denying the best in the business at Camp Nou?
The next stepping stone in the ageing process is when you see the sons of players you watched suddenly taking to the field. Nothing makes you feel quite as old as realising you remember when he was born and now he’s scoring goals in the Champions League. Oh, it sends a cold chill down the spine, I can assure you. Imagine how it must feel for Buffon, who has not only faced the sons of his former teammates and opponents – including Marcus Thuram, Timothy Weah and Federico Chiesa – but is now in the same squad as one of them.
Federico Chiesa was born in October 1997, when Enrico and Gigi were teammates at Parma. That means on the day he was born, little Federico was given a welcome to the world gift by his Dad’s colleague. And now that baby is your equal in the dressing room. Buffon laughs it off, saying he’s used to it by now, but the first time had to be pretty strange making that realisation. I just saw the sons of Obafemi Martins and Dejan Stankovic are playing for Inter’s youth team. That time is coming for you too, dear readers, when you see the sons of your favourite players take to the field and suddenly feel desperately old. We’ve already got the third generation of Maldini running out in the Rossoneri jersey.
The final stage of football making you understand the passing of time is the worst: seeing your heroes die. Those of my generation got to experience that twice in the space of two horrible weeks when Diego Armando Maradona was followed into the great stadium in the sky by Paolo Rossi. They were 60 and 64, no age at all to go, but in Diego’s case not all that shocking. We knew he was never going to live a long and healthy life, that wasn’t his style. He was a man of excesses in everything he did and that’s also precisely why he was the greatest football player of all time. I am not going to argue with you, just trust me, he was. If he hadn’t been so outlandish a personality, he wouldn’t have been able to even think of those moves, let alone enact them with ease. That dance he did in the warm-up for Napoli was Maradona in a nutshell. The sport wasn’t work to him, he barely trained at all. It was natural, filled with joy and passion, unconstrained.
Seeing the news break, grown men were openly breaking down on television in Italy and Argentina. Just because we knew it was going to happen didn’t make it any less painful. Maradona was not just the greatest we’ll ever see, but the definition of an era in football, particularly in Italy. He was treated as a deity in Naples while alive, so naming the stadium after him was inevitable and absolutely the right thing to do.
We cry for his loss, but also at the loss of our childhood, at realising those memories still feel so fresh every time we see him begin that run at the entire England team. We realise we’ll feel the same way in many years to come when our current stars of the sport go through that process. Dear reader, soon enough we’ll have little Cristiano Ronaldo Junior and Thiago Messi swapping shirts on the field, and you’ll start to worry about when it’s time to say goodbye. So put all these stupid social media GOAT arguments aside and just enjoy the fact you were here to witness these players at their peak. I can assure you, it goes by so fast. Relish every moment.