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Max's biography

“Sports is school of life and Max best represents it. He chose to be the main actor in his life, as pessimism and laziness never got the best of him, he instead took control over the situation and managed to change his life.” Nicola Gagliano (Sisley Treviso Assistant Coach)

Max Di Franco was born in San Cataldo on February 7th, 1978 and lived in Ravanusa (his mother’s native hometown), in Agrigento’s province, until age 8.

Since his early years, Max has been a very bright child. When he was only 5 he learned to write from his cousin, enabling his parents to enroll him in elementary school one year ahead of time.

His mom and dad were street vendors and were not around the house too often. During afternoons, Max and his brothers spent time playing football in the village streets.

In 12/1986 Max and his family moved to Germany, to the city of Herrenshor, in Saarbrucken’s province, where he spent 18 months at his uncles’ house. In Herrenshor, Max went to fourth and fifth grade, played football on the school team, and perfectly mingled in the new social and cultural environment; it is worth mentioning, in fact, that such versatility has always been an aspect of Max’s defining demeanor. He always showed to be a very intelligent kid, with something special; it was no accident that he accompanied his little cousin to the dentist not long after their arrival to Germany.

In 08/1988 Max and his family moved back to Sicily, this time to the minuscule city of Sommatino, where he went to sixth grade and, after graduating from junior high, he enrolled in the Canicatti I.P.S.I.A Institute for two years. Those qualities that would significantly shape his career had already emerged in school. Max was a role model, brilliant, zealous, and always ready to take the extra effort for his classmates, both inside and outside the classroom. These years greatly built Max’s personality, which was outstanding, quick-witted, but also introverted, bashful, a bit presumptuous and ambitious. When him and his bothers quarreled Max used to say to them “Rest sure, one day you’ll see who I will become,” showing such confidence to the point that whoever happened to listen could not believe he was a just a child.

Showing a stunningly natural faith in his own means, one of his 7th grade essays featured a sentence stating, “I want to become a Serie A volleyball player.”

When his family stepped out, Max used to stay home to watch sport channels or emulated Rocky by going running. Featuring already an athlete’s heart and mind –even though he was not an athlete yet- Max followed the 1990 Football World Cup. Filled with pathos and brotherhood, Max and his peers shared joyful moments, as they would twist around on their scooters. When Schillaci’s Italy lost, Max and his friend Antionio cried out of sadness, delusion, and frustration, for the magical summer dreams had sobbingly vanished.

In 1991 Max and his family went to visit their relatives in Liguria. There, through a family friend who would provide valuable connections, Max saw his wish to do a try-out for Juventus in Arma di Taggia become true. In spite of the negative outcome due to his excessive height, Max did not give up his aspiration to become a first-class champion.

Max has always been a serene and rather courageous person, but he was constantly afraid not to find a way to leave the increasingly unsuitable local environment. Max always wanted to play and have fun, just like all of his peers. Given his height (1,86 cm at age 13), he decided to sign up for the village men’s volleyball team. Unfortunately, Max could not help being dissatisfied, as he only practiced sporadically and only competed on Sundays.

The narrow Sommatino reality smothered Max, making him feel different and at unease. What he needed was a reality that would allow him to express himself, take advantage of his athleticism, paving the way for his future. He grew tired of feeling detached and playing street football and pool with his friends in his spare time. Max was indeed affected by “payback” feelings, which hunted him day and night.

In those days the very famous Maxicono TV advertisement starred volleyball legend Andrea Giani, who was naturally revered by Max (Giani would end up being one of his teammates in 2005). Inspired by Max’s older brother, Franco, who would always urge him to write to Maxicono, here came the breakthrough: Max grabbed a pen and a paper and wrote the lionized letter that would stir talks in sports and common magazines for many months to come.

The content reflected Max’s character: simple, direct, practical.

“I am a 14 year-old boy, 2 meters tall. I wanted to ask you if it’s possible to set up a try-out at your place, I am only registered with my village team, but I would start from zero.”

Max thought he had no choice, being alienated from influential realities. Parma’s answer turned out to be negative due to the already fulfilled recruitment process, but Max did not give up and kept pursuing his dream by writing to Treviso, Ravenna, and Modena.

In one-week span, Carlo Carra (Sisley Treviso Junior Program spokesperson) called the Di Francos. Max’s mom answered the phone and, given that the subject in question was not at home, she immediately sent his bother to the city main square to give Max the good news.

In the first place, Max did not believe it really happened. The well wished try-out had already been arranged and Sisley had already bought two tickets round trip form Catania to Venice, one for him and one for his dad.

The excitement at the airport was palpable, both for the tryout and Max’s first flight. Waiting for them in Venice was Luciano Carlesso. Mr Carlesso was holding a sign saying “Sisley Volley Treviso” and was already set to bring Max to the “Ghirada,” one of Benetton’s most functional sports centers in the world.

