Daniele De Rossi’s World Cup medal buried with Italy’s faithful kitman

There were three veterans of Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph missing when the team met up at the Coverciano training centre in Florence yesterday to prepare for matches against Spain and Germany.

Daniele De Rossi’s World Cup medal buried with Italy’s faithful kitman

One was Andrea Pirlo, another Daniele De Rossi, both household names.

Pirlo is now playing in the United States and semi-retired from international football, while De Rossi is struggling with an injury that could put him out of the running for the European finals in June.

The third absentee was Pietro Lombardi.

They buried Pietro last Wednesday just a few miles from Coverciano. Italy’s kitman from 1994 onwards was almost unknown to the public, although he could be seen out on the pitch celebrating 10 years ago in Berlin, when he was just 82.

Nicknamed Spazzolino — little brush — because he always polished the players’ shoes, he had become like a mascot over the years, for the players and management alike. He looked after the youth teams as well as the senior side and was still turning up for work last November.

So it was no surprise that his passing was honoured by the players last week, nor even that De Rossi broke off training with Roma to travel north to attend the funeral.

What made the national news was that De Rossi had taken his winner’s medal from 2006 with him and quietly placed it beside Pietro in his coffin.

It was an extraordinary gesture from a player who has caused his share of controversy over the years, starting with that World Cup campaign when 22 minutes into Italy’s match against the USA he elbowed Brian McBride violently in the face and was sent off.

At 23, he was the youngest member of the squad and it seemed his international career might end right there, with a four-match ban.

But the team won the signature match of the tournament against the host nation in Dortmund.

Then with an hour gone in the final, De Rossi came off the bench and went on to score the penalty that gave Italy the decisive advantage in the shoot-out.

De Rossi’s reputation as a battler has remained with him, and likewise a reputation for impulsive and emotional gestures.

Consigning his gold medal to the ground alongside Spazzolino might seem like another of those.

But look a bit deeper and there may have been more to it.

Pietro Lombardi was friendly with several players, notably Pippo Inzaghi, but as by far the oldest member of the support team in 2006 he had been very supportive to De Rossi when everything seemed to be going wrong.

As he said in an interview after Italy’s World Cup debacle in 2010:

“Nowadays, the players are almost my whole life. I feel good with them, it makes me feel younger… I also go to Coverciano when the Under 21s or Under 16s are there: I know them all and it’s a bit like being a granddad to everyone. I like it a lot.”

Look further back — a long way further back – and you start to understand why that victory in Germany may have meant even more to Lombardi than to the players.

“Winning in 2006 was the biggest joy of my life. Especially as it was there, against the Germans. I’m of an age to have lived through the war.

“Twice I was forced into hiding because they wanted to take me there to work.”

If anything, that was an understatement. Born and raised in Portico di Romagna, a small village in the mountains of central Italy, he was in a zone overrun by German forces in 1944.

Partisan actions produced savage reprisals in the area. Men of his age were obliged either to join Mussolini’s army or accept forced labour abroad. A third option was being shot as a deserter.

After the war he moved to Florence and became a policeman: when Italy opened their new training centre in 1958, Coverciano was already part of his beat, so Spazzolino was part of the scene from the start.

When Italy beat Germany 2-0 in that Dortmund semi-final they presented him with the match ball as a souvenir. Now he has a winner’s medal to go with it.

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