MILAN, December 13, 2017 - It was a night of glamour, glory and mixed feelings on Tuesday as Italy’s famous La Gazzetta dello Sport organized its annual Awards honoring the best sporting feats of the year. The stars of the night were Francesco Totti who was honored with the Legend 2017 Award, national team keeper Gianluigi Buffon was named Male Athlete of the Year and reveled how he turned from striker to keeper at the age of 13. The focus on football however left much room for analysis on Italy’s absence from the 2018 FIFA World Cup, that neither Buffon nor Totti shied away from discussing.
A rising star in the international ski slopes, Sofia Goggia was named Female Athlete of the year, while Spain’s Alberto Contador was also named Legend of 2017, for his years of success in the Italian Giro race.
‘The Emperor of Rome’
The first award of the night was presented to Francesco Totti as Gazzetta’s Legend 2017. Totti, the fan-proclaimed ‘Emperor of Rome’ ended his 25-year career with Roma in an emotional goodbye in May 2017 was became a member of Gazzetta’s Hall of Fame, that includes a number of national and international greats. The award was presented to him by Urbano Cairo, president of RCS Media Group, the parent company of Gazzetta dello Sport. Cairo is also the president of Torino FC and the owner of TV channel ‘La 7’.
After the audience and Totti himself were reminded of some of his most memorable moments for club and country, the presenters revealed that Totti had scored the most goals in his career against Gianluigi Buffon – cue Buffon, who had not been officially confirmed for the event, standing up from the audience.
“I didn’t know that I had scored the most goals against Gigi – it’s strange really, since he’s the best goalkeeper Italy has had,” Totti said in his typical Roman deadpan humor. “Then again, the two of us started out in 1993 in Italy’s U-15 and have gone through the ranks together, so maybe it does make sense. Sorry Gigi.”
Totti was also honored for his contribution to Italian sport by Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) President Giovanni Malago. Asked if he could ever see himself as CONI President, Totti gave a dry no.
Gazzetta showed that they were keeping up with the media game by incorporating athletes’ social media profiles in the awards. Totti was reminded of the time he tried a Ducati motor for size and shared the adventure on Twitter. This was cue for Italian Ducati racer Andrea Dovizioso to stand up from the audience.
“[Totti] is one of Italian football’s greatest legends, but would he make it MotoGP? Maybe his calves are a little too big for a Ducati motor,” Dovizioso said with a smile.
Athlete of the Year
There was no question that Gianluigi Buffon would be named the Best athlete of the Year, an award that honored the legendary goalkeeper for his 25-year (and counting) contribution to Juventus and Italian football. It was sure to be only a consolation though, with the real honor only being to take his team to the World Cup in 2018.
Italy’s failure to make it to Russia was as much a topic of the night as the personal success of its athletes was, also highlighted by the fact that a new generation to match the likes of Totti and Buffon, Maldini and Zanetti was yet to be found.
The Gazetta dello Sport cover featured was the one after Italy’s loss, with Buffon himself pictured, head in hands and an ominous FINE (The End) across the page.
The foreign cover Gazzetta decided to share was Sweden’s Aftonbladet daily from the same morning, with MAMMA MIA splashed on the cover, with Abba’s hit helpfully playing in the background of the RAI studios in Milan where the Awards were held. If the first step is admitting that you have a problem, Italy seems to be on the right track, as Tuesday night’s event acknowledged the need for change and “no excuses”
Buffon, asked about his tears on the night said: “These were the tears of a man who is disillusioned, who as captain feels the responsibility of not being able to bring the unity and the joy of the World Cup to the Italian people.”
Another goalkeeping legend Iker Casillas was Buffon’s surprise of the evening, congratulating him on video for the award, and referencing his consolation tweet to Buffon after Italy’s exit from the world Cup that had gone viral.
The main sentiment that came from the night, wasn’t of just the feats of Italy and its greatest athletes, or World Cup wounds, it was the atmosphere of familiarity surrounding the evening. Gazzetta dello Sport had for years insisted it was more a ‘family’ business rather than a media conglomerate, and Tuesday night’s awards gave proof of that. Instead of star athletes being treated like VVIPs, whose presence is a bragging right, proof of the organizers’ pull, and is quick a photo op followed by an early exit. Upon receiving his Legend 2017 award, Francesco Totti was moved to tears as Gazzetta’s compilation featuring some of the most important moments of his career. Gigi Buffon was asked to tell the story of how he decided to become a goalkeeper.
