Civelli’s career was ruined by injury and damaged relationships... so retirement’s the best decision he’s ever made
- Credit: Archant
Former Ipswich Town winger Luciano Civelli spoke to ANDY WARREN about his football career, dealing with injuries and his plans for the future.
Time has been a good healer for Luciano Civelli.
Now 32, the former Ipswich Town winger called time on his injury-ravaged career at the end of 2017 and has never been happier.
There's been no mourning a career lost to five knee surgeries and no feeling sorry for himself that his constant pain restricted him to a little over 150 starts during his 12 years as a professional.
Instead he's looking to the future.
He's back living in his home town of Pehuajo, four hours west of Buenos Aires, but has plans to move to the capital to start a business with footballer brother Renato, when he calls time on his own career.
"He is currently playing for Banfield in Argentina but he's retiring soon and we're planning on doing some things together," Civelli said.
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"One thing is to put a French bakery in Buenos Aires.
"He played for a lot of years in France and he has a lot of contacts there so we are looking to bring one of France's big things to here. This is something he has wanted to do for a few years and I'm going to start working as well.
"He's the one doing most of the work for it but it's really exciting.
"This will be the main business for us so if anyone from Ipswich is ever in Buenos Aires then please come and find us!"
It's clear speaking to Civelli that he really has found peace. He talks about a life free of stress and pressure, free from football after so long.
Time has helped that. He's had a lot of time to think, given he has spent so much of his career on the sidelines.
While retirement has offered Civelli a ray of light at the end of a tough career, the origins of his injury troubles are the darker side of the Argentine's story.
He now knows they date back to his primary school days, when his father Carlos put him under intense physical pressure from the age of eight.
Since making that discovery, with the help of medical professionals in recent years, their relationship has been a bad one and they went for long spells without speaking.
But time has played its part again, as did a little distance as Civelli took himself off travelling to Australia where he worked as a gardener, among other things.
"With psychologists and other professionals I've worked with people about my injuries and we agreed that my injuries were the result of all the pressure I was always having from my father," he said.
"When I was a child and I played here in my town I always had pressure from him and, when I started playing professional football that pressure grew so it was very hard for me.
"The only possibility not to have that pressure was not to play.
"That's the reason I had so many injuries in my career and why half of my career was spent out of the team. I spent half of my career injured and recovering and that was very hard for me.
"It wasn't a happy career because of all the pressure.
"Our relationship has been bad because of this but it's ok now. Time has helped. I went to Australia and that was a great experience for me. It helped me sort a lot of things out.
"I stopped playing football more than a year ago but it's probably the best decision I have made in my life.
"I don't miss football at all to be honest and I'm very happy with my new life. It's a relaxing life without pressure or stress.
"I am completely outside of football. When I retired at Banfield the president offered for me to start coaching the kids there but I was not interested because I need to wind out of football and I needed some space from football.
"I also prefer to take care of my health and didn't want to keep having injuries because football ends but life keeps going. I don't want to have in 10 or 20 years still pain in my body and knees and not be able to play with my kids or my friends.
"That's why I decided to finish my career. I should have taken that decision earlier."
Though he played on until 2017, blowing out his knee just eight games into his Ipswich career in March 2009, at home to Burnley, was the beginning of the end for the left winger.
It would be easy for him to look back at his time in Suffolk with a sense of bitterness. It was supposed to be the youngster's big break as he fulfilled a dream of playing in Europe, following the £1.3million deal, but it turned into an injury nightmare.
Remarkably, though, he remembers his 17-game stay with the club with a great fondness.
"I have really good memories of my time there," he said.
"For me it was a dream to go and play in Europe because in Argentina that's what everyone wants to do. We grow up here but dream of playing in Europe because it's a big step forward.
"I was really happy to sign for Ipswich and everyone there were nice to me and gave me a really good welcome. The staff, the manager (Jim Magilton), the people at the training ground and at Portman Road were all very kind to me.
"But in my eighth game I had the big injury in my right knee and after that everything changed.
"It was my first injury and I'd never lived with something like that before so it was very hard for me. That's why I think it took so long to recover, while it was also a big injury with two ligaments in my knee.
"I started playing again but Roy Keane put me in to train with the second team every day which was hard for me. After that I felt that the best thing for me was to change teams because I needed to play again and have confidence in myself.
"It was a pity but things go like that sometimes and you have to move forward."
This interview is conducted while Civelli sits with his English tutor, Marina, in Pehuajo. In truth, he doesn't really need lessons. His English is at a very high standard and always has been, as evidenced by the fact he conducted his first press conference in Ipswich in English, despite being just 22 years old.
But it is with a fellow Spanish speaker, Pablo Counago, with whom Civelli leant on following his arrival in Europe. The striker was at his friend's bedside in hospital, following his major knee operation and the pair remain close until this day.
"He helped me so much in the beginning because I was 22-years-old and alone," Civelli reflects.
"He opened the door of his apartment to me, him and his family.
"My English was good and I improved a little bit while I was there but not as much as I wanted because I spent a lot of time with Pablo and his family before a friend from home came and lived with me, so we spoke Spanish all day. But I spoke English with my team-mates and communicated well enough.
"I'm still in touch with Pablo and his family on WhatsApp and when he signed for Crystal Palace I went to London to see him every month.
"After that we went for five years without seeing each other but two years ago I was at a wedding in Rome so after that I flew to Helsinki in Finland to see him.
"I stayed for a week with him and his two kids and I think I will go to Spain to visit him and other friends I have there.
"We built up a good relationship and he is a really close friend. We feel like that."
Civelli's career still had life in it after he left Ipswich, with his contract cancelled by mutual consent in 2011, with spells at Libertad in Paraguay, Universidad de Chile and Banfield all following before he called it a day.
His only involvement in football now is as an advisor to his boyhood club Estudiantos Unidos (United Students), where he learnt the game as a child, now working to generate sponsorship and opportunities for the young players there.
He will never rule out formal involvement with the game he once loved again in the future but, for now, he's happy with life away from football and is focussed on providing the people of Buenos Aires with the finest French pastries in South America.
If any Ipswich fans do come into his shop, he hopes the meeting will go better than the last time he bumped into a supporter from Suffolk.
"I went to the World Cup in 2014 and was in Amazonia, a city in the north where a lot of English fans were, and there was one with an Ipswich Town shirt and that was great to see," he recalls.
"I went to him to say I had played for Ipswich but he didn't know who I was, which was a little bit embarrassing.
"The fans in Ipswich were very nice with me and I don't really know why because I didn't play a lot of games.
"I'll always remember those special years."