Death of Fiorentina's Davide Astori is a tragic reminder of life's fragility
The light went out in Davide Astori's hotel room just after 11:30 p.m. on Saturday. To that point, it had been as ordinary and unremarkable an evening as any in the life of a professional footballer playing away from home.
Arrive at a generic business hotel on the outskirts of town. Unpack what little one brings for a single night on the road. Have some team meetings, a team dinner. Go back to the room -- as team captain and one of the older players, there's no roommate -- and set up the PlayStation. A teammate (goalkeeper Marco Sportiello) joins to play for an hour or so. Then he leaves, says goodnight, knowing he'll be keeping watch from the back the next day when Fiorentina team take on Udinese.
Settle into bed. Maybe, before sleep, there's a thought about the good fortunes of life; Astori made a family with Francesca and had been gifted a two-year old daughter, Vittoria, whom he'd have been hugging and kissing again less than 24 hours later upon returning home to Florence. How fortunate it is to be playing football for a living and not just playing it, but playing it really well, well enough to win 14 Italy caps and spend a decade in Serie A. Astori has said as much: "I really love my job. I love football. I love it more now and I enjoy it more than I did when I was 18."
But then, Astori didn't wake up. The team masseur was summoned to find him the following morning when he didn't show up for breakfast. It was unlike him; as captain, he was often the first one there.
The sudden death of Astori, Fiorentina captain, at 31 years of age shocked European football on Sunday morning. The remaining Serie A fixtures to be played later that day were postponed. The initial medical report spoke of "cardiocirculatory arrest," and an autopsy may or may not reveal more. Either way, he joins the list of professional footballers suddenly taken from us in the midst of their playing careers, a list that includes Espanyol's Dani Jarque, Perugia's Piermario Morosini, Sevilla's Antonio Puerta, Cameroon's Marc-Vivien Foe, Motherwell's Phil O'Donnell and others.
It's an uncomfortable list because these are professional athletes who make a living with their bodies, receive the highest possible medical care and are regularly subject to the most meticulous screenings.
And yet, they die. Suddenly and sometimes seemingly without explanation, beyond the mere cruel fact that life is a gift that can be revoked at any moment. For all our scientific advances, knowledge packed behind white coats and medical analysis, and even the awe we bestow on technology and medicine to keep us alive, we haven't mastered death.
It can come at any moment. It's a thought that ought to humble us.
Death is difficult to accept, and truth be told, we can be humbled without accepting it. We owe it to ourselves as humans to strive on, do everything within our power to understand what happened and do our utmost to ensure it doesn't happen again. We need to rage against this dying of the light even as we know we may not be able to find answers, let alone win in the end.
In this instance, we're left with the tragedy of a young woman robbed of her soulmate and who has to raise a two-year-old child who will never see her father ever again. There are countless friends and family left to grieve for a man who was universally admired, in the words of his Italy teammate Gigi Buffon, as an example of "selflessness, elegance, manners and respect towards others."
The example Astori set on the pitch and in his daily life as a son, father, friend and teammate will live on, at least for those who knew him. For those who didn't, maybe there's some inspiration to be found in that quote, which bears repeating: "I really love my job. I really love football. I love it more now and I enjoy it more now than I did when I was 18."
The light doesn't need to go out on that thought, the simple joy of a man who loved what he did and loved it and appreciated it more as he got older.
Rest in peace, Davide Astori.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.