From Cristiano Ronaldo to Neymar Jr to Teddy Sheringham to Gerard Pique, the tendency for footballers to develop a taste for poker is as common today as it was twenty years ago. It seems the two sports go hand in hand as far as professional players are concerned. Though the two games might seem vastly different at first glance – one can see similarities in the stamina, strategy and determination that is required to be successful in either field.
Aside from that, it’s not surprising that footballers – typically reliant upon their team members and with tons of cash to splash – should turn to a game where they can finally play just for themselves whilst getting to boast immense amounts of wealth through the daring bets they place. The appeal poker has to Italian footballers is especially evident.
A true football legend; Francesco Totti is generally regarded as one of the most talented Italian players of all time. Totti supported A.S. Roma even as a kid, and is now captain of the club. He has converted more penalties than any other player from the club, and scored a record-breaking 316 goals. Totti is also the youngest ever club captain in Serie A history – but the list of records he’s broken doesn’t stop there. The player is known for his loyalty (having spent his entire career in A.S. Roma) and his lively celebrations after scoring a goal.
Outside of football, Totti has been known to partake in charity work whilst also showing an interest in motorcycles. Another off-pitch hobby he is particularly fond is poker. In 2010 he became ambassador for the online poker brand PartyPoker. “I have faced many challenges in my career and I always apply myself with skill, intelligence, loyalty and passion. You need all these abilities for poker and it is also a game that excites me and is a lot of fun,” Totti said regarding the ambassadorship.
Gianluigi “Gigi” Buffon
As one of the most celebrated goalkeepers of all time, it’s no surprise that Gianluigi Buffon managed to strike a record-breaking €53 million transfer from Parma to Juventus in 2001 – the biggest ever amount paid for any goalkeeper. He also holds the record for longest ever streak without a letting an opposing team score a goal in the history of Serie A. It was in 2002 that he rose to international acclaim, thanks to his near flawless performance in the FIFA World Cup.
Buffon discovered his love for poker when he played a charity poker game. Soon thereafter he started playing professionally, leading PokerStars to pick him up as their Italian Ambassador. “I love playing poker and the opportunity to join one of the world’s largest poker sites is an honor and a great challenge,” he remarked upon accepting the partnership.
The former fullback footballer has played for a number of teams – Vicenza, Internazionale, Newcastle United, Everton and RAEC Mons. Prior to this, he was also part of the Italian under-21 national team which saw him play at the 1996 Olympics. Though now retired from professional football, Pistone can still be spotted playing another favourite game of his – poker. He’s appeared at the card table for numerous televised poker events and charity poker games.
Another retired footballer who’s played for multiple clubs – Christian Vieri has lent his skills to as many as twelve clubs throughout his career. Now retired, Vieri was a huge star back in his glory day. In fact, in 1991 he became the most expensive football player, when Internazionale paid Lazio £32 million to transfer him. To this day, he is regarded to have been one of the best strikers to come out of Europe.
In more recent times, Vieri has been focusing on poker – his favourite variant being Texas Hold’Em. “I have always played cards during training camps…Texas Hold’em is just wonderful and it really gets you pumped up”, Vieri once said about the game.
Pasqual might not play as regularly or as passionately as the other Italian football pros on the list, but he’s still known to show a taste for the poker during charity events such as the Betclic Charity Poker Tournament 2014. Manuel Pasqual is apparently as famous at the card table for his poker face as he is famous on the pitch for his crossing ability.