Dying at 23: The tragic story of Andrea Fortunato’s lucky Juventus kid

Switching shirts is always an expression of a special relationship: when Matteo Ruggeri and Giorgio Chiellini put their shirts into each other’s hands at the end of November, it was so much more. It’s not at all about the friendly relationship between the Salernitana left-back and the Juventus icon, but these two players, wearing the shirt with all three, pay homage to another player who also wears the shirt all three. They pay tribute to Andrea Fortunato, who came from Salerno and played for Juventus – and died at just 23.

Fortunato means “happy” in German, which in the case of the left foot can only be understood as irony. At least for his youth and the beginning of his professional career, the word is appropriate, as Fortunato is lucky to be blessed with plenty of footballing talent. He initially tried swimming and water polo, but once I put the ball on his feet, he was quickly spotted, and at the age of 13, he was allowed to travel to professional clubs across the country for trial sessions.

With Panucci, one of the best full-back pairs in the league

He picked Cuomo and made his first-team debut there at the age of 18. He quickly became a regular player, which invites bigger teams onto the scene. Two years later, he moved to Genoa, where he formed one of the best full-back pairs in the league with Christian Panucci on the right. In the 1992/93 season, Fortunato saved his club from relegation to the second division with his goal in a 2-2 victory over Milan on the last day of the match. “If you help us save the team, we will let you go,” said the promises made by club bosses – and they keep their word. Fortunato turned to Juventus for a large sum of ten billion lira.

Fortunato started immediately with the Bianconeri and became a national player less than three months later: he was allowed to play for Squadra Azzurra in a World Cup qualifier in a 3-0 win over Estonia. “I will always do my best and end up leaving the field with my head held high because I didn’t take it easy,” promised Fortunato Tifusi.

A really lucky kid who made a very steep climb. But fate suddenly falls – and at first no one noticed. In the spring of 1994, Fortunato’s performance deteriorated, he always had a slight fever and could not get rid of it. However, he’s playing – but not so well, even Juventus fans booed him at the end of the season as they accuse him of laziness and hectic lifestyle.

At the end of May 1994, Fortunato became increasingly exhausted, so the Juventus team doctor decided to take the player to the hospital for tests. The devastating diagnosis given by the doctors there was leukemia, that is, blood cancer. Fortunato immediately receives chemotherapy and has to spend three weeks in intensive care.

Fortunato: “You have to live every day very consciously”

Bone marrow donation is supposed to help him, but there are only three suitable donors in the entire world, and all of them live very far from being helped. So the doctors tried another method and transplanted healthy cells from Fortunato’s sister Paola, but after some time a rejection reaction occurs, so that no rapid improvement is in sight. “It’s clear to me that there’s no point in making long-term plans,” says Fortunato. “You have to live each day consciously.”

And he does – and he’s slowly getting better. In October 1994 he was able to leave the hospital, he even resumed training and in February 1995 he was part of the Juventus team again. Everything is looking good again for Fortunato, who gives thoughtful and at the same time happy information about the difficult times in the interview. “You know doctors don’t tell you everything. You try to expose lies. But then you want to convince yourself again, or you’ll go crazy,” Fortunato explains.

Giorgio Cellini, Juventus

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The robbery comes after a short time: pneumonia weakens the immune system of Fortunato, so that he dies on April 25, 1995. The fate of the football player, who first shone, then hurt and always hoped, moves the whole of Italy. More than 5,000 people attended his funeral, with Juventus captain Gianluca Vialli saying: “We hope there will be a football team in heaven.”

Juventus’ Giorgio Chiellini also pointed towards the sky when he scored in the Salernitana goal at the end of November. The fact that the goal he wanted to dedicate to Andrea Fortunato was left out due to an offside position somehow fits the story of the great talent left by his luck.

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