Francesco Flachi: Ex-Sampdoria striker makes return at 46 after 12-year drugs ban

When former Fiorentina and Sampdoria striker Francesco Flachi was handed a 12-year ban from football in January 2010 at the age of 34, most understandably believed it would spell the end of his playing days.

The frontman was hit with the 144-month sanction after testing positive for cocaine use for the second time in three years by the Italian Football Federation.

Flachi racked up more than 100 Serie A appearances in his career – and was even called up to the Italy squad for a 2004 friendly against Iceland – although he never made it on to the pitch.

The player’s spectacular fall from grace began in January 2007 when a first test failure for the drug cost Flachi his contract with Sampdoria.

A two-year suspension followed, after which the striker had a short stint with Empoli, before moving on to fellow second-tier side Brescia.

It was while at Brescia that Flachi relapsed. His dozen-year suspension was the punishment for being found with cocaine in his system once again.

“I want to pass on what I have thrown away” – Flachi

Nobody understood better than the man himself that he would be 46 by the time he was eligible to play again.

During his ban, Flachi spent time coaching the youth sides of Italian fifth-tier outfit Signa 1914 near his hometown of Florence, with no illusions of extending his role any further.

Speaking to BBC Sport in September last year, he revealed that a cheeky dig from Signa president Andrea Ballerini had reignited his desire to step on the pitch as a player once more.

GENOA, ITALY – JANUARY 28: Patrick Vieira of Inter Milan tackles Francesco Flachi (R) of Sampdoria during the Serie A match between Sampdoria and Inter Milan on January 28, 2007 in Genoa, Italy. (Photo by New Press/Getty Images)

“Andrea started to provoke me: ‘You can’t play anymore, you’re too old’. I hadn’t entered a proper 11-a-side football pitch for 12 years, but I am a man of football and I live for the emotions, which I had missed so much.

“I know I made a mistake and I got punished for it. I also know I am not as fast as I used to be, but I can do my part and help these guys believe in themselves,” Flachi said of the youngsters he coaches. “I also want them to understand how beautiful football is. They can’t afford to lose what I threw away.

An emotional return

This past weekend, Flachi turned out for the first time as player since his ban. Just four years shy of his 50th birthday, the striker represented Signa’s first-team, having trained with the squad for the last five months.

Cheered on by his former Sampdoria manager Walter Novellino, Flachi played 30 minutes of his side’s 2-2 draw with Prato 2000 – and was delighted with his afternoon’s work.

“This day cancels 12 years of disqualification. It is my rebirth,” Flachi told Gazzetta dello Sport, per Goal. “This is the proof that I have also rebuilt.

“What have I felt? At first, I felt dizzy, I haven’t slept for a week due to tension.

“Now I’m so happy, I want to thank everyone who made me feel like I was before: a football player.”

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We’ll start with an easy one. Did Jose Mourinho really say this? “I’m European champion. I’m not one out of the bottle, I think I’m a special one”

It remains to be seen whether Flachi will play again for Signa this season, but has already confirmed his plans to stay involved in the game he loves.

“The journey has just begun, let’s see what will happen. In May, I will begin a coaching course,” he revealed following his comeback appearance.

A remarkable story of redemption.

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