Calcio Champion: Andrea Fortunato

Andrea Fortunato was labelled by some as the 'new Antonio Cabrini' before his career and life was cut tragically short...
Andrea Fortunato was one of Italy’s most promising prospects in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. The emerging young talent enjoyed a successful yet very short spell in Italian football before tragedy struck. He started his career in 1988 as a left-back with Como at the age of just 17. The star from Salerno played 16 times in his first season with the Lariani, who were relegated to Serie C1. It was here where he established himself, with his consistent performances throughout the season, catching the eye of the bigger clubs – most notably Genoa. It was the Ligurian side who signed Fortunato in 1991, but he was immediately loaned to Serie B side Pisa for the 1991-92 season.

After an impressive spell the full-back returned to the Grifoni to team up with Christian Panucci, who was another bright star impressing Coaches around the peninsula. In his first year in the top flight Fortunato did enough to grab the attention of Juventus boss Giovanni Trapattoni, who brought the star to La Vecchia Signora. The left-back was an instant hit in the famous No 3 black and white jersey which belonged to the great Antonio Cabrini during the 1980s.

Fortunato became famous for his endless running and fine left foot, which he would use to provide accurate crosses for the likes of Roberto Baggio and Gianluca Vialli. His most important attribute was that he loved being a team player, both on and off the pitch. His charm and great personality won the hearts of many, so much so that Arrigo Sacchi, the ex-Azzurri tactician, described him as “a revelation of Italian football” and called the Juve star to make his one and only international appearance against Estonia on September 22, 1993 in Tallinn. Fortunato took Paolo Maldini’s place and played alongside the legendary Franco Baresi in a game the Azzurri won 3-0. The left-back showed striking similarities to Maldini and he was in Sacchi’s plans for the 1994 World Cup.

However, in a sad twist of fate, the player suffered an unexplainable loss of form and was subsequently dropped from the Giro Azzurro after doctors announced that he had a rare form of leukaemia in May 1994. Yet after a bone marrow transplant he made a full recovery and was picked by Marcello Lippi for Juve’s clash with Sampdoria on February 22, 1995.

Everything seemed to be going well, but Fortunato caught pneumonia and was never able to recover – he passed away on April 25, 1995 on the eve of Italy’s game with Lithuania in Vilnius. The Azzurri won and dedicated the victory to him. Just before he died he had said: “I never thought passing a ball could be so great.” That season Lippi’s Juve went on to win their 23rd League title, which is known as Fortunato’s Scudetto. As well as the championship dedicated to him he also won the Italian Super Cup.

Salvatore Landolina