By CESARE POLENGHI
Managing editor - Asia
Fabio Cannavaro spoke exclusively to Goal.comabout his commitment to street football and the development of football in Asia ahead of the first yearly Tiger Street Tournament, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
"I love street football," the 39-year-old said.
"This is how I started to play. When I was a kid in Naples I couldn't wait to get done with my homework, to rush down in the street and play with my friends. My brother Paolo was there too, and we played the most incredible games. We pretended to be famous players in famous clubs, and we had a great time - the best ever. In those days Napoli had a very strong team, and, like any other kid in town, I wanted to be like Diego Maradona."
"Street football is of course different from 11-a-side football, in a full-size pitch the distances are much bigger. A football ground is probably 50 times bigger than the one we made out of the street I played on as a kid, but by kicking a ball in the street, young players can learn a lot. Of course one improves his technique, but more than everything, in street football a player must be quick: think and play quick, which is a key-element of modern football."
From Napoli to the United Arab Emirates, how is Cannavaro living his role of ambassador of football in Asia?
"I feel good in this continent. I live in Dubai and I have traveled around the region a lot. I have been in several Arab countries, Singapore, Vietnam and this is my second time in Cambodia. I like visiting new places and I appreciate the cultures of Asia."
The 2006 World Champion then moved on talking about the level of the game in Asia.
"There are so many people and so many players here and of course there is huge potential. Asian people truly love football. The players here have good basic technique and are improving, though they still lack the physicality of European footballers."
"Many children start playing football in the street in Asia, as I did, and that's a good way to get it going, but the federations need to invest to help the young ones, and must provide them with the infrastructures needed to develop. With the onset of synthetic grounds, the issue with maintenance is now much simpler, so I hope that we will see better football fields across Asia."
"Events such as the Tiger Street Football greatly help the local scene to improve," continued the former Juventus and Real Madrid man.
"This is a lot of fun. It feels a bit like those tournaments played around towns in Italy where you round up a bunch of friends and make a team."
"I am grateful to Tiger for organising this and especially for picking me as an ambassador. I am here to help the event be successful as well as the development of football in Asia, and I am really enjoying myself," concluded Cannavaro.
After Cambodia, the Tiger Street Football tournament will move to Australia, while the third stop will be an exotic weekend in Mongolia.