This environment would shortly become Max’s new home. There, Max met right way Sports Manager Bruno Da Re and Michele De Conti, respectively General Manager and General Secretary. As soon as Da Re set his eyes on Max he could not help exclaiming “What a beast! I didn’t think there were Sicilians who were so tall.”

Subsequently, Max met the coaching staff. Head Coach Michele Zanini became straightaway Max’s sports father, as he would provide him with all the psychological support a 15 year-old boy needs when he is taken away from his parents. He cultivated him like a rare and beautiful plant. Max also grew attached to the Assistant Coach, Nicola Gagliano.

First problem: the “little boy” (198 cm, 78kg) had an extra-large chassis, but featured an extra-small engine. His feeble body did not allow Max to sustain the hard practices. Zanini and trainer Paolo Borghi, who were both P.E. teachers and were convinced of the fact the “the big cub” suffered extensively from his physical flaws, in their spare time went to the gym to bridge Max’s strength gaps and alleviate his physical and mental issues.

Day after day “the big cub’s” progress was increasingly evident, as the whole staff felt proud to trust Max. Shortly after he would completely adjust and distinguish himself among more experienced and “evolved” teammates.

Yet, on the team Max felt like a fish out of water, as he was afflicted and distracted by nostalgic heartaches due to the distance of his family and friend who were 1600km far away. Being also the youngest of three sons, Max was pampered by both parents, which made him even more homesick.

Regretfully, Max’s family accepted his premature departure, aware of the fact that Sommantino could never offer a better chance than Treviso. Besides, his parents were also well conscious of Max’s suffering linked to his peers’ ignorant and malicious remarks, which would affect him negatively. Max, being mindful of how hard it was for his parents to accept his departure, will always be grateful to them.

Likewise, Max’s relation with his brothers has always been beautiful, despite the fact that they got separated physically, but not emotionally. Perhaps, one of Max’s regrets has been not being able to share with them their important moments, joys, and pains.

The first month in Treviso was a mixture of fatigue, sadness, and cries. Hence, Max’s parents often went to visit him in Treviso. Overwhelmed by physical exhaustion and discomfort, Max even got to the point to beg his mother to call the managers to interrupt his strenuous, but wanted path.

There was a lucky coincidence though. For one hour straight the Manager’s phone line was occupied. That hour allowed Max to gather all the needed energies to go on, never stop, and finish what he had stared. Aware of the fact he dropped out of school to become a professional player, he practiced with much tenacity and perseverance, finishing every hard practice.

His sacrifices would be awarded, as only after three months he became a starter on the Under 16 team.

Quite often Max practiced with the A team. Once he did the Vertec test (device that measures jump and elevation) and beat the legendary Andrea Zorzi. Max never knew if he had won for real or if they did that on purpose to boost his confidence.

Nevertheless, being close to that kind of champions was a huge incentive for Max to keep improving his skills. To him, they were idols and role models. He was so accustomed to watch them on TV just a few months earlier that he never got over the excitement of their presence.

Ten kg heavier, the “Sicilian big cub” was prepared to compete on the Under 16 team. Shortly, Max got called to join the Junior National Team. In this instance too, he distinguished himself, as the Head Coach Angelo Lorenzetti named him team captain. The well deserved captain position would accompany him at the 1995 Barcelona European Cup and Puerto Rico World Cup: both experiences would end with a silver medal.

In these two years Max won two titles in the Junior League and took second place at the Bahrain Junior World Cup.

On October 20th, 1996 Max had his first debut on the A squad in the Treviso-Ravenna match. That game, which will never be forgotten, Max scored 16 heartfelt and memorable points. For a middle blocker, 16 points are so many. Max became already a “little champion,” who started from the bottom and, only four years after his “letter,” he was already in the spotlight.

In 1998 Max won his first Serie A title. He came off the bench on the last point to raise the block, he succeeded as he soft-blocked Casoli’s hit, allowing his team to transition. Fomin closed the game bringing the title to Treviso.

In a few-years span Max found himself in the world that he had envisioned as a child. This world would surprise him more and more, as it was made of titles, private flights, and European Cups. Shortly, fame, requests of autographs, and a good contract materialized themselves. Max was greatly convinced he would make it to the top.

1998 was a year full of satisfaction and outstanding performances for Di Franco. He also started in the Cev Cup, replacing Gravina. At the end, Sisley won the competition.

At this point Max felt ready to leave Treviso and prove himself in other challenging realities. The time had come to leave “mother Sisley” and grow professionally. He then left Treviso with a heavy heart to go to Fano, but the experience turned out to be a difficult adventure because the team did not have the experience nor the means by which it could compete in Serie A.

The experience, in fact, ended badly, as Fano got relegated to the minor league and Di Franco got injured. This was a year to forget.

