Francesco Flachi once led Sampdoria to the UEFA Cup and received a call-up from Italy in 2007; 15 years later he is set to return to competitive action after spending 14 of those banned
Francesco Flachi went from hero to zero overnight on January 28, 2007.
Captain of Serie A side Sampdoria, with whom he had scored more than 100 goals for, and a recent call-up for Italy – Flachi was at the peak of his career.
But then it all came crumbling down after he tested positive for cocaine and received a two-year ban; Sampdoria ripping up his contract.
“I lost it all in that exact moment,” Flachi told BBC Sport. “I was an idol in Genoa.
“I had started the year with two goals and I had recently been called up by the national team too.”
Despite being well into his thirties at this point, Flachi was determined not to give up, and trained with non-league side Pietrasanta before being snapped up in June 2008 by Serie B’s Empoli and making his return the following January.
In the summer he joined Brescia, and appeared to have bedded back into life in football, even if it wasn’t in the UEFA Cup with Sampdoria.
But barely six months into his time with Brescia, Flachi tested positive for cocaine again, this time receiving a 12-year ban.
For most players in their mid-thirties this would have signalled the end of the road in football.
But after serving the duration of his ban, Flachi is once again ready to dive back in aged 46, having signed for Italian fifth-tier outfits Signa 1914.
During his ban he coached the non-league side’s youth teams and has been giving out individual sessions during the Covid pandemic.
Flachi will return to action in January 2022, 29 years after his pro career began with Fiorentina, much to bemusement of Signa 1914’s president, Andrea Ballerini.
“I am very excited because the date is approaching,” Flachi went on. “It all started as a joke, but then we got more serious about it. I was already helping out at Signa 1914, lending a hand in the youth sector.
“Andrea started to provoke me: ‘You can’t play any more, you’re too old’. I hadn’t entered a proper 11-a-side football pitch for 12 years, but I am a man of football and I live for the emotions, which I had missed so much.
“I am training now and the sensations are similar to those I 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 I got punished for it. I also know I am not as fast as I used to be, but I can do my part and help these guys believe in themselves. I also want them to understand how beautiful football is. They can’t afford to lose what I threw away.”
It’s not just football that Flachi has been focussing on during his time on the sidelines though, opening up other business ventures, while dwelling on the error of his ways.
“After such a disgrace you think of everything,” he added. “Of a career thrown in the bin, your public image, the pain you caused your family. People didn’t react well at first, but with time I proved I understood my mistakes and could rebuild most relations.
“At first, watching football would make me sick, but then I rolled up my sleeves and slowly moved on again. I have opened two restaurants in Florence and I spent my time serving food. Since it’s been known I am going to play I have been receiving so many calls and messages. This proves a lot of people still love me.
“I am not a victim – I made a mistake and I don’t want others to go down the same path. I receive a lot of positive feedback from my coaching and this is an important proof that my dedication is appreciated and parents trust me.
“It’s too easy to judge from the outside. Those who know me also know the way I am. I am the same person I was 20, 30 years ago, with my values.
“I know one can make mistakes and fall, but one can also get back to his feet. Life is full of unexpected events. What I want is to do my part and show I can play a role in football.”