Cannavaro: “Being a defender at Real Madrid is not easy, you have to cover a lot of space”
The Italian will be taking his kids to the Santiago Bernabéu tonight to watch two teams close to his heart. He says he’s been impressed by Bellingham: “the fittest player in the world.”
Fabio Cannavaro began his career at his hometown club Napoli where he remained for three seasons (1992-95) - the same amount of time he spent at Real Madrid after lifting both the World Cup and the Ballon d’Or in 2006. Today will be a very special day for him, the two teams closest to his heart meet at the Bernabéu and he will be there commentating on the action for Prime.
It will be the first time he has set foot in the renovated stadium, which has undergone a total makeover - radically different from when he played there as part of Madrid’s back four. He told us what he thought of tonight’s game, his own feelings about both clubs and his latest investment - sentimental if ever there was one: he has bought the Paradiso di Soccavo training center, where he trained when he was staring out, and so did Maradona. The training complex, abandoned and forgotten, will resurface as an academy which he will run himself.
Why did you decide to buy the Paradiso di Soccavo training center - a mythical place in Naples where you grew up?
I trained there with Napoli. It’s a magical place. Many of us trained there, it’s the place where I grew up, but more importantly, it’s where Maradona trained. Seeing it boarded up like that, with no access, made me think about all of the crazy times that went on in there. It broke my heart. So I decided to buy it. I know it’s not easy, it’s just a field, it’s not much. Let’s see what we can do to bring it back to life again
Whose land was it?
It belonged to a bank and I bought it.
What was the reaction back home when you told them about your new investment?
Everyone’s happy about it. It’s a structure that can give us a lot because it is in the hearts of many Neapolitan people. A lot of people want to see it rehabilitated and not left to fall into disrepair.
Will Napoli [the club] or the City Council give you a hand?
I don’t know yet. I’ve bought it, so let’s see, But the idea is to try not to ask for help. I know it’s not easy, but little by little I’m going to fix it up and see what can be done. I want to make an academy. I’m not saying that it will produce another Maradona, but another Cannavaro will surely emerge.
Will this academy be managed by the Cannavaro brothers?
I’m going to manage it. I’ll ask my brother and friends for help, but it’s something I want to do myself.
Does that mean that you will leaving coaching aside for a while?
Noooo! I hope that some clubs are interested in me. But if no club gives me an opportunity, I have bought a training field where I can occupy the bench. I know it’s not easy, people think that the China experience is nothing, but it has been 10 years of coaching. My idea is to continue coaching; my idea of football has allowed me to win two league titles in three years. I have coached players like Paulinho, Witsel, Pato... players who have played in Europe. The idea, of course, is to coach.
Offers will not be lacking for your services. I thought that perhaps with Rudi García’s dismissal, you might take the reins at Napoli...
Ha ha ha!!! You really love me!
And tonight you will be back at the Bernabéu…
I’m back working with Prime. And obviously I’ve come because it’s Madrid-Napoli. Two teams that I carry in my heart and that have given me a lot. I visit Madrid whenever I can. But this will be the first time that I’ve been inside the stadium which, for me is a big deal. The feeling of entering the Bernabéu is on another level. I played a friendly match there since I left, but I haven’t been back since the construction work started. This will be the first time. They told me I’m going to hallucinate. It’s spectacular! I have my children with me and I am going to take them to see the museum.
What do you expect from the game?
My heart’s divided, but Madrid can give us a decent examination of Napoli (smiles).
Madrid have a lot of players out injured...
I know, but it is a very complicated game for both of us and Madrid has already classified. I’m sure that Napoli will play a good game - they have a good team, the coach has changed, they have become a team again. But I know that coming away from the Bernabéu with points is not easy.
Recent results seem to have stopped criticism of Mazarri; some consider him an old and out-of-date coach...
But he’s a coach who has a lot of experience. He knows how to manage a locker room, how to talk to the players; it’s still a strong team. Anyone can coach Napoli because it’s a team that plays well.
Do you think Napoli can reach last year’s level? (Winning the Scudetto and the revelation in the Champions League, reaching the quarter finals).
Napoli is a team that can cause a lot of problems for their rivals because of the way they play and control the game. They have players who can destroy you in a flash, they know how to defend well. They have lost the Korean guy (Kim Min-jae), but they continue to work excellently. It’s not easy to play against them.
Osimhen is also back from injury
He’s a machine. It won’t be easy for Madrid’s defenders. It will be a tough game.
As a central defender who has played for Real Madrid, what are your thoughts on the current defence?
At Madrid, you suffer more than... I like them all because they are fast players, and they know how to suffer. Madrid have a few injuries, but overall, they are a great team.
Do you understand the downturn that Alaba has suffered?
That can happen, you know that I also suffered for several months there, then I had the strength to get up and continue. But this can happen when you arrive at Madrid because it is not easy for a defender. You have to cover a lot of space. If there is not good pressing from the midfielders, if there is not good pressing from the forwards, quick ball recovery can affect the defenders. Many times, the defenders are upfield playing alongside the forwards. David has the character to pick himself up again.
Rüdiger keeps getting better and better, and Militão (out injured) - do you think they are the best center backs for Madrid?
It’s not easy to play for Madrid - playing two or three years in a row there is difficult. That’s why if we think about Pepe or Ramos, who have won everything and have played there for 10 years, it is because they are of another level.
What do you think of Bellingham?
He is the fittest player in the world. He is the player who has integrated best and fastest into a team. He’s been really impressive. It has been surprising for me. When that guy entered the locker room, he banged on the table saying, ‘Here I am, I’m in charge here’. He’s made a huge impact.
See you later at the Bernabéu!
Of course, I’m really excited.