Bummed down, Max Di Franco went back to his Sicily on Palermo Iveco team. However, Max had trouble find a spot in the starting line-up because, ahead of him, there were two icons of world volleyball, such as Bovolenta and Held.

After Palermo, Max packed again for Parma. After many years, the team renamed itself Maxicono, which was the name from which everything started and that, for Max, was the synonym for dream.

Max signed a two-year contract, but after one year the team went bankrupt. As a result, Max moved to Montichiari, but the season did not start well. In fact, after a few weeks through pre-season the coach decided he did not like Max and wanted to release him. Max’s antagonist was in the starting six, but, unfortunately for him, he got injured the morning of the first match of the year. It was in a dire situation with no alternatives that all of Max’s Sicilian pride came out, as he was called off the bench and turned the game around. From 2-0, Max’s team came back and won 3-2. After the game, the team managers reconsidered their position and confirmed Max for the following season as an unmovable starter.

It was 2003. Max was at his very top, in terms of shape, career, and also experience, after he risked to exit the “big leagues.” This was Max’s best year, as he was awarded the best middle blocker in the Italian league. It certainly was a great result, but at the same time Max suffered a great delusion because he was convinced he deserved to be recruited on the national team, but that call was never made.

At the end of such a brilliant season, he went back to Sicily by plane. On his 300-passengers flight, ironically, Julio Velasco, to Max the best coach of all times, took the seat next to him. In one-hour flight, Max was so blown away by Velasco’s charisma that, even though he had offers from very prestigious teams, he opted for Modena with no hesitation. Modena is the Juventus of volleyball, and at the time was coached by the very Velasco and featured the best setter in world, the Brazilian Ricardinho.

Max’s career continued in Perugia, in which he was able to rejoin Paolo Tofoli, whom had witnessed Max’s growth in Treviso. Those were three years at a very high level, in which Di Franco competed for the title and played in the Champions League. At very beginning, Max would have only perceived such accomplishments as Chimeras.

In this period, Max is emotionally linked to Ilaria. Their love was born in Montichiari and it was beautiful and passionate, but also unstable, made of break-ups and made-ups, fights and misunderstandings that eventually led to separation before the wedding.

Max was enthusiastic, proud of himself, and confident. He was convinced he went beyond his limits, showing that with hard work, dedication, passion, and talent everything is possible. It was even possible to become a “champion” by migrating from a little village in the south, in which people usually live difficult lives, poor of satisfaction and full of hardship, as shown from the fact that those areas are more known due to crime than sports.

When the will is a Serie A, first-level will it is possible to overcome every physical, technical, psychological, and social limit. Max had shown such convictions since his early years and in the long run they paid off, contrary to all those who did not have faith in him and mocked him because of his body, which turned out to be a “Serie A” body. The accomplishments he reached repaid him of all the sacrifices and renunciations that he had to make.

After Perugia, Max had dark and difficult years. His morale was law because he did not have on his side the girl whom he believed to be the one. He ended up on small teams and became demotivated and discouraged, almost as if it would seem that he did not believe in those values that had led him until then. The fact that for two years in a row he got relegated to the minor league really hurt him, with Forli’ first, and Pineto after, struggling to go back to the “big leagues.”

After licking his wounds, the old Max came back, as strong and active as ever, with the same winning mentality. Encouraged by his beloved ones and by whom still believed in him as a player, Max decided to go back to the court. Supposedly it is hard to come back after two consecutive demotions and you can only do that if, in addition to begin a great athlete, you’re also a great man.

For the first time in his career, Serie A2 teams knocked at his door. At that point, he opted for Genova. He arrived to Liguria’s capital with the usual enthusiasm and spirit that always distinguished him, intrigued by an unfamiliar league and with many good intentions. Max had a large amount of pressure to bear, because he was one of the few experienced players who could make the difference. He applied his energies for the team and brought this newly promoted team to the playoffs semifinals, which was a miracle for a team whose initial goal was to maintain its spot in the league.

It was a wonderful year in terms of human relations because Max found a very strong and cohesive group, made of fantastic people. This shows that teams, in order to be great teams, they have to be made of great men. This summarizes the thought Max has always had.

Max moved out for the 11th time in his career, leaving for Isernia. After two years of courting by Molise’s team, new stimuli, emotions, and objectives filled Max’s soul, but his heart and fired-up eyes are the same ones from Treviso’s times.

Being ambitious, Di Franco never stops dreaming. He is now looking at the future, with his mindset focused on making a movie about his story, making some significant small steps in the field of advertisement.

As his Assistant Coach from the Junior team recalls: “Sports is school of life and Max best represents it. He chose to be the main actor in his life, as pessimism and laziness never got the best of him, he instead took control over the situation and managed to change his life.”

“He never gave up, and even in the most difficult moments he managed to get up and stay on. He was, and still is, his future’s builder, because he simply wanted to fulfill his dream to play volleyball.”

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