A teammate and fans have paid tribute to a goalkeeper for his “strength and hope” after he tragically died at the age of 28 following a long battle with a brain tumour.
Caserta-born Daniel Leone was registered for Reggina when he was diagnosed with the tumour in 2014, keeping his thousands of fans updated on his journey while often making light of his grim situation on social media.
The fun-loving number one had surgery in Milan and later returned to professional football, joining Catanzaro before a recurrence of the disease forced him to retire.
Leone underwent more chemotherapy recently, keeping his spirits up by posing with friends and his partner, model Martina De Sarro.
Former top-flight goalkeeper Christian Puggioni recalled how Leone had asked him to teach him the “secrets of the trade” during their time together at Reggina.
“I have always appreciated your tenacity and I have been rooting for you, always,” Puggioni said in an emotional post after learning of Leone’s untimely death.
“Your every victory was my victory. Then the news you never want to have.
“In silence, from afar, always respecting your dignity and fortitude, I kept rooting for you, even stronger.
“After four years of battle, however, today you’re gone. The emptiness you leave is immense, and some might think you lost the most important game of your life.
“Poor, silly boy – because yes, Daniel, you won. You won, teaching many, the dignity of facing life’s real problems.
“You taught the courage to live through suffering with strength and hope. You taught, that you can leave your name, branded in people’s memory, with example and courage.”
Posting in June, Leone said he had received so much support from members of the public that it was hard to thank everyone individually.
“I can only say thank you for everything,” he added. “You have made me the happiest person in the world with all the problems and difficulties that I am going through.”
Leone also thanked his parents, relatives and De Sarro, who posted a tribute to him after his death was announced.
Writing on New Year’s Eve, she had described her year as “troubled”, “at times terrible” and admitted that it had left her “afraid of not being able to face it”.
“I realized that, despite everything, I must consider myself lucky,” she added, sharing a photo of her and Leone kissing.
A reader told Puggioni: “Thank you, Christian, for this heartwarming memory of Daniel, your former teammate, and for your great sensitivity.
“This proves that, with certain feelings and values, we can improve the society we live in.”
Another said: “Thank you for the beautiful words. Daniel will remain in the hearts of the people who have known him.”
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