The last goal of Parisse, the greatest. The blue's farewell to rugby
He was undoubtedly the strongest Italian rugby player of all time: captain of the national team for eleven years, on the field 142 times with the Azzurri, winner of two league titles, one Italian Cup, two French championships and two Challenge Cups
Franco Califano wrote, in a song that Ornella Vanoni made legendary "Here, the music is over, the friends are leaving". Nothing better describes the end of a sportsman's career than this song Sergio Parissewith the difference that tomorrow evening, when the referee blows his whistle for the end of Toulon-Bordeaux, the last day of the French rugby championship, after the music has finished, the friends, the many that Sergio has made in his abundant twenty years with the oval ball in your hands, they won't go away.
Talking about Parisse only as a rugby player is an understatement. He was the best Italian rugby player of all time, without a doubt: captain of the national team for eleven years, on the field 142 times with the Azzurri, winner of two scudetti, one Italian cup, two French championships and two Challenge Cups (the last one won with Toulon on 21 May, also scoring a try). However, he was also a leader, a style icon, a universal sportsman who now, three and a half months after his fortieth birthday, has chosen to say goodbye to rugby.
“If I had to think of an athlete who was in this form at almost forty, only Michael Jordan would come to mind”, says Andrea Cimbrico, communications manager of the Italian Rugby Federation, who continues: “We started working together for fifteen years ago, we were both boys. I came from Marco Bortolami, another great blue captain, but we immediately understood each other. Over time our relationship has matured, but we have matured too. Parisse at the press conference after the victory against South Africa in 2016 (the one in which, to the first question of a colleague who asked him if it was the greatest success in the history of Italian rugby, he replied "yes, we can finish the conference here" between the laughter and applause of everyone present) was different from that of the victory at the Flaminio with Scotland in 2008. His sporting legacy will go far beyond the pitch, he marked an era”.
Leadership is the hallmark of a player who has been able to understand the balance of a national team that has historically lost more games than it has won. It's easier to lead a group that wins often, but it's more important to take responsibility when things don't go to plan, as in 2016, when a last-second missed drop from Parisse denied Italy a historic victory in Paris against France.
"We certainly didn't lose the match because of Sergio - explains George Biagi, who is Head of Rugby Operations at Zebre today, but who was on the field with the national team that day -, however I must say that in training I saw him put inside drops that many trocars wouldn't have put in. It didn't surprise me that he took on that responsibility, because he has always been a courageous player, an example for everyone. He often carried the weight of a team in difficulty on his shoulders, but he did it naturally. He is an all-round professional: his way of thinking and living rugby led him to play until he was forty. I compare him to Paolo Maldini”.
There are those who swear that he was someone who thought like a great champion even as a kid and that this courage and this mental application could be seen at first glance. Davide Macor, journalist and writer, was part of the group that competed in the under 19 world championship in 2002. He well remembers the impression Parisse made on him the first time he saw him: “I met him during the preparation camps for international activity. He was a big kid with stratospheric skills, a team man already at eighteen: although he was both physically and technically five thousand paces above all of us, he was exemplary in humility. He's always been a good boy."
Tomorrow this good boy will stop playing, leaving a generation gap: he joined the national team with the generation born in the 70s and retires playing alongside those born in 2000.
Still, no one wants to believe that the curtain is about to fall. Not forever at least. “I want to thank him for what he did and tell him“ come on, give it another year ”” says Biagi. “But are you sure? Is your answer definitive? Shall we light it?” asks Cimbricus. “Oh, I train a decent Serie C team (Pasian di Prato, in Friuli ed.) … If you want to come and play here, maybe give us a hand” suggests Macor.
Lo and behold, the music is over, but the friends remain.