Paddy Agnew’s Notes from Italy: Calcio rocked by death of Astori

Italian football was rocked on Sunday by the death of 31-year-old Fiorentina captain Davide Astori, who died in his sleep on Saturday night in the Fiorentina team hotel outside Udine, on the eve of Sunday’s intended Serie A fixture, Udinese v Fiorentina. As of now, there appears to be no medical explanation for his death prompting state investigators to call for an autopsy to be carried out on the player on Tuesday. 

Astori’s sudden death prompted huge distress in the Italian football community.   Within minutes of the news mid-morning on Sunday of his death, the Cagliari players, who at that moment were warming up for Sunday’s intended lunchtime kick-off game, namely Genoa v Cagliari, made it clear that they wanted their game to be postponed. 

The point here is that many of the Cagliari players knew Astori well because he spent six seasons with the Sardinian club, playing in 174 Serie A games for them.    Informed of the Cagliari players wishes, acting Serie A League commissioner, Giovanni Malago, immediately stepped in and cancelled the entire day’s Serie A programme, including an eagerly anticipated Sunday night Milan derby which now seems destined for a date much later in the season, perhaps early May. 

When Astori, who rooms alone when with the team, failed to show up at 09.30 breakfast on Sunday morning, his team-mates were surprised. When the player failed to respond to knocking on his door, hotel staff opened his room to find the player still in his bed but already dead.  Udine state investigator, Antonio de Nicolo, has opened an enquiry into the death of Astori, explaining: “We have instigated proceedings for manslaughter, at this stage against person or persons unknown, whilst we have ordered an autopsy be carried out.”

De Nicolo further explained that the autopsy will try to determine the cause of Astori’s death, ruling out the notion “that somebody might have given him something”,  a possibility which, at this stage, he described as a “pure abstraction”.   The investigator also confirmed that according to the state pathologist, Astori had most probably died peacefully in his sleep during the night, adding: “His room was absolutely in order. We found nothing which would suggest that this event was linked to the consumption of any substance that could have caused his death.   However, we are talking here about the death of a 31-year-old young man and  we will therefore carry out all the tests we can. He does not seem to have suffered, it is as if he died in his sleep. That makes it all the more inexplicable that something like this could happen to such a young person.”

Capped 14 times for Italy, a top flight player with Cagliari, Roma and finally Fiorentina, Astori was highly respected as a more than useful defender and a footballer who, off the field, eschewed polemics, flying way under the radar of football gossip and scandal. Astori leaves behind him his partner, Francesca Fioretti, and their two year old daughter, Vittoria.

 On his Facebook profile, he described himself as a “footballer by chance”, a description which says much about his self-irony and understated sense of self, notwithstanding an obviously highly successful, 11 year career in the top flight of Italian professional football.

Among the thousands of tributes to Astori that poured in on Sunday and Monday, perhaps one of the most significant came from Italy team captain, goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, who said: “You were the best expression of an older football world, one that has moved on but one that was based on altruism and elegance.”

Buffon’s words strike a chord because while Astori might not have been a media touted “world class champion”, he was still a very useful player whose football did the talking for him. All day Sunday and Monday, Fiorentina fans (and others) left flowers, wreaths, club shirts and club scarves outside the Franchi stadium in honour of a player described by some as “a footballer by chance, but a captain forever”.

The city of Florence has declared Thursday, the day of his funeral, a day of civic mourning whilst his body will lie in state on Wednesday at the Federation training centre of Coverciano, just outside Florence. Astori’s funeral will take place in the Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence on Thursday morning.