Now 48 years old, Cannavaro says finishing his career in the Middle East was an easy decision. He loves the Dubai way of life, he says, ‘I will definitely stay several years more at this place. It’s a beautiful city, it’s safe and the weather is great.’
At the interview one of his friends is present to help with translations. Fabio speaks Spanish and Italian but I prefer to always be there at interviews with him’ he explains. ‘We have only 40 minutes for the interview. Come on.’ When inside, the only distinguishable words that can be heard from a conversation between Cannavaro and the interpreter are ones such as' Abu Dhabi ',' Ferrari’, 'Alonso' and 'disappointment'. They are talking about Formula 1.
Ten minutes later the former World Cup winning captain of the Italian football team and World Player of the Year in 2006 is confidently sitting in a large room full of chairs. Jehad is sitting next to him for the translation. ‘So let's start,’ Fabio says. It's the only English he speaks during the interview. He laughs when he's asked about his life in Dubai. How is he enjoying his fresh start in the desert? ‘Great,’ he says, ‘living here is great. Fantastico. My wife Daniela and my sons Christian and Andrea and daughter Martina love it here as well. We live on the Palm in a nice, spacious villa along the shore. My whole family loves the sea. I've got my boat. I love sailing. And I've got my jet-ski. I love jet-skiing! It's one of the most wonderful things in life to come to out of your house, pick up your jet-ski and speed over the water.’
In some ways life seems to be not so different from the life in Naples, Cannavaro's hometown. ‘I live close to the sea there as well,’ he explains. ‘You know, I own the place with the most spectacular view in the world. I'll show you.’ He grabs His iPhone and scrolls a little on the screen. ‘Look,’ he says. On the screen a picture of the sunny Bay of Naples appears. Sailing boats are serenely floating in the calm azure sea. Old Italian houses are dotted on the promenade around it. In the background you can see the old town and in the far distance what seems to be green hills.
‘You see?’ Cannavaro smiles, ‘I told you. It’s the best place on earth. I love the sea. Hey, I am from Naples, so with the sea in my backyard life isn't so different here. The quality of life is very high in Dubai. The lifestyle is great. To come here and have played for Al Ahli was not a financial choice as many people ask me. Yes, the clubs pay well here. As many clubs do at this level. But I chose Dubai for family reasons. I accepted Al Ahli's offer mainly because it was the best offer for me and my family. Daniela and I thought this would be a good place to raise our three kids for several years. The UAE is a nice country. Schools are fantastic. The level of education is high. There is an enormous variety of sports for kids to choose from. The malls are nice and there are plenty of restaurants and bars offering great dishes. The Italian food is very tasty here and it is always good to see and to know more cultures.’
‘Okay, okay, yes, Dubai is a very safe city compared to what you see in the rest of the world.’ Cannavaro seems to be a little irritated as he goes on. ‘But when in Naples, I had a great time growing up as a kid. I come from a normal family. My father worked as an employee at a bank. In his free time he played or watched football. He was even more addicted to the game then I was. Partly it's all because of him.’ Cannavaro laughs when he thinks of his parents. ‘My mother is a true Italian housewife, a great cook. She looked after me and my brother. As a real Italian lady she's very proud of her sons. They are everything to her.’
‘You know, people always speak so negatively about Naples and I'm tired of this. I always ask myself when I hear people talking like that, have you ever been there yourself? When they hear 'Naples' they think 'Camorra'! But a normal person has nothing to do with this, certainly I never did. And believe me I know the city of Naples. I was raised there. I played football on the streets every single day. And to be on the streets of Naples as an Italian kid wasn't bad. Out there, I got streetwise. You always had to be a little faster, a bit smarter than the others. It made me a smarter person. And that helps you to improve your social tools. And believe me, in football when it comes to games you need your social tools. You need to be a little streetwise, to think a step ahead.’
‘So, coming back to the subject of Naples, I know what it is like to live there and believe me, it's good. The climate is great, the food is fantastic. People greet one another. The people of Naples are devoted to football. They are wonderful fans. They always supported me in an enormous way and I am grateful for this. I love my hometown and if I retire I will go back there to spend the rest of my life in my house with this spectacular view. No doubt about it.’
But before it's was time to quit his career, Cannavaro enjoyed playing at Al Ahli.
‘You know,’ he says, ‘It's been great, but very different. The whole atmosphere was so relaxed. The pace is a little slower compared to what I was used to in Italy and at Real Madrid. I like this, and I am happy to have played for Al Ahli as this is a new journey in my life and amazing to have ended my career as a professional player here. But there are some other jobs to do as well, there is another goal here. Clubs like Al Ahli are investing in football for the future. It's not only about winning games and playing football myself. Together we try to improve the standard of local football players in the UAE so that they can play in clubs around the world and become truly World class internationals. Here there is not so much pressure as in the leagues I've previously played in. I would like to help younger players achieve and I hope they can gain from my experience. Possibly this will help them win something important in the future. At the same time I am also very happy to have more free time than I used to have whilst playing for European clubs. Besides being a football player I am also a true family man. I love to be in the company of my wife and my three kids and here I am able to spend a lot of quality time with my family.’
So Cannavaro is enjoying a quieter life, but does he believe he will ever quit football completely? ‘Football is my life. It always has been,’ he says. ‘I always will be connected. In the future maybe it will be through scouting or training. A life without football is something I can't imagine myself to have. Even when I'm retired and return to Naples I will be involved with football in some capacity.’ The panoramic view on the bay of Naples will never be enough for the Italian international, he says. ‘I am 48 but I feel 10 years younger. I want to stay active in the world of football. I even still love playing. And I love to watch games.
‘A truly wonderful life’, he says again. After these words he leaves to head home. As he walks away from the interview, a group of Italian tourists notice him and are trying to take photos. This is nothing new to Cannavaro, he has been experiencing adulation like this throughout his whole career, especially in Italy where supporters passion for their heroes run high. ‘Fabio, Fabio!’ They shout.