Dubai, Jul 9: Italian football great Fabio Cannavaro announced his retirement from football on Saturday, five years to the day after captaining his country to the 2006 World Cup title.
The 38-year-old Cannavaro said medical checkups in Italy in June and earlier this month revealed his right knee would not hold up for the second and last year of his contract with Dubai club Al Alhi.
"I'm very sad. Football is everything for me in my life," Cannavaro said. "It's not a simple thing. Everyone says it has to come. But when it comes, it's a decision you have to face. I came back to Dubai to continue training. Unfortunately, the medical examiner didn't permit me to continue."
Cannavaro is the only defender to be voted FIFA world player of the year, winning in 2006 after Italy conceded only two goals at the World Cup. He played in four World Cups in a 19-year professional career, and holds the Italian record with 136 international appearances.
Cannavaro, who served as a ballboy in host Italy's 1990 World Cup loss to Argentina, made a name for himself with Parma between 1995 and 2002, helping the central Italian club to the 1999 UEFA Cup title.
Along with Azzurri teammates Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta, he was a member of Italy's golden age of defenders. Short in stature for a center back at 1.77 meters (5-foot-9½), Cannavaro was an excellent man-marker and composed in possession.
At his first World Cup in 1998 he was an understudy to Giuseppe Bergomi, a member of Italy's squad that won the 1982 World Cup.
Cannavaro had a tough act to follow when he took over as captain from Maldini after the 2002 World Cup. He won the team over, though, with his ever-present smile and laid-back Neapolitan approach.
He played superbly in all seven matches at the 2006 World Cup and was added the Golden Ball award to go with his FIFA prize as the best player. The photo of Cannavaro holding the trophy aloft became the defining image of the tournament.
He retired from international football after Italy failed to progress out of the group stage at the 2010 World Cup.
During that tournament, Cannavaro often appeared a step too slow and was responsible in part for the two goals Italy allowed, against Paraguay and New Zealand. His disappointing performance followed on the heels of a final season at Juventus in which he often appeared past his prime.
But even after that disappointment, Cannavaro chose to focus on the positives of his sparkling career by saying "what we did in 2006 can never be erased."
Cannavaro signed with Al Ahli last year after Juve wouldn't extend his contract. He also played for Real Madrid and Inter Milan.
He is one biggest stars to play in the United Arab Emirates, but his presence did little to help Al Ahli. The 2009 champions finished eighth last season, with Cannavaro injured for the last seven games of the campaign.
Speculation had been rife in the media that he was set to quit. But until Saturday, Cannavaro and Al Ahli had both denied he would retire, with the player saying in June he expected to return next season.
In late June, however, Al Ahli said it was signing Chilean playmaker Luis Jiminez, giving the club five foreign players and putting it above the league cap, which allows one foreigner from Asia and three from the rest of the world.
Al Ahli president Abdullah al-Naboodah said he is happy Cannavaro will stay at the club as a technical adviser for the next three years.
"Nineteen years of experience will definitely benefit the club," al-Naboodah said. "Fabio is a World Cup winner and played at the highest level in Europe. All that on his CV will benefit us at Al Alhi.
"I always said Fabio is one of best assets that club has ever got in terms of professionalism, in terms of attitude, in terms of teaching younger generation. Everything he brought to this club still remains. He has been great for the club." AP