Lanzafame: My autobiographic would be like a rollercoaster, but with a happy ending
Davide Lanzafame announced his retirement on February 9 at the age of 35. The Italian footballer, who was in Juventus' youth team and won the Hungarian League with Budapest Honvéd and Ferencváros, gave Nemzeti Sport an exclusive interview where he talked about his highs and lows and the new chapter in his life.
|Davide Lanzafame said goodbye to football in an emotional letter (Photo: Csaba Dömötör)|
– You left the stage in style: you made it public on your 35th birthday that you'll stop playing football.
– I decided it that day finally. I planned to play for another year if not more. I started well at Vicenza, I was in the starting line up in the first two league matches, and I scored a goal against Empoli at the cup match. However, the feat ended because I suffered a severe muscle injury, and I couldn't step on the pitch in the fall season. I was ready to play in January, but the managers indicated that they would like to give youngsters a chance to play. I accepted the situation and ended our contract by mutual agreement. Then I received three opportunities in the following weeks – two in Italy and one in Hungary. Although it was an honor that they thought of me, I didn't feel that I should accept any of them at all costs... because my motivation was subdued. A player needs to know when he has to say, „Thank you, that's it.” And that moment was in the morning on my birthday.
– You said goodbye to football in an emotional letter. Was it difficult to write?
– Very! I was excited and sad at the same time. It's no secret that I wrote the letter two weeks before the announcement. I poured myself a glass of wine in the evening, grabbed a pen and paper, and started writing... When I finished, I put it in the drawer, and I didn't know when I'll take it out. Then, I took it out on February 9 and when I read it again, I cried. I realized after the last sentence that a long chapter of my life had ended forever. I felt and still feel that I can be proud of what I've achieved. As I wrote in the letter, I fell multiple times but stood up again and again. For this, I needed my wife by my side and my three daughters to hold my hand. I wouldn't have been able to do so without them. Just like I've done, I'll continue to do everything for their happiness.
|„We first met a long time ago. You have been a part of me since I was a child. You gave me the chance to become a man, travel to many places, and meet different people and cultures. You made me feel great joy and excitement, but I also fell and cried because of you. You were more than just a sport. I owe you respect, and even more today than in the past because I feel I can say goodbye to you at the age of 35. This was a journey that I'll never forget. I needed to be brave to make this decision, but my happiness that I could be a part of you is bigger. It is my duty to say thanks to my parents, sibling, wife, and daughters who were supporting me which was not always easy. They were incredible to me. Finally, thank you, Italian football, that I can love you this much. You'll always be a part of my life.|
– When you poured that wine, were you already aware of what you would do after you finished your career?
– I thought a lot about what the best solution would be. I talked to those closest to me, and finally, I concluded that I am starting a sports agency with my good friend Dániel Mészáros. We have already taken the first steps: Dani works as an executive, and I am responsible for the professional part. We run the company from Hungary, and we're moving back to Budapest with my family in the summer. It certainly won't be easy at first, but I'm not the type who gets scared easily. Life is full of challenges, and I think now is the time to embark on this adventure. I could have felt sorry for myself that my career was over, but it wouldn't be me. I'm a man who keeps looking ahead. I know best that I've made mistakes in my life, but I've tried to learn from them. If I can't improve as a player from now on, I'll try as a man. I can promise you that I'll try to be calmer than I was as a football player... I am positive and ready, and I believe that what we have started can help many. That's why I'm not bitter about the retirement. Furthermore, when I said it was over, I had three offers on my desk, so if I really wanted to, I could have continued. If I had to say goodbye to football without anyone wanting to see me on the field anymore, it would have taken a toll on me.
– You grew up at Juventus, wore the black and white shirt in Serie A, won everything you could in Hungary, but were banned from football for 16 months for your involvement in the 2008-2009 match-fixing scandal in Italy, and although you obviously did not look for conflicts, there were one or two in your career...
– There's no doubt I've had my ups and downs. I have decades of emotions behind me. As for my ban, I have acknowledged my responsibility. I was young, Juventus loaned me to Bari, and I was away from my parents for the first time. I didn't dare to defy the will of the dressing room, all I could do was make sure that, after I realized that my team was not playing to win, I asked to be off the pitch after pretending to be injured. At the age of 35, I see everything differently than I did when I was 20. I wasn't strong enough then, and I paid the price. I'm sure fate gave me a lesson or two... But also a new chance that I had to take... for example, when I returned to Kispest in 2016. I will never forget that I was able to practically start my life over again.
