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Fabio Cannavaro

It's not every day you climb into the back of a taxi and get a conversation on anything other than traffic chaos, crooked politicians and illegal immigrants. It's not every day you climb into the back of a taxi and get a conversation about football from someone who actually knows what he's talking about. And it's certainly not every day that you climb into the back of a taxi and get a conversation about Maradona, match fixing, and winning the World Cup with a man who was there. Then again, it's not every day you climb into the back of a taxi with Fabio Cannavaro.

But that's exactly what FourFourTwo has done today. Having caught up with Italy's World Cup-winning captain at a photo shoot for the new compression-fit Nike Pro range, we spend the rest of the day racing round Madrid with him in the back of a taxi with the city's characteristic red stripe on the side, a Mercedes Benz decked out in a Peru kit.

As we travel, we talk – and Cannavaro can talk. It is his first interview since joining Real Madrid and he is engaging, intelligent and disarmingly honest as we drive from the photographer's studio to a crowded television set out on a dusty industrial estate, where half the staff have invented an excuse to drop in and catch a glimpse of the world's finest defender; from there to the north of the Spanish capital and Cannavaro's hotel, the temporary home shared with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Emerson, Fabio Capello and all his coaching team; and, in convey with Van Nistelrooy's 4x4, from there to Valdebebas, Real Madrid's state-of-the-art HQ alongside Barajas airport where Cannavaro will train with Beckham, Ronaldo and Raul – and finally collect his club car.

As we roll past the security guard and into the car park, Cannavaro could hardly be more laid back. Relaxed and smiling the brilliant white smile of a toothpaste commercial, it's a different, more natural, image than the one he projected four hours earlier in the photographer's studio. Voted Italy's sexiest footballer, not to mention their toughest defender and captain, he had stood muscles bulging, jaw firm, stare fixed. He could have been a gladiator plucked straight from the Coliseum in Rome, the classic Italian icon.

Except that he is from Naples. Born on September 13 1973, Cannavaro's football career began in the mean streets of one Italy's toughest cities – a city which, he admits, many Italians reject as "chaotic, dishonest and dirty", that much of the country, especially the north, doesn’t even consider part of Italy. A dangerous city that drew many of his childhood contemporaries into drugs and crime, the home of the Camorra, Italy's other Cosa Nostra, but a city with a profound sense of community and a unique identity – on the pitch as well as off it.

“Naples is different to the rest of Italy," he says, "it has more in common with Rio de Janeiro than Milan. There are so many problems in Naples, it's a poor city with a lot of crime but it's a proud city, a happy, lively, humble city where people live with a smile on their faces. And it's a city that lives on the street. For example, there is a word that's used for kids in Naples but doesn't get used anywhere else in Italy: scugnizzi. Everywhere else they are just kids, bambini; in Naples they are scugnizzi.

Roughly, a scugnizzo is an urchin. "It's like street kid," Cannavaro explains, pausing to add: "but that's not necessarily a negative thing, it doesn’t mean they're delinquents. It's just that kids in Naples are never indoors. They go to the beach or hang around the streets, playing football, worrying their parents; it's another way of life."

Cannavaro was no different. Even after joining the Napoli youth team, he remained a street footballer in the working-class neighbourhood of Fuorigrotta. "In the early years after training with the team, I'd go and play on the streets with my mates, using rubbish sacks as goalposts," he recalls. "I didn’t want to miss that. It's a way of playin