Meet the 12-year-old Italian ex-drug-ban star – and now ready to play back
Francesco Flachi has already led Sampdoria to the UEFA Cup and was called up by Italy in 2007; 15 years later, he’s about to return to competition after passing 14 of those bans
Francesco Flachi went from hero to zero on the night of January 28, 2007.
Captain of Serie A team Sampdoria, with whom he had scored more than 100 goals, and a recent call-up for Italy, Flachi was at the peak of his career.
But then it all fell apart after he tested positive for cocaine and received a two-year ban; Sampdoria tears up its contract.
“I lost everything at this precise moment,” said Flachi. BBC Sport. “I was an idol in Genoa.
“I started the year with two goals and had recently been called up by the national team as well.”
Although he was in his thirties at this point, Flachi was determined not to give up and trained with non-league club Pietrasanta before being drafted in June 2008 by Serie B’s Empoli and making his return the following January.
Over the summer he moved to Brescia and seemed to have come back to life in football, albeit not in the UEFA Cup with Sampdoria.
But just six months after arriving in Brescia, Flachi tested positive for cocaine again, this time receiving a 12-year ban.
For most players in their mid-30s, that would have marked the end of football.
But after having served the duration of his ban, Flachi is again ready to plunge back to 46, having signed for the Italian fifth level Signa 1914 outfits.
During his ban, he coached the youth teams of the non-league team and gave one-on-one sessions during the Covid pandemic.
Flachi will return to action in January 2022, 29 years after starting his professional career with Fiorentina, much to the astonishment of Signa 1914 president Andrea Ballerini.
“I am very excited because the date is approaching,” Flachi continued. “It all started out as a joke, but then we got more serious. I was already helping Signa 1914, helping out in the youth sector.
“Andrea started to provoke me: ‘You can’t play anymore, you are too old.’ I had not entered a real football field at 11 for 12 years, but I am a football man and I live for the emotions, which I had missed so much.
“I’m training now and the feelings are similar to what I felt as a real player. The exposure and the pressure are different, but some of the dynamics in football, like life in the locker room, are the same in all levels.
“I know I made a mistake and was punished for it. I also know I’m not as fast as I used to be, but I can do my part and help these guys believe in themselves. also that they understand how great football is. They can’t afford to lose what i threw away.
It’s not just football that Flachi focused on during his absence, opening up other business ventures, while dwelling on his mistakes.
“After such a disgrace, you think of everything,” he added. “Of a career thrown in the trash, of your public image, of the pain you have caused your family. People didn’t react well at first, but over time I have proven that I understand my mistakes. and that I could rebuild most relationships.
“At first watching football made me sick, but then I rolled up my sleeves and slowly moved on to other things. I opened two restaurants in Florence and spent my time serving food. Like we know I’m gonna play, I’ve gotten so many calls and messages, and that proves that a lot of people still love me.
“I am not a victim – I made a mistake and I don’t want others to follow the same path. I get a lot of positive feedback from my coaching and this is important proof that my dedication is appreciated and that parents trust me.
“It’s too easy to judge from the outside. Those who know me also know what I am. I’m the same person I was 20, 30 years ago, with my values.
“I know you can make mistakes and fall, but you can also get back on your feet. Life is full of unexpected events. What I want is to do my part and show that I can play a part. in football. “