As you can read on the agency's official website, focusongoalagency.com, Davide Lanzafame will act as an owner and senior player scout in the future. The company is not only engaged in the search for talented footballers but also with their long-term representation – also off the pitch. Guidance on a healthy lifestyle is just as important as legal and financial advice, personal branding, or even planning a life after a sports career.
– How did you have the strength to climb back from the pit several times?
– I was driven by defiance and pride. When you fall to the floor, you realize that those you thought were your friends turned away from you — with a few exceptions. No one will stay by your side, only your loved ones. For me, my parents and my wife were huge support. I also made mistakes in my personal life when they weren't with me. That's why I believe that if our family sticks together, there's no problem we can't solve.
– Can you draw from the good and bad that you have experienced as a footballer in your new role?
– I'm convinced that I do. I consider it one of my most important tasks to find players who can become valuable to Hungarian football first and then international. I have some idea of what is most lacking in most talents: character and extra motivation. I must add, in most countries, there is a problem with young people. Italians, for example, hardly want to get out of their comfort zone, and if they go abroad, they find it difficult to adapt. In addition to Italy and Hungary, I also played in Turkey, and although my six months at Adana Demirspor cannot be called a success story, that period was definitely a good time to get to know another country, another culture and to broaden my horizons. Not to mention that I've expanded my professional relationships, which I can also use in the future. In short: I can help others with what I have gone through and what I have experienced.
As temperamental Italian men, they fought their own battles. However, this was necessary to celebrate the league title victory with Honvéd and to develop a close relationship between them in time.
I have a good relationship with Davide, but I can talk about him without being biased," – told Marco Rossi, who led Kispest to the league victory in 2017 and who has been the Hungarian national team's head coach for four years. – I came to Hungary 10 years ago, and many legionnaires have come to NB I since then. I think two footballers stood out among them: Leonardo and Davide who play in Ferencváros. There's nothing wrong with the knowledge of those who grew up at Juventus, who played for several teams in Serie A as his case proves. However, it was a problem that it soon became clear that since he has a strong personality, it is not easy to deal with him. In such a case, the coach also needs to become a psychologist; he cannot ignore the fact that the footballer is not a robot either. It is also the job of the coach to understand his player, form an honest relationship with him and support him if necessary. Many people think it's easy for footballers because they just have to train and play, but they also have a life off-pitch where there can be problems. My situation was made easier by the excellent atmosphere in Honvéd's dressing room. There were several leaders on the team, and Davide was able to do anything for the victory. In hindsight, as much as we helped him, he helped the team just as much – we would hardly have been champions without him. He had a good career, and as far as his future is concerned, we talked a few times about what he should do. A lot of players have a problem when they retire as they don't know what to do next. This danger does not exist for him: in his new job, he can use not only his excellent network of contacts but also his understanding of football, which means he immediately sees who has talent in them. While I wish him good luck, I would recommend that he also try the coaching profession, because it will only make him worth more. He can even learn what it's like to deal with a "difficult" player..."
– Who helped you the most during your career?
– Marco Rossi. I could write a book about our relationship... I once said that I considered him my second father, and I still do. If anyone could deal with me, it was him. We have similar personalities: he listens to his instincts just like I do, the difference is that he has 20 years more experience... Marco and his assistant Cosimo Inguscio are my two best Italian friends in football, and I can turn to them at any time. Of course, I'm not saying this to flatter them. On the one hand, they do not need it, and on the other hand, I was never one of the sycophants.
– If I say you scored the most important goal of your career on April 29, 2017, against Gyirmót, do you agree?
