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Gone but not forgotten:
Filippo Galli
Position: Central defender
From: Brescia, Italy - free transfer - July 2001
Record: Played: 28(1) Scored: 1
To: ??? - free transfer - May 2002
Career stats: Soccerbase
See also: Past player profiles
He was: Not what we expected

So, what did we expect? At thirty-eight, Filippo Galli arrived at Vicarage Road for the final season of a truly magnificent career - five Italian Championships, three European Champions Cups, three European Super Cups, and three Italian Super Cups in fourteen seasons at AC Milan. Really, it was hard to see what he stood to gain by joining the Hornets, beyond a few fresh bruises and an occasional humiliation from some young scamp.

By the following May, it was bloody obvious. For all his medals, for all his illustrious achievements, for all his big-name mates, Filippo Galli quite clearly loved playing professional football. Once he'd settled in, he also quite clearly loved playing for Watford. Rather than fulfilling any of the obvious continental or Italian stereotypes that suggested themselves when he signed, he turned out to be much more...well, British, I suppose.

Filippo Galli was a scrapper. Of course, he was a refined scrapper. You don't win three European Cups if you're Neil Ruddock. He could play a bit...although, unlike several others, he rarely played too much. In short, he knew what he was doing, he knew when to do it, and he felt no need to show off in the process. While his advancing years led supporters to imagine what a magnificent, excellent, exemplary player he must've been in his Milan prime, the truth was that, even as he neared forty, Filippo Galli was still rather wonderful.

His lean, elegant frame and shoulder-length hair suggested a flamboyance and an extravagance that simply didn't exist. Instead, his was a quietly authoritative and entirely committed presence. Elected as captain by the rest of the dressing room at the start of the season, he was generous in returning the compliment. Far from being an expensive, distant add-on, far from day-dreaming of retirement, he seemed to embrace the club, serving it with both professionalism and evident enthusiasm. Filippo Galli was not one for clenched fists and battle cries, perhaps, but there was never any doubt that he cared.

In truth, he was the only one of Luca Vialli's summer signings to make a significant, positive contribution to the team and to the club. That he did so after starting rather nervously, taking time to adjust to a new country and a very different style of play, and then being sidelined by injury can be taken as typical of his strength and determination. He met every challenge, he responded to every setback. If others, particularly the rest of the newcomers, had approached the season with a similar attitude, it might've been a very different story.

Indeed, it is no coincidence that the Hornets' most successful and impressive spell of the campaign was built upon the partnership between Filippo Galli and Wayne Brown. Two players with very different backgrounds, at the tail-end of an extremely successful career, the other still looking for somewhere to make his mark. And yet, two very similar players in other respects...both fiercely competitive, focused, aggressive, unfussy, eager, and hungry. Kindred spirits, in a way.

Simply, it was the best defensive pairing since that absurdly combative Page-Palmer combination back in '99, and not altogether dissimilar in character. Briefly, it even hinted at comparable success, with a sequence of highly impressive results, including a long-overdue victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst, that suddenly brought the top six within striking distance. And then, it ended. Wayne Brown pulled a hamstring and returned to Ipswich, Filippo Galli broke his collarbone at Stockport. The season finished a month early.

At that stage, we still hoped to see Filippo Galli again. Having been intent on retirement when he signed that one year contract, his evident enjoyment and growing popularity persuaded him to stay for another season, as a player, a coach or possibly both. Really, that's the biggest compliment that he could pay us, and something that I'll long remember him for. That a player of such standing came to Watford in the first place is fairly remarkable; that he wanted to stay, that he was prepared to change his plans to do so, is, well, just lovely.

It won't happen now. As the extent of the financial problems caused by the collapse of ITV Digital became clear, it looked increasingly unlikely that we could afford to retain Filippo Galli. The sacking of Luca Vialli ended the speculation.

That's a shame. In years to come, there will be very few things from this unfortunate, badly-planned year that will warrant fond reminiscence and revival. Filippo Galli will be an exception to the rule.

Not merely an extremely fine player, but a generous, gracious guest. Our pleasure, Filippo.