“Doctor Rossi” gives sport an injection of charm
It is not very often, in the modern era of pampered sports celebrities who are coached before interviews and can smell a potentially endorsement-breaking question a mile off that you meet one you would like to go and have a drink with, not least one whose English is slightly ropey.
Italy’s multiple MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi bucked the trend in an interview this week, however, convincing me there was merit in the drawn-out process of setting up an exclusive audience rather than just having a management company wheel out a cardboard cut-out.
The 30-year-old had just stepped off a long haul flight from Frankfurt to Tokyo, yet he was “very ‘appy” to talk about his future (no to Formula One, yes to rallying) and his past bust-ups with fellow Italian Max Biaggi. Indeed, he was grinning from ear to ear on the subject of his former rival.
“If only David Beckham would dish the dirt like this” popped into my head as Rossi spoke with an infectious charm about his explosive relationship with Biaggi.
This is not to say Beckham has zero charisma. On the contrary. I had to put a colleague from Spanish news agency EFE right recently after she called Becks “boring” (and worse).
Beckham is royalty, I told her. I think you can be tried for treason in my country for bad-mouthing him and, besides, if you look past his accent, the former England captain is both charming and intelligent. He’s just no Valentino Rossi.
In the space of 20 minutes, Rossi closed the door on a possible Formula One future, said he wanted to drive in the world rallying championship (for Ford, more concrete news – I was feeling quite giddy by this point!) for 10 years and admitted he loved all the rough and tumble with Biaggi.
Now I have the greatest respect for the likes of Roger Federer, Lewis Hamilton and Kaka. I just don’t think (although I admit to the possibility I could be wrong) they would make the best conversationalists over a couple of pints.
For Rossi, who goes by the nickname ‘the Doctor’ (a mark of respect in Italy and also, as he says, “because Rossi is a common name for doctors in Italy”), it seems as if no subject is taboo.
“I remember with great ‘appiness the years with Biaggi,” the six-times premier class world champion said with a wink after I asked him about a punch-up in Barcelona in 2001. Quality. How about a swift half?