Francesco Flachi is a Sampdoria legend who was banned for 12 years for using cocaine. To the fans he’s “one of us” – but sometimes that’s the problem
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker
One story every day to make sense of the world of football.
Today, Italian footballer Francesco Flachi and his cocaine ban. Can players be too close to the fans?
“FRANCESCO… FLACHI! FRANCESCO… FLACHI! FRANCESCO… FLACHI! Flachi, Flachi, Flachi, Flachi, gol, Flachi-gol, Flachi-goooal, goooal. Flachi, Flachi, Flachi, Flachi, gol, Flachi-gol, Flachi-goooal, goooal”U.C. Sampdoria commentary
It’s usually seen as a positive when a player is in tune with fans.
Too often, footballers are viewed as aloof and out of touch with the match-going supporters.
In Italy, they have a phrase when one of the players is very close to the fans. They say that the player is “uno di noi” which means “one of us”.
But what happens when a player is so in tune with fans that it actually ruins his career?
This is the story of Francesco Flachi.
He was born in the centre of Florence, just south of the river Arno.
Right from being a youngster, Flachi was singled out as being the future of Fiorentina as he banged in goals for fun in the youth side.
You see, a player from the city of Florence, who is good enough to play for Fiorentina – that truly is a rare thing.
And for that reason he had the weight of huge expectation placed on his shoulders right from being a young boy.
One of the older Fiorentina Ultras told me that they even had a song for him. “Quel ragazzo gioca bene,” they sang, which means “The boy plays well”.
In the 1993/94 season Flachi made his debut for Fiorentina at 18 years old.
And talk about a baptism of fire in front of his family, friends and neighbours.
It was the season when Claudio Ranieri was handed the task of getting Fiorentina promoted back to Serie A.
And Flachi made ten appearances that year, playing as an 18-year-old up front alongside none other than Gabriel Batistuta. They both scored in a 3-0 win over Cosenza in February 1994.
But ultimately, he wasn’t quite good enough when Fiorentina had such a potent strike force already and so he left for Sampdoria in 1999.
That’s where he became genuinely adored. He had a reputation for being crazy, and the Samp Ultras loved that. And he was good, too. He scored some outrageous goals, loads of overhead kicks… which the Italians call a “rovesciata”… plus goals from distance and tight angles.
“Flachi… La rovesciata! Il Grandissimo gol di Francesco Flachi al sedicesimo minuto! Un gol straordinario, un eroe gol, quello di Flachi in rovesciata.”Commentary of Flachi’s goal
He says that Didier Deschamps called him and asked him to come and play for Juventus at that time, but he was totally committed to Sampdoria.
Flacchi’s trademark was that he always climbed up to the fans in the South stand to celebrate with them, and it was always a passionate display of taking off his shirt, cupping his ears or drawing a heart with his fingers. They called him Flacchi-gol. You can hear them singing it here.
“Flachi, Flachi, Flachi, Flachi, gol, Flachi-gol, Flachi-goooal, goooal. Flachi, Flachi, Flachi, Flachi, gol, Flachi-gol, Flachi-goooal, goooal.”Commentary of Flachi’s goal
But the problem was that a lot of the passion seen in the stands is accompanied by drug use. I’ve seen with my own eyes that cocaine use is rife among Ultras in Italy.
And after all, Flachi was one of them. He was banned twice for testing positive for cocaine. The second time for 12 years, and he’s not even been allowed to attend matches as a fan during that time.
It just makes me wonder what might have been. This is a player that sits third in the Sampdoria all-time top scorers list, only behind Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli.
And his punishment seems so harsh. Adrian Mutu was only handed a nine month ban – reduced to six months on appeal – for his second positive drugs test. We know Diego Maradona used cocaine throughout his career. His second ban was only 15 months.
Ultimately, this is such a sad story of a player who got mixed up with the wrong crowd and involved with a culture that must’ve seemed normal to him, he grew up with it.
After he was handed the ban, he returned to those roots and now owns a sandwich shop and bar in the centre of Florence. Sampdoria fans come and visit him there. They still adore him.
Flachi can’t get that time back. He’s 44 now. His 12-year ban is only just up and he’s going to play for a team in the fifth tier of Italian football, just a regional league.
When really, if he hadn’t been banned, who knows where he would’ve ended up, maybe he could’ve become even more of a hero at Samp, or maybe he could’ve moved on to a new challenge.
Seemingly, the most exciting thing for him now is that the end of the ban means he can take his sons to watch Fiorentina and Sampdoria. He can take his coaching badges at the famous Italian school of football in Coverciano.
He admits that what he did was wrong. And he’s paid the price with his career. And his regrettable story shows that having some distance between players and fans is probably a good thing.
Today’s episode was written by me, Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.