Bocelli: Football thrills and moves, unites and divides

The Best FIFA Football Awards

Andrea Bocelli
© Believe is out now on Sugar / Decca Records

  • Opera legend Andrea Bocelli opines on the world’s best player
  • He reminisces about Italy’s triumphs at Spain 1982 and Germany 2006
  • Bocelli discusses singing at Leicester City and You’ll never walk alone

A Tuscan kid grew up idolising men who could play football and entertain. There was a fullback whom watching was akin to riding a rollercoaster; a midfielder they called ‘The Architect’; a winger known as ‘God’s Left Foot’; a trequartista who remains one of the Italian game’s most exhilarating all-time performers; and a goalkeeper who admitted that, in his youth, he delayed diving just to experience the thrill of making a spectacular save.

Yet the latter wasn’t idolised for his hands. Luciano Pavarotti was reluctantly persuaded to abandon a potential career in between the posts to pursue one behind a mic. He duly became one of the greatest operatic tenors in history.

Andrea Bocelli, like his hero, grew up loving calcio and musica. He was diagnosed with congenital glaucoma at five months old and, at 12 years old, suffered an accident while playing in goal – the ball hit him in the eye – causing him to lose his sight permanently.

Bocelli has gone on to become one of the best-selling musical artists of all time, while his song with British soprano Sarah Brightman, Time to Say Goodbye, is one of the best-selling singles in history. All the while he has continued loving the beautiful game.

Before The Best FIFA Football Awards™, which you can watch live on FIFA.com from 19:00 CET, Bocelli chatted to us about all things football.

FIFA.com: Andrea, you’ve been an Inter Milan fan ever since you were at secondary school in the 1960s. Who were your idols and what first made you love the club?

I’ve always loved football since I was a young boy at boarding school, when I used to listen to Tutto il calcio minuto per minuto (All the football minute by minute) on a portable radio. It’s the great passion of all Italians, and you never grow out of it. It’s a way to remain a child, even at my age. When I first became a keen Inter supporter, the team was very strong and won everything. It was a fantastic squad that I can remember in detail, like all self-respecting Inter fans: Sarti, Burgnich, Facchetti, Bedin, Guarneri, Picchi, Jair, Mazzola, Domenghini, Suarez, Corso!

Following Inter is something you share with your family. Who are your favourite players in the current Inter squad?

Yes, I’ve passed this on to my two sons, Amos and Matteo, and I admit that I’m trying to do the same with my eight-year-old daughter, Virginia, although she doesn’t seem particularly interested. Supporting Inter in recent years has brought a lot of suffering, because it’s a team that always makes you suffer. The current squad has some great players that I really admire: Romelu Lukaku, for example, because he always puts his heart into his game, and Alessandro Bastoni, who’s also a friend, Stefan de Vrij and the new acquisition, Achraf Hakimi.

How do you find the atmosphere in a football stadium compared to that of a concert hall or arena when you’re performing? Does it spark different feelings in you?

The weight of responsibility is very different, since in the former situation, although it’s still very passionate, I’m just a fan, whereas in a concert I’m the one who has to put the ball in back of the net each time – without making any mistakes. Apart from that, football can arouse similar feelings to those that fire you up in an opera theatre, in some ways. In its sense of ritual, in its capacity to attract healthy fanaticism and hyped-up tribalism, football also projects life into the experience of the game. It invokes challenges to the death, impulses of generosity and heroism, fatal mishaps and magnificent victories. In both cases it’s a game, but one that’s taken very seriously. A game that thrills and moves, that unites and divides. On the opera stage, just as on the football field, we have an arena of heroes. The actors of the dream that we choose to live in, tightrope artists, who run, miming battles, who give virtuoso displays, who love and hate, who fall and get back up again, exposed to the judgment – inevitably biased, of course – of the terraces, and always in the balance between glory and defeat.

Who do you think is the best player in the world at the moment?

