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Francesco Flachi: Former Sampdoria captain returns to football after a 12-year drug ban

Francesco Flachi scored 110 goals in 280 games for Sampdoria

At the beginning of 2007, Francesco Flachi and Sampdoria were well on their way to becoming a club legend. Captain, scorer of more than 100 goals and appointed for the first time by Italy.

But his life changed in the hours following a game against Inter Milan on January 28, 2007, when he tested positive for cocaine.

He was immediately suspended from all football activities and eventually banned for two years.

“At that very moment I lost everything,” Flachi told BBC Sport. “I was an idol in Genoa. I started the year with two goals and was recently called up to the national team.”

But in a way, that was just the beginning. Two years later, his entire career was over. Or so it seemed.

Tarnish his reputation

Flachi was no stranger to controversy.

A year earlier, in 2006, Flachi was charged with attempted match-fixing on the basis of phone tapping by third parties and was banned for two months. “I had nothing to do with it,” he says. “I never accepted this ban.”

He had overcome this flaw in his reputation and was busy cementing his place as one of the most gifted Italian number 10 of his generation. Flachi’s 110 goals for Sampdoria put him in third place on the club’s all-time goalscoring list, behind Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli.

His record would almost certainly have been higher if he hadn’t failed that drug test in 2007.

After the forced two-year absence, Flachi was offered a chance for redemption with Serie B teams Brescia and Empoli. But the events of the past few years have taken their toll. “I wasn’t the same person mentally and couldn’t avoid falling back into it,” he recalls.

And so in December 2009 Flachi tested positive for cocaine again. He was a repeat offender and received a 12-year suspension that ended his career at the highest level.

It seemed certain he wasn’t going to play anymore. But now, 12 years later, Flachi is preparing for an unlikely comeback.

“I want to pass on what I’ve thrown away”

While he could not play, Flachi unofficially coached the local team Bagno a Ripoli and won championship and cup titles. He also coached Signa’s youth teams in 1914 and has been giving one-to-one football technique lessons to 50 children since the outbreak of the pandemic.

It is in the fifth league Signa in 1914 that he will return as a player at the age of 46 when his suspension ends in January after being teased by his friend – and club president – Andrea Ballerini.

“I’m very excited because the date is getting closer,” says Flachi. “It all started as a joke, but then it got more serious. I already helped with Signa in 1914 and helped in the youth sector.

“Andrea started to provoke me: ‘You can no longer play, you are too old.’ live for the emotions that I had missed so much.

“I’m training now and the sensations are similar to what I’ve felt as a real player. Exposure and pressure are different, but some football dynamics, like life in the dressing room, are the same at all levels.”

“I know I made a mistake and was punished for it. I also know that I’m not as fast as I used to be, but I can do my part and help these guys believe in themselves. Me also want them to understand how beautiful “football is. You cannot afford to lose what I threw away. “

“In the beginning, watching football would make me sick”

Francesco FlachiFlachi is mainly associated with Sampdoria but won Serie B and Coppa Italia with Fiorentina before moving to Genoa

The return to training and the prospect of playing again was an opportunity for Flachi to reflect on his decisions – and how his journey has turned out.

“You think of everything after such a shame,” he adds. “To a career that was thrown in the trash, your public image, the pain you caused your family. People didn’t react well at first, but over time I’ve proven that I understood my mistakes and most of them.” Rebuild relationships.

“At first I felt sick watching football, but then I rolled up my sleeves and slowly walked on. I opened two restaurants in Florence and spent my time serving food. Ever since it was known that I was going to play, I have Received so many calls and messages, proving that many people still love me.

“I’m not a victim – I made a mistake and don’t want others to go the same way. I get a lot of positive feedback from my coaching and this is important evidence that my commitment is valued and that parents trust me.

“It is too easy to judge from the outside. Anyone who knows me also knows who I am. I am 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. I want to do my part and show that I can play a role in football.”

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