For every professional footballer, there is perhaps no bigger honour in the sport than having the chance to captain your country. Not only did Italy's Fabio Cannavaro realise that dream, he lifted the World Cup for the European nation on home soil in 2006.
Central defenders under 6ft are rare, especially at the top level of professional football. Cannavaro grew to just 5ft 9ins, but will forever be remembered as one of the finest in the history of the sport.
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It was on this day in September 1973 that the Italian was born to parents Gelsomina Costanzo and Pasquale Cannavaro in Naples, and it did not take long for the city's biggest team to realise the youngster's potential.
First acting as a ball boy at Napoli, Cannavaro joined the youth-team set-up in 1988 and fast gained a reputation as a tough-tackling defender when he launched into a strong challenge with a certain Diego Maradona during a training session. The defender made his first-team debut for Napoli in 1993, but he somewhat surprisingly spent just three seasons in Naples, eventually moving onto Parma in 1995.
Cannavaro was quickly handed the captaincy at Parma and went on to win four major trophies at the club – the UEFA Cup in the 1998-99 season, the Coppa Italia twice and the Supercoppa Italiana. In his time with Parma, Cannavaro made over 250 appearances in all competitions. Inter Milan came calling with a big-money offer in 2002, and the defender signed a four-year deal at the San Siro.
Inter did reach the semi-finals of the 2002-03 Champions League during Cannavaro's time at the club, but it was not the most successful period of the centre-back's career. After a two-year stint at Inter, Juventus signed the Italian on transfer deadline day in 2004. He made 74 league appearances for Juve between 2004 and 2006, before leaving following their relegation to Serie B.
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Cannavaro did win two league titles during his first stint at Juve, but the Italian giants were stripped of those championships following the 2006 scandal. Cannavaro was part of one of the biggest exoduses in modern-day football, with the likes of Lillian Thuram, Gianluca Zambrotta, Patrick Viera and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all leaving the club.
As a result, Cannavaro followed Fabio Capello to Real Madrid in the summer of 2006. The Italian international won consecutive league titles in each of his first two seasons at the Bernabeu, in addition to the Spanish Super Cup. He made close to 100 league appearances for the Spanish giants over three seasons, before returning to Juventus for one season in 2009.
It was not exactly the perfect home-coming for Cannavaro, whose relationship with the Juve supporters was strained following his decision to depart three years earlier. He spent just one campaign back in Turin – when Juve placed seventh in Serie A, their worst league finish for a decade - before moving to UAE Football League side Al-Ahli on a free transfer.
Cannavaro signed a two-year deal with Al-Ahli, but was forced to retire in July 2011 due to a serious knee problem. It was a disappointing last few seasons for the centre-back, but there is little doubting that his performances for Parma and Juventus, the first time around, made him one of the finest centre-backs in the sport.
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Internationally Cannavarro also enjoyed great success – representing Italy on 136 occasions. Under Marcello Lippi, Cannavaro captained his country to the 2006 World Cup title. He played every minute of every match in the tournament in Italy and was awarded the 2006 Ballon d'Or and the 2006 World Player of the Year for his performances throughout the season and at the World Cup.
Twice named the Serie A Defender of the Year, Cannavaro, now fast approaching 42, has since entered into the world of management – taking charge of Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande in November 2014. The Italian lasted barely seven months at the helm, however, after being replaced by Luiz Felipe Scolari.
A young man that came from a modest upbringing in Naples went on to represent the likes of Juventus and Real Madrid during an eventful career. In the modern day, success as a central defender seems to be judged on size and power, but Cannavaro showed that understanding of the game is perhaps the most important attribute at the back.