“It was because of Cameroon’s goalkeeper Thomas N'Kono. At the 1990 World Cup opener at the San Siro, Cameroon beat Maradona’s Argentina, and as a young boy playing as a striker at the time, I was enchanted by this goalkeeper with the strange name – N’Kono.” After N’Kono’s feats, Buffon moved to goal, and years later, gave his eldest son the middle name Thomas. This time it was Buffon’s eyes to fill with tears as Thomas N’Kono appeared on stage to honor his great friend.
The ski queen
The winner of the Female athlete of 2017 was top Italian skier Sofia Goggia, of who much is expected at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics. Last season the 25-year old alpine racer won two gold medals and had another 11 podium finishes in the World Cup in four specialties - an absolute record for an Italian skier, male or female, and made it to the podium at the World Championships in St. Moritz in the new season with the bronze in giant slalom. Goggia was also the winner of the two PyeongChang 2018 test events earlier this year, in the Super-G and downhill races.
Italian swimming superstar Federica Pellegrini and the winner of last year’s Gazzetta Legend award, sent a message of congratulations. Her social media posts didn’t go unnoticed either as the audience was shown that the highlight of Sofia’s profiles weren’t her podium finishes but rather her dog Belle, who her parents bring to her competitions whenever they can.
Football as the theme of the night continued as Juventus won team of the year, after winning their sixth Serie A title in 2017, a new record in Italian football. The bianconeri also won their twelfth Coppa Italia making it their third league-cup double in a row. In Europe, Juve reached the Champions League final for the second time in three years. The award was accepted by Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, who himself confirmed that Italian football was in need of a complete reform.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us to get back to a sense of structure that could bring us to a World Cup title yet again. Tonight, I am here representing my club, and my family who has been a part of this club for so many decades, and I can express nothing but pride.” Agnelli is also the newly-elected President of the European Club Association (ECA) and a member of the UEFA Executive Committee.
The Gazzetta Award for the performance of the year went to Torino FC captain Andrea Belotti, who ended the 2016/17 season as the top Italian goal scorer, third overall behind Roma’s Edin Dzeko and Napoli’s Dries Mertens with a personal record of 26 goals in 35 games.
Coach of the year went to Atalanta’s Gian Piero Gasperini, who couldn’t accept the award in person as his team was playing Genoa in Serie A’s Tuesday night fixture. He did however record a thank you video that was shown after his team’s 2-1 win on the night. In the previous season, Gasperini led Atalanta to a historic fourth place in Serie A, behind only Juventus, Rome and Napoli – the club’s best result in Serie A that brought them a return to European football after 26 years. They ended the championship with 72 points, while just the season before they had ended with 45, and in 13th place.
The Paralympic Athlete of the Year award went to Italy’s female deaf volleyball team, silver medalists at the 2017 Deaflympics in Samsun, Turkey. The team coach and two players came on stage to accept the award and to demonstrate the sign language chant they performed as a team ahead of every match that made them the stars of the tournament.
The Fair Play Award of the Year went to Italian golfer Matteo Mannassero, who had a particular story to tell. At the last round of the KLM Open in the Netherlands, the 24-year-old admitted to the referees that his golf-ball had grazed a patch of grass in a bunker, something only he had noticed, and that costed him 2 penalty shots and 10 places in the standings.
The Exploit of the Year went to MotoGP racer Andrea Dovizioso who had a fantastic year with Italian motorcycle team Ducati. Dovizioso was the surprise of recently finished MotoGP World Championship, where he had six victories in the season, making him the second most decorated Ducati driver of all time along with Loris Capirossi.
The evening ended with the another Legend 2017 award, this time awarded to a foreign athlete, but one Italians had very much adopted as their own – Spanish cycling great Alberto Contador, one of the most successful riders of his era, winning the Tour de France twice (2007, 2009), the Vuelta a Espańa three times (2008, 2012, 2014) and the local Gazzetta pride Giro d'Italia twice, in 2008 and in 2015.