On April 14th 2012, Livorno lined up against Pescara in a Serie B encounter of genuine importance to both teams. Fourth-placed Pescara, cresting a run of good performances and with Ciro Immobile on target to finish as the division’s top scorer, looked to enhance their promotion chances in a battle that ended up going right to the wire. At the other end of the table, Livorno had flirted with relegation for much of the season and, indeed, would only finish out of the relegation play-off places by one point.
It was thus a game of real significance and Livorno’s famously vocal and left-wing support made their way to Pescara with a lot to be nervous about. By the time the match was abandoned on thirty-two minutes, football would be last thing on anyone’s mind.
It is the thirty-first minute, and Pescara are attacking, trying to salvage something from a swiftly achieved two goal deficit. A midfielder surges forwards, looking to play a one-two with an attacker poised on the edge of the box, tussling with a Livorno centre-half.
A Livorno player tumbles over as he tracks back to get into a defensive position, as if tripped or losing his footing on the slippery turf; the latter is more likely as there are no Pescara players near him. The ball is kicked high into the air on the edge of the Livorno box as the player staggers to his feet only to collapse again to his knees. He sags forwards again, flat out on the pitch, and the Livorno left-back runs up to him and gestures frantically to the bench, urging someone to come on and help. Livorno are still defending as a Pescara player picks up the ball and drives back towards the Livorno box.
The camera cuts to frantic scenes on the touchline as the Livorno staff plead to be allowed to run on. The Livorno player lies motionless. A Pescara shot is sent high over the crossbar and, finally, thirty or so seconds after the collapse, the referee seems to notice and beckon on the medical staff, some of whom had not even waited and ran on while the ball was still in play.
Frantic attempts to resuscitate follow and, eventually, an ambulance gets onto the pitch and the player is driven away on blue lights.
Piermario Morosini died before he ever got to hospital.
Morosini had suffered a massive cardiac arrest, later determined to have been caused by the inherited genetic disorder cardiomyopathy. At the time he died, the player was 25 years old, on loan from Udinese.
In scenes eerily similar to the collapse of Fabric Muamba, less than a month earlier, Morosini was initially treated not only by club doctors but also by a local cardiologist, Leonardo Paloscia, who happened to be watching the game. Muamba, of course, survived. Morosini was not so fortunate.
Piermario Morosini was born in Bergamo and began his career in local team Atalanta’s fabled youth academy. In 2005, recognising his potential, the equally fabled Udinese scouting set-up brought him to the Friuli in a joint-ownership deal.
He struggled to make an impact at first team level, despite the recognition of his potential, and he was loaned first to Bologna and then to Vicenza, with whom he signed a full deal in 2007 and for whom he scored his only league goal.
He was re-signed by Udinese in 2009 on an option and then loaned out again to a string of Serie B clubs, culminating in his time at Livorno, for whom he played eight games. A tenacious midfielder, he also played at every youth level for Italy, debuting for the U-17s when only 15. He never received a full international cap.
This tale of unfulfilled promise was played out against a background of tragedy. Morosini died an orphan, having first lost his mother in 2001, the year he first donned the Azzuri shirt, and then his father two years later. This left him the sole provider for two disabled siblings at the age of 17, a staggering responsibility for a young man trying to make his way in the notoriously tough world of Italian football, where loan deals and joint ownership arrangements often see young Italian players traversing the country on a regular basis.
The lack of stability must have placed an enormous strain on the young Morosini, who, by all accounts, took his role of carer extremely seriously. His younger brother committed suicide soon after his father passed away, leaving Morosini and his disabled elder sister the only surviving members of the family.
Some reports have suggested that she suffered from severe psychiatric problems as well as physical and had spent time in a mental health hospital in the family’s home town of Bergamo. She certainly required 24 hour care.
Despite this series of tragedies, Morosini was known as a jovial young man, utterly committed to football but light-hearted and fun to be around. The universality of this observation shows that it is not just something said to assuage the grief, but one of its very real causes.
Marco Andreolli, a fellow Italian youth team player, quoted in a piece from The Guardian, said
[Morosini] taught us how to smile every single day in life, even when the latter seemed to have turned its back on him.
Kwadwo Asamoah, a team-mate from Udinese, said Morosini was “a great guy and always smiling”. And Udinese club captain Antonio Di Natale added, “I’ve known him for seven years; he never let on he didn’t have a father or mother. He always had a smile on his face and always helped everyone”.
Di Natale, who admitted he had considered retiring after Morosini’s death, joined forces with Udinese to launch a fund to look after Morosini’s sister, saying he would do “whatever” he could to help her.
In the immediate aftermath, all Italian games were suspended for the remainder of the weekend which, staggeringly, prompted protests from some fan groups. Livorno announced they would retire Morosini’s number 25 shirt and Italian football’s governing bodies announced they would look into increased screening for heart defects and improved first response medical aid for players.
But, even as the grief was still raw and the tributes were pouring in, questions were asked. Paramedics reported, in an echo of another tragedy, Hillsborough, that a police car blocked their vehicle’s path to the pitch and that no-one could be found to move it, delaying possibly life-saving treatment. Eventually, local fireman smashed the car’s windows and pushed it out the way once the hand-brake was off.
Initial reports were also adamant that a defibrillator was used in attempts to resuscitate Morosini, but a subsequent investigation has raised serious questions about that. It is now stated that a defib, though available, was not used on the pitch. Indeed, three doctors associated with the case, Pescara and Livorno club medics Ernesto Sabatini and Manlio Porcellini, as well as Vito Molfese of the Pescara emergency services, are due to go on trial for manslaughter in December 2014.
This follows a lengthy report into the tragedy complied by respected Italian physician Cristian D’Ovidio that addressed both the chronic medical condition that caused Morosini’s collapse, but also investigated what could and should have been done to save him. It should be remembered too that all this happened less than a month after Fabrice Muamba’s collapse, which saw football bodies the world over pledging to take immediate action on cardiac issues affecting players.
It is, therefore, perhaps unsurprising that all my attempts to reach Livorno for a comment on Piermario Morosini have fallen on deaf ears. I have contacted both the general Livorno press office and, specifically, the head of communications Paulo Nacarlo, repeatedly, but not received any response, not even a ‘no comment’. It seems clichéd and even churlish to dwell on the patina of scandal that so often seems to shroud Italian football but, in this instance, there seems a very real sense that the clubs involved in the sad death of Piermario Morosini have closed ranks.
And it is this lesser tragedy of negligence and denial, lesser only because the death of anyone is always the greater loss, which will be of lasting importance for the sport of football. The game has made genuine strides in helping clubs diagnose players with congenital heart defects and improving the immediate response to such instances.
It is clear, though, that clubs can still do more, even if it is only to acknowledge their part in previous tragedies and promise to learn from them. Despite everything that had happened to him, Piermario Morosini lived his life in a spirit of happy openness and a full commitment to the transformative power of football. One can only hope that football itself embraces his example.