The sad story of Italy’s brightest talent: Andrea Fortunato

Danny Ryan

April 25 is a tragic day in the Italian footballing calendar; it is one scarred with loss. In 1995, one of the country’s most promising youngsters was taken away, after losing a battle with leukaemia at just 23. The man in question was Andrea Fortunato, formerly of Juventus; a left-back who during his early years, had the footballing world at his feet.

The sky was the limit it seemed and many compared Fortunato to one Paolo Maldini, the AC Milan full-back who, if you ask most viewers of the game, would have in their greatest XI of all-time.

Fortunato bore many similarities to the Rossoneri legend; quick, dynamic, positionally astute, blessed with fantastic ball control and delivery from out wide.

Juventus was where he cemented his reputation, one solitary season that showed the rest of Europe what a true talent he was.

After making his debut in Serie B at just 17 with Como in 1988, Fortunato went from strength to strength and caught the attention of top flight side, Genoa.

He arrived at the club with a reputation for consistency but the Grifoni were not at all happy with his slightly arrogant attitude. In fact, they disliked the trait so much that he was sent out on loan in 1991 to another Serie B side, Pisa.

There, he continued his ascendency up the ladder, playing first-team football and reminding those around Italy of what a precocious talent he was. Genoa had seemingly done the right thing and he arrived back there a different man, one ready to team up with another up and coming talent, Christian Panucci.

The duo worked in tandem expertly, forging the crucial partnership which kept the club above the relegation places. Fortunato also managed to notch three goals in league action, not a bad return for a left-back – even Maldini would struggle to match that output in a single season.

Juventus managed to bring him to Turin in the summer of 1993, a smart move for a player being touted as a jewel in the Italian crown. The challenge of a higher standard of football did not faze him and he was an instant hit, a team player who regularly supplied the likes of Roberto Baggio and Gianluca Vialli with beautiful crosses.

Unsurprisingly, after a sensational first-half of the campaign with the Old Lady, Fortunato received his first call for national service. Sadly, it would be the only time the famous blue shirt would cover his torso. The Juve man filled in for Maldini in a game against Estonia, one which the Azzurri won 3-0.

The national manager at the time, Arrigo Sacchi, even had him in his plans for the 1994 World Cup, but before this could come to fruition, tragedy struck. Fortunato’s form dropped in the second-half of the season, the energy levels that had gained him such universal acclaim were simply not there.

No one was to know that a rare form of Leukemia was holding the youngster back and after the illness was discovered in May of 1994, Fortunato would never play again.

11 months of treatment could not help and on April 25, 1995,  the 23-year-old passed away in a Perugia hospital. Juventus claimed the Serie A title that year, labelling it ‘Fortunato’s Scudetto’, signing off a sad chapter in Italian football.

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