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My Soccer Coach Died at 41. He Taught Me More Than Just Soccer

Remembering Alessandro, a friend.

Alessandro died in July 2023 at 41 years old. He went to the bathroom, had a stroke, and fell to the floor. His brain didn’t get oxygen for just a few minutes, but long enough for him to go into a coma. He died a week later.

Alessandro was one of my educators when I was a child. He was my soccer coach when I was a teenager and a friend in my 20s. Not one of my best friends, but still a friend.

I lost contact with him when I moved abroad. In over six years, I sent him only one message:

Dear Ale, I’ve just heard about your mum. I’m really sorry. I send you my deepest condolences and two big hugs…one to you and one to your dad.

Nearly a decade later, I returned home and met him by chance at the local town fair. When he saw me, he brought his hands to his bald head as if to say, “I can’t believe who’s in front of me right now!” He asked me ten thousand questions. “It was so good to see you again,” he said at the end of our conversation.

Alessandro had a dominant, charismatic personality. Some people loved him for this, others not so much.

He liked reading. When I was 17, I remember him saying he couldn’t fall asleep if he didn’t have a book in his hands. To this day, he’s still the only one I know who’s read The Lord of The Rings.

From 2006 to 2023, he was the soccer coach of dozens of people. At his funeral, almost every one of his players was there. The church was so full that we had to stand, lean against the walls, or wait outside.

A couple of months after the funeral, the captain of the soccer team he’d been coaching for nearly two decades organised a tournament in his memory. I was invited too. That day I saw old friends and teammates I hadn’t seen in ten, almost twenty years. Bold heads, kids, fat bellies and other signs showed us that time had passed. I saw people I would have never thought I would see again.

Max was there too. Max is a man who couldn’t stand almost anyone on that soccer pitch. But he was there playing with us all.

I made mistakes in the past and did things that rubbed some people the wrong way. Those people were there, and I thought they didn’t want to talk to me. Wrong. On that day, we hugged.

And I ran, played, and kicked the ball for 90 minutes, the longest I’ve ever had in my entire life. I didn’t want to get off the pitch. I didn’t want to stop. I imagined Alessandro cheering on me like he used to do when I was fifteen.

C’mon, Fabiolino! C’mon!

I didn’t want to let him down when he was my coach and didn’t want to let him down now.

For a full day, Alessandro brought peace to our hearts, or at least to mine. His death reunited us all. The day we played that tournament is one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever lived.

 

And I’m now thinking: Why hate each other? Why hold a grudge? Why not choose to forgive that person who did us wrong?

Sooner than we think, we’re all going to be dead. One hundred years from now, no one will remember who we are. No one will love us anymore. We’ll be nothing.

We have the option to live in peace, today. It’s an option that’s right here in front of us. Let’s take it.

***
 

Sometime after Alessandro died, I was listening to “Behind Blue Eyes,” a cover song by Limp Bizkit that starts like this:

No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

Alessandro had blue eyes. So now I think of him and the day of the tournament every time I listen to this song. It makes me weep sometimes. But it also reminds me to choose kindness.

An option I don’t take often enough.

Ciao Ale.

Alessandro — Image courtesy of “La Squadraccia”
 

Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.