Filippo Savi: For the love of Calcio

It’s the final day of the 2014-15 season in the Eccellenza Emilia-Romagna Girone A. In front of a modest crowd, the players of tiny Lentigione Calcio celebrate their promotion to Serie D. In the midst of these celebrations stands Filippo Savi.

It has been little over 10 years since Savi made his Serie A debut, playing for his boyhood club Parma against the mighty AC Milan. Since then, the now 28-year-old midfielder has been through a lot. Now you may think this is just another story of a player failing to live up to potential and quietly slipping into obscurity, but this is the tale of a man who has shown immense resilience just to play the game he loves.

Born in the city of Parma on January 29, 1987, Savi joined the youth set-up of his hometown club at a very young age. It was a time when the Crociati youth system was stacked with some considerable talent, including the likes of Giuseppe Rossi, Arturo Lupoli, and Daniele Dessena.

Savi though was no small fry, having represented Italy at various underage levels and been tipped as a great talent by coaches at Parma. In fact, many who saw the young man considered him to be the club’s top prospect, ahead of even future Italian star Rossi.

It wasn’t long before his obvious talent caught the eyes of those in charge of Parma’s first team and on April 23, 2005, he made his Serie A debut. Showing faith in the youngster, something that doesn’t often happen in Italy, Gialloblu tactician Pietro Carmignani threw him in against AC Milan and gave the then 18-year-old the unenviable job of marking Riccardo Kaka.

Despite Parma going down 3-0, Savi acquitted himself well and from there until the end of the season he earned himself a place on the bench for numerous UEFA Cup ties and also another match in Serie A.

Things seemed to be going swimmingly for the young Parmigiano. Along with breaking into the first team, he led the Ducali youth team to success on the national level. To all intents and purposes, it looked as if the next Italian midfield general was beginning to emerge.

However, things hadn’t come easy for the youngster. The year before he made his debut for the first team, Savi injured his anterior cruciate ligament requiring surgery. It would prove to be an injury that would blight the career of this promising player.

In his second season, Savi made a total of eight appearances in the league, steady if unspectacular improvement. He probably would have made more if it wasn’t for his troublesome knee. Then, in December, Savi damaged his cruciate ligament in his left knee whilst playing a friendly against local club Traversetolo.

A lengthy rehab beckoned. He wasn’t back running until June the following year, yet even this proved too early as he suffered a further tear just a month later, setting him back a further two months.

Come January of the 2006-07 season, Parma decided to loan him out to get some much needed game time under his belt after a stop start last 12 months. His destination was Monza, a team chasing promotion from Serie C1 at the time.

However Savi found it tough to break into an already settled and consistent side and during his six month stay with the Brianzoli, he made only 10 appearances. Question marks remained about his fitness and the following season Parma decided to loan him out again, this time to another Serie C1 club in the shape of Arezzo.

His performances at the Amaranto were steady if not eye catching as he made 19 appearances in the league for the Tuscan club. Things looked to have turned a corner for the young midfielder. The following year, SPAL signed Savi on a co-ownership deal and he featured consistently, playing 23 times in the league. It was the most consistent string of matches he had put together in his career and it looked as if his injuries were behind him.

But the damage to his knee ligaments had lasting consequences, perhaps not to his technical ability, but certainly to his athleticism to operate at a level such as Serie A. It was becoming obvious that Savi would not make it at the top level as so many at Parma had hoped.

Being a local boy though, the Crociati found it hard to cut the cord and as such redeemed his contract at the end of the co-ownership deal with SPAL. On returning to Parma, however, Savi went under the knife once again, this time to clean up some cartilage in the knee.

Once he recovered from his latest setback, he was promptly sent out on loan, this time to Serie C2 club Carpenedolo. Savi would never make an appearance for the Brescia based club. Yet again his left knee packed in on him. He required his fourth surgery in six years, this for a player still only 23-years-old.

It proved another long and arduous road back to recovery for the young man, but it was a journey he was determined to make, and make it he did. In January 2011 a little less than two years since his last match for SPAL against Pergocrema, he joined Crociati Noceto in Serie C2 on loan.

It was the perfect destination for Savi, with the village of Noceto being only 12km from Parma. He could get back to playing football whilst remaining close to home. Yet as one had come to expect with Savi’s career, things did not go according to plan as he only played twice during the second part of the season.

It was the end of an era in more ways than one when he left Noceto, his contract at Parma had also run its course and the club, finally bowing to reality, decided not to renew. Many wondered where next for the talented midfielder, FC Valletta in Malta was bandied about, but he eventually signed for FC Brussels in the Belgian second tier.

In his single season abroad, Savi performed well and made a healthy 20 league appearances. The following year though, he decided to return home and join Serie D club Fidenza. It is said home is where the heart is and that was most definitely the case for Savi, with Fidenza only a 30 minute drive from Parma.

Savi only spent half a season at the club though as their financial difficulties forced him to move on once more. He joined another Serie D club Bogliasco and played 13 times over the remainder of the campaign.

Come the end of the 2012-13 season, Savi was unsurprisingly disillusioned and decided to retire from the game that he loved at only 26-years of age. His body could no longer withstand the rigours of playing at a competitive level. The years and years of crippling knee injuries had finally taken their toll.

This however is not the end of Savi’s tale, football was not done with him yet. In January 2014 he re-joined Parma as an advisor to the youth team. But Savi still longed to be playing and at the start of the 2014-15 season, demonstrating a newfound fitness, he signed with Lentigione Calcio. His dream was reborn.

In an interview with SportParma.com back in 2011, Savi was asked how he prepared to play for Noceto, a team playing at a much lower level compared to where he begun. Savi responded, “My goal is this: To play football and not think about money or the level.”

This is what he has done at Lentigione. Not many would be able to bounce back from the disappointment that Savi has endured and recommence their career just to play amateur football, but then not many are Filippo Savi. However, his experiences have taught him a vital life lesson.

Football has taught me and is teaching me many important things in life. In life, one must never give up”. – Filippo Savi

Words by Kevin Nolan: @KevinNolan11