I’d say it’s a fine balance between Ronaldo and Messi. Probably Messi is the best in terms of his technique, while Ronaldo is the better athlete.

What’s your first memory of the World Cup?

My first clear memory of the World Cup dates back to 1970 when Italy reached the Final in Mexico, beating West Germany 4-3 in a legendary match that’s still known as ‘The Game of the Century’. Unfortunately we lost the Final against Pele’s Brazil.

Did Italy’s triumph at Spain 1982 or Germany 2006 thrill you the most?

Both thrilled me. In ’82 the victory was more clear-cut, of course. In Spain we fully deserved the win and there was a big goal difference against a strong West Germany. Whereas in 2006 I watched the World Cup together with my sons, and it was very exciting, but we won on penalties, right at the death, with a goal by Fabio Grosso. So both were really great experiences, but very different.

You sang at Leicester City Stadium after the club won the Premier League with Claudio Ranieri as manager. Why and how did the idea for that performance come about?

It was a unique and enjoyable experience, halfway between the game and my sense of patriotism. I was really excited by Leicester’s achievement. It was a true fairy tale due to their skill and teamwork. It’s a lesson for life, and it reminds us of a great truth – where there’s a will, there’s a way. Since it was a compatriot of mine who led the journey, Claudio Ranieri as you said, I got my friend Javier Zanetti to give me his phone number and I called him directly to express my admiration and to offer to sing for his team. We fixed the date, and by luck it coincided with that sensational day of celebration, their first Sunday as Premier League champions at the King Power Stadium.

One of the songs from your new album Believe is a hymn that’s loved by fans from many different clubs: You’ll Never Walk Alone. Why did you choose this particular song?

It’s true, the song is one of the most stirring and best loved songs in the history of football, but this time I chose it for the profound spirituality that it expresses. It’s a song that brings people together, that warms the heart of the great crowds, and it’s a sort of declaration of love, of collective solidarity, of unity during dark times. It seemed to me to be perfect for Believe, an album that was conceived in this difficult year, with the aim of creating a sequence of pieces that would be good for the soul. Varied pieces without any limits in terms of style or period, but each in its own way able to bring the listener the gift of the motivation to encounter their own spiritual dimension, and to listen to its reasoning.

Your friendship and bond with Luciano Pavarotti is well known. In 1990, Nessun Dorma became synonymous with a World Cup that was held in Italy. Which song represents for you, through its lyrics, the drama of the beautiful game?

Yes, Nessun Dorma could almost be said to be Luciano’s signature. As well as being the hymn of victory for all tenors, the aria, with its rousing ‘Vincerò’ repeated three times, summed up Maestro Pavarotti’s radiant personality and his life at one and the same time. The decision to make this Puccini piece the soundtrack to the World Cup was an extraordinarily powerful and effective idea – and one I agree with wholeheartedly. As a keen football fan and a young opera singer trying to make his own way, I remember following the event, glued to the TV. I was struck by that experiment, by that decision, so brilliant and insightful in its simplicity, to go among the people, to give opera back its audience, to restore an image of the young opera singer, or rather tenor, that had gradually become lost with the passing of time.

The next UEFA EURO and World Cup will be held in 2021 and 2022 respectively. What do you think of Italy’s chances and what’s the key to success for the Azzurri?

They’re two very important events in international football. Let’s hope we can enjoy them in complete safety and with all the joy of being able to embrace each other again and to rejoice together in the stadiums. I’m not going to make any predictions but, being an optimist by nature and a patriot, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to celebrate some great results.

All winners, including those of the FIFA Fan Award and the FIFA Fair Play Award, will be crowned on 17 December 2020 in a TV show broadcast live, starting at 19:00 CET.

To keep up with the latest news about The Best FIFA Football Awards™, visit FIFA.com, The Best FIFA Football Awards™ official Facebook page, FIFA on Twitter and FIFA on YouTube.

Join the discussion about who should win this year’s awards by using the hashtag #TheBest.

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