A very special story takes place in the lower reaches of Serie A. Because PhD candidate Salernitana surprised and maintained himself, trainer Davide Nicola goes walking to the pope. That is a walking tour of no less than 280 kilometers. Football Primeur delves into Nicola‘s story and speaks with experience experts Hidde ter Avest and Lasse Schöne.
Nicola was appointed to Salernitana in February. The club was then stiff at the bottom of Serie A, which made relegation seem like a matter of time at the time. Nicola had to serve as a lifesaver. At his presentation, the 49-year-old practice master made a special promise. “If we maintain, I will go to the pope on foot,” he said. From Salerno, where Salernitana comes from, this is a trip of approximately 280 kilometers. In the meantime, Salernitana is certain of enforcement, because it has ended one point above the relegation line.
It’s not the first time Nicola has made such a bizarre promise. In 2017, at the time as a trainer of the ailing Crotone, the Italian stated that he would take a bike ride of more than 1,300 kilometers in enforcement. Crotone played miraculously safe and so Nicola had to live up to his promise: in nine days, he cycled from Crotone to his home in Vigone.
The training master dedicated the special trip to his son, who died in a bicycle accident at the age of fourteen. With his ride, Nicola raised money for a foundation that calls attention to bicycle safety. After the stunt with Crotone, the coach addressed his son in a letter. “Hello, sweetheart. I don‘t know where you are or what you’re doing. You gave me the strength to go ahead and fight for the impossible. This is not my victory, but our victory.”
Nicola as Crotone coach
‘Nicola acts purely out of passion‘ In the Netherlands, Ter Avest and Schöne are not exactly surprised by Nicola‘s new promise. The two worked under the trainer in Italy and know how he works. “In my first season at Udinese, we first had a Spanish trainer,” begins Ter Avest. “It was fired after just a few months and then Davide came. His first game with us was against AS Roma. We won surprisingly at the time and I was in the base. After the game, Davide was completely crazy. I got a full pet on my head from him, haha.”
“That way, I still remember him: he is very passionate, immensely driven and a good person. He acts purely out of passion”, continues Ter Avest. The right back of FC Utrecht is sure Nicola will keep his word now that Salernitana remains in Serie A. “I can see him taking that 280 kilometer walk. He’s really going to do it, I can empathize with the story.”
“If you know him, you know that‘s not played” Schöne, who Nicola experienced at Genoa in the 2019/20 season, endorses the words of Ter Avest. “He is a very special and energetic man, especially on the training field and in the locker room. In my first year at Genoa, he was my last trainer. Because of him, we stayed in Serie A. I was actually very good with him, I think he is a special person. His English is very mediocre. So communicating with him was difficult, but he did try. I also had trainers who were way too proud to try that. He sometimes asked: how do you say this in English? That appealed to me, just like his story. As a human being, I really liked him. It was perhaps the trainer I got along with the best at that time.”
Schöne and his Genoa teammates receive instructions from Nicola
That Nicola is going to walk to the pope is not surprising to Schöne. “He could do it this way, because he is a man of his word,” says the NEC midfielder. “It does say a lot about what kind of person Davide is. Just before the matches, he always held a meeting with us in the locker room. He said very special things, if you could understand it a little bit. He talked about football, but also about life. He was really trying to involve the human plane. Sometimes you thought, what does he say, that madman? If you know his story and know who he is, then you know it hasn’t been played. It was really nice working with him.”
Nicola, with Salernitana, has put another feat of great magnitude on his resume. The pope can expect a high visit soon.
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