– It wasn't my most beautiful goal, but the fact that it was worth a lot is beyond doubt. If we didn't beat Gyirmót that day, we might not have won the league either. It was a dramatic game, we failed a series of opportunities, and the referee didn't give us two of our goals, but in the 95th minute, I headed the ball under the crossbar. That success gave us tremendous strength, we felt that no one could take the gold medal away from us anymore. So, yes, that was one of my most important goals, but I remember that with Parma, we won 3-2 as Juventus' guest in a way that I scored two goals for Gianluigi Buffon. I will also not forget that as a player of Ferencváros, I scored twice in the derby against Újpest, and both goals were valid (although one of them was made offside, yet they gave it to them... There was no VAR at the time.) My time at Fradi was a success. Even if it didn't last long, it was a wonderful part of my career.
– The fans of Kispest probably think differently about this...
– I understood that they were upset because I had signed from Honvéd to Fradi, and I also accepted that this was a misdemeanor in their eyes. But do you know what I say? It is better to leave somewhere by earning the wrath of some than by indifferently accepting my departure. If my transfer hadn't left any emotion on them, it would have meant that I didn't put anything on the table, that I didn't leave fans any trace.
– If you had to decide today whether to replace the red and black jersey with a green and white one, would you do the same?
– There is no need to think about this. What happened can't be changed. As I have already indicated, there are one or two events in my life that I see differently today than in my early 20s, but at 35, I can't think the way I'm going to think when I'm 50 years old. It would be the easiest to say now that I would have acted differently in this or that situation. I always took responsibility for what I did. I never hid my opinion. I was not a diplomatic figure, I talked about good as well as bad things, even if they had consequences. I always tell young people that the mistakes are in the cards, and the biggest problem is not if you make a mistake, but if you don't try to fix it. The impossible almost does not exist. This is supported by what happened to my idol, former Formula One driver Alex Zanardi. After losing both his legs in a collision, he did not give up, he did not turn inward – he became a Paralympic champion. Life later put him in a serious ordeal: another serious accident left him in a life-threatening condition. There was also a way back for him from there, and the will that drives him is amazing. Thousands of healthy people could take an example of him. It's fantastic what he's doing. His case proves that you can't change your past, but you can change your future.
|Davide Lanzafame became the top goal scorer again in Fradi after Honvéd (Photo: Hédi Tumbász)|
– At that time, I would've thought it unimaginable that I would ever play football in Hungary. But life is unpredictable. Overall, I look back on my career with satisfaction, even if it could have been better. Perhaps the expectations placed on me were exaggerated... I did less of what a lot of people expected me to do but it doesn't weigh on me – I'm proud of what I can show as a footballer... as well as the fact that I have proven many times that Davide Lanzafame cannot be written off! I had the strength to climb out of the pit, while, some footballers, unfortunately, did not succeed. The mirror never lies. When you look in it, you see who you are. When you're on top, you see everything as beautiful and good; success, money, and glamour accompany you, but I've never heard of a footballer who's been at the top uninterrupted. When you fall into a pit, that's when you really find out what power lies within you and who you can count on. It's all dark down there, and if you don't get back on your feet quickly, you're lost. The reason why we can talk about this now is that I didn't get lost.– If you could give young talents a piece of advice, what would it be?
– There is no advice that works for everyone. The important thing is that we always have to talk to them honestly, and if they are intelligent, they'll understand why. This is the route I chose at Honvéd: I applauded them, but I also criticized them if that was appropriate. Some accepted it while some didn't. Personally, I accepted it when Alessandro Del Piero, Gianluigi Buffon, or Giorgio Chiellini told me, “Look, Lanza, this isn't good, but if you do it like this and that, it could work...” We want to pave the way for players who want to keep improving. I also became a champion and top scorer twice because I was not satisfied with just the first success. If I scored a goal, I was happy, if we won, even more so, but I was so driven the next day to score in the upcoming game and win again. By replacing the football jersey with a shirt and jacket, I will actually start my career again from scratch. The challenge is big, but I am ready to get to the top of the best in this area as well. I think what Dani and I imagined is good, we can also help Hungarian football a lot with it. Though that what I think matters less in this case. It's more about whether we can make our ideas come true. It will not be up to me as I will do anything for this project with all my strength.
– If a movie about your 35 years of life were to be made, would you watch it?
– Of course! It would be a dramatic piece full of joy, sadness, success, and failures. Up once, then down once – the movie would be like a rollercoaster, but it would have a happy ending. I would want to play the main role, but I feel I wouldn't be the number one nominee to win the Oscar.
Translated by: Vanda Orosz.