When most sports fanatics think of Italian footballer Claudio Marchisio, diamonds do not immediately spring to mind. That’s something that Italian jeweller Damiani, never the kind to shy away from bold statements, is setting out to turn on its head. Last year, the brand presented a collection fit for royalty designed by none other than Nicoletta Romanov, descendent of that Romanov family.
This year, the brand is introducing devotees of the gemstone to Marchisio, the star midfielder of one of Italy’s most revered teams, Juventus, and a man who also happens to be known by many in his native Italy as the Prince of Turin. To Marchisio and Giorgio Damiani, this is the most natural of partnerships.
“When you see a solitaire diamond, your eyes shine at the brilliant object in front of you,” Marchisio says. “It’s the same when you see great talent playing football on the pitch. Your eyes start shining at the brilliance on the field.”
It’s canny reasoning and an astute observation – qualities that Marchisio displays with seeming ease. Soft-spoken and dressed in a three-piece blue suit, he looks every inch a royal – were it not for the slightly sunburnt nose and a complexion dotted with freckles that betray time spent training on the pitch.
Marchisio stands out. For all the usual reasons and then some. Like 99 percent of the Italian male population, he grew up with a pre-existing tribal allegiance to a football team. Like them, he dreamed of playing for that team. Only a handful ever get to play professionally and he’s one of them – “I made my dream come true, a dream that’s probably shared by close to all the children in Italy. Playing for the team you support is something you cherish.”
But in the same way that diamonds start their life in the rough, no matter how rarefied and flawless they end up becoming, Marchisio’s journey to becoming one of the most respected Italian players of his generation has taken grit and determination.
His upbringing was entirely devoted to football. While the man admits that his was a childhood curtailed, it’s a sacrifice he’s been willing to make. “I’m proud of myself that I managed to reach my dream of playing with Juventus” Marchisio says. “I’ve seen many young players like myself – those with more talent than me – fail. But I had talent and the will to train and push through the hard times. Of course, there was also a bit of luck, but above all it was thanks to the many sacrifices I made that led to me achieving my dream.
“It was missing school, growing up quickly to face the pressure of playing professionally, not being able to have a girlfriend. Even when you’re as young as 20, in the world of professional football you really have to think and act as an adult. You have to grow a lot or you risk losing yourself.”
His start in the team was not an easy one. Marchisio spent a year in Serie B (Italy’s second-tier league) when Juventus was punished by the Italian Football Federation over a refereeing scandal, before being part of a group of players who lifted the team out of Serie B and back into the top echelon. “We all suffered,” he says. “The players that stayed on to play in Serie B, and all the Juventus fans and supporters, went through that tough time together. But then we went on to win the Italian championship seven years consecutively, so one year in hell was worth it in exchange for seven years in paradise.”
Since then, Marchisio has ascended to the pantheon of Italian football legends, but his career has suffered a series of setbacks: injuries. “I’ve had a few serious injuries; the most serious one has been on my knee,” Marchisio says. “For the first time, I had to be far from football and it was a period of my life that was different and unexpected. I had to find the strength to fight through that entire summer, training only my upper body until I could run again. It was very strange as a professional footballer to have one leg but not the other. It took a lot of mental strength and determination to come back and play at 32 years old, which is not easy.”
Professional football players tend to have quite a bit of time on their hands. A day’s training lasts four to four and a half hours, after which players head home with no work aside from the mental strain of competitive sport.
Marchisio is an avid traveller and also has an enterprising streak. In all his so-called “free-time” he has married, had two children, opened a chain of sushi shops and started a marketing agency. “When the season is on, I have absolutely no time,” he says. “But off-season, I like to travel. I generally like to keep myself busy so I do think ahead, to prepare myself for the future when my football career ends.
“I’ve always liked sushi and I used to have it three or four times a week, so I opened a restaurant. It’s great now because in Europe the sushi phenomenon has really taken off so I’m looking forward to building the business beyond Italy. I definitely won’t be going to the beach to relax once my professional football career is over. I’m setting the foundations for that now. Maybe I’ll open in Hong Kong some day.”