Sunday in Serie A was supposed to be a celebration, the ecstatic culmination of a weekend in which calcio’s top eight clubs faced each other and the wider world finally took notice of Italian football’s renaissance-in-progress.
Instead, we faced an emotional outpouring of another kind as the football world mourned the shocking death of Fiorentina central defender and captain Davide Astori in the Viola’s team hotel the night before their scheduled game with Udinese.
According to state officials in Udine, Astori suffered “cardiac arrest by natural causes” and was discovered after he did not attend the team breakfast Sunday morning. Goalkeeper Marco Sportiello was the last to see Astori alive, having played video games with him Saturday night.
Sunday’s lunchtime Serie A game between Cagliari, Astori’s former club, and Genoa was about to begin when the news broke. All Sunday games in both Serie A and Serie B were subsequently postponed.
A rock for Viola
Hailing from the municipality of San Giovanni Bianco, between Bergamo and the Swiss border, Astori joined the AC Milan youth academy from local club Pontisola.
He never featured for the Rossoneri first team and moved to Cagliari after a pair of seasons on loan in Serie C. Astori appeared 174 times over six seasons for the Sardinians, making his reputation as a reliable defender and stabilising locker room presence.
Several times rumoured to be on the move to bigger clubs across Europe, he spent the 2014-15 season on loan at Roma before moving on loan again to Fiorentina the following year.
Astori build a solid defensive partnership with Gonzalo Rodriguez and he replaced the Argentine as club captain for the 2017-18 season following Rodriguez’s departure.
The club, then entering a period of volatile roster turnover with a summer firesale that saw most of the previous season’s stars leave Florence, planned to build the next generation Viola around the foundational rock of Astori.
His professionalism and dedication to the life of a successful footballer were to be an invaluable asset to a club committed to building through youth development.
Never a superstar, always a friend
Never quite considered a superstar-level player, Astori nevertheless made 14 appearances for the Azzurri.
His popularity among his squadmates made him a valuable tournament commodity for international managers. Astori scored his only Azzurri goal against Uruguay in the third-place match of the 2013 Confederations Cup.
The universally distraught reactions of former coaches and teammates serves to highlight the quality of the man.
Ex-Viola fullback Manuel Pasqual spoke of “the good fortune, but above all the pleasure, of knowing you and being your friend,” while former Fiorentina defender Nenad Tomovic called Astori “one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met” and vowed to his friend “that we will meet again and have another glass of wine together.”
A truly good person
Most poignant, however, were the words of Astori’s Azzurri teammate, the legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. In a tribute to his fallen friend, Buffon wrote:
"I rarely publicly express my thoughts on person, because I always allow for the beauty and unique nature of relations, of reciprocal respect and affection, to avoid being used or misused by those who lack the decency to respect certain bonds. In your case, I feel the need to make an exception, because you have a young wife and family who are suffering, but above all a little girl, who deserves to know that her father was in every way A GOOD PERSON… A TRULY GOOD PERSON."
"You were the best expression of an old-fashioned world, one that people have left behind, with values like altruism, elegance, politeness, and respect toward others. My sincere compliments, you were one of the best sporting figures I ever came up against. R.I.P., Your crazy Gigi."
The tragedy of a premature end
The stories already told by those who knew him best reinforce the tragedy of not only a premature end to an already accomplished life but the certainty that both on and off the football pitch this was a man with so much more to give the world.
The shock of Astori’s passing will never be forgotten by those of us who felt it so keenly but neither should we lose our memories of a passionate and skilled footballer, a beloved friend and teammate, and most of all an exemplary man who lived his public life in a cynical world as a fine example of how to be good.
Davide Astori is survived by his wife Francesca and two-year-old daughter Vittoria.
Ciao capitano, riposa in pace. We mourn. We remember.