This is the unabridged version of “Football legends in Manila: Fabio Cannavaro and Dennis Wise,” an article I wrote for Philippine Star Supreme last Saturday, August 24, 2013.
Our nation was starstruck when David Beckham paid a visit back in December 2011. Such a syndrome was marked by fainting spells, giggles for the ladies, silent shrieks for the males (or when no one was looking) and perhaps the inception of the selfies. That moment was considered sublime in Philippine history, and who would have thought that the day would come when that would be challenged? That’s right, two more legends of the ball, Fabio Cannavaro and Dennis Wise, have landed in the Philippines and are ready to have us shed more tears as they participate in the Clear Dream Match. Whether you’re a football fan or not—it doesn’t matter—these men can show anyone why they are legendary.
Legend 1: Fabio Cannavaro. Born in Naples, Italy (the home of pizza!), Cannavaro will forever be remembered for being Italy’s captain in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, where the Azzurri won their fourth World Cup title. Next to olive oil, Fabio is perhaps a household name in Italy. In the same year, Cannavaro, “the Berlin Wall,” was named FIFA World Player of the Year ahead of Zinédine Zidane. A heartthrob and a football icon, Cannavaro’s achievements and remarkable playing career—he played for Napoli, Parma, Inter Milan, Juventus, and Real Madrid—have made him one of the greatest defenders of his generation. Naming a pizza after him is in order!
Legend 2: Dennis Wise. A recognized name in English football history, Wise is undoubtedly a Chelsea FC legend—with over 400 appearances!—known for being the club’s most successful captain before John Terry surpassed his record. During his 11-year spell, he was able to lift the FA Cup twice and was voted Chelsea Player of the Year twice. The former midfielder also represented England for 10 years and played in the Euro 2000. He eventually delved into the management side of football when he played at Milwall, where he had a player-manager role. Talk about making a career out of football—now that’s a wise choice! Younghusbands, step aside, we have a Chelsea legend in our midst.
I asked them stuff about the Philippines and football, and it would seem that some legends are actually true—and it just gets better—since a good number of Pinoys will get to see them play on the University of Makati pitch. Cannavaro and Wise may be in the country for a short time but we are glad that they have swept the country with a stronger turbulence—beat that habagat—with their legendary presence and inspirational stories that will make every young Filipino want to be a football pro.
WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THE PHILIPPINES BEFORE COMING HERE?
FABIO CANNAVARO: Um, nice country, nice island, nice vacation, friendly people, good food, too many nice things.
DENNIS WISE: To be honest, lots about the Philippines… Obviously, James and Phil, I’ve heard about them. Not too much about the football side of it. But I think what these two guys have done to develop football, help and promote it, is fantastic
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF THE COUNTRY AND THE PEOPLE?
FABIO: A lot of rain. (Laughs.) The time. But I hope and wish to come back next season maybe.
DENNIS: The people are lovely. They really are. Obviously since I’ve come here it hasn’t stopped raining. It’s a bit like England, to be honest, so no different. But no, it’s a nice environment. I’m looking forward to training and enjoying the football side of it, which is good, and hopefully we get the result.
DO YOU KNOW ANY TAGALOG WORDS ALREADY?
ME: None yet? I practiced my Italian for this moment. Tell me if this is right: Voglio piangere perchè sono felice. (“I want to cry because I’m happy.”)
ME: It’s true. I am a fan!
FABIO: (Laughs.) Good!
DENNIS: No, I don’t, but you can teach me.
ME: Phil will teach you. I’m sure he has mastered it!
LET’S TALK ABOUT FOOTBALL. HAVE YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO BECOME A FOOTBALLER?
DENNIS: Yes, from day one.
IF YOU DIDN’T PURSUE A CAREER IN FOOTBALL, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING TODAY?
DENNIS: I really don’t know. I really don’t know.
FABIO: I don’t know, really, because all my life I think about football.
ME: Not even making pizzas for a living?
FABIO: No, no, maybe you, you! (Laughs.)
ME: I wish! If I were born in Italy… Like you, you!
FABIO: No, all my life I think about football.
WHAT IS THE SECRET TO YOUR SUCCESS AS FOOTBALL PLAYERS?
FABIO: To be professional. (James Younghusband butts in: “Our favorite word.”) It’s the key to success. If you want to be good players, you need to work and improve your body and performance to be a professional.
DENNIS: I think I have great desire. That was, I think, the main part. And I would go out and practice and practice and practice.
WHO WOULD BE THE TOUGHEST PLAYER YOU’VE EVER FACED IN YOUR ENTIRE FOOTBALL CAREER?
FABIO: Ronaldo, the Brazilian player!
ME: True! I would say that too if I were a professional footballer.
DENNIS: I think it was Patrick Vieira who was probably the toughest. Very powerful. Strong. Difficult to play against. We had some good tussles over the years, me and Patrick. But also off the field, he is a really nice guy.
WHAT IS THE MOST TOUCHING OR MOVING THING A FAN HAS EVER DONE TO YOU?
FABIO: Too many but it’s better not to tell. (Laughs.)
DENNIS: Wow. You got me there. I’ve never ever been asked that question before.
ME: You can just come up with something now. Like a fan interviewing you. That is touching.
DENNIS: This. A fan interviewing me. Fantastic. Thank you for that!
LET’S MOVE ON TO PHILIPPINE FOOTBALL. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE PHILIPPINE NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM, A.K.A. THE AZKALS?
JAMES YOUNGHUSBAND ANSWERS FOR FABIO: He’s not familiar, but he’s gonna watch them in the future.
DENNIS: Obviously it needs to improve. A lot. These guys [Phil and James] are helping it as much as they can. I think the federation needs to help the situation because it needs to work from below. The grassroots needs to improve and that takes time.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG PEOPLE? I’M SURE THERE ARE A LOT OF KIDS ASPIRING TO BE GREAT FOOTBALLERS.
FABIO: To follow their dreams and to be happy with football. Because it’s magic. You can be professional players, but you need to enjoy football.
DENNIS: I think they need to practice and give themselves every opportunity to improve. And I think if they do that, and work hard at everything, and give it your best, and if you give your best, you give yourself every chance of succeeding.