I have always been fascinated by footballers with unconventional careers. Players that haven’t followed a well trodden path and have crafted a truly unique career. On paper, their career might not look as successful as someone who has played in the Premier League for 10 years but they probably have a more interesting story to tell.
One night when trawling through Transfermarkt.com (a football database website) I thought I would try and seek out players who have played in Africa, Asia and Oceania. The football coverage that we are exposed to tends to focus on the leagues of England, Spain, Germany and other nations with strong leagues. It can be easy to forget about the multitude of leagues taking place the world over that receive little coverage. There are European players plying their trade across all five continents and their stories tend to go untold.
The state of football in Oceania is something that I had not given much attention to. While looking for obscure stories I thought I would check if any Europeans had ever played football in Fiji. I looked into the history of Suva. F.C and found that an Italian once played for them. How did an Italian end up playing their football in Fiji I wondered.
His name is Giacomo Ratto, a goalkeeper from the Italian city of Varese. After reading through his history I became staggered by Giacomo’s travels throughout his career. I’d never seen a football CV that looked quite like it.
When I came across Giacomo’s story I felt that I needed to make it known to the world. I couldn’t believe that I had never heard his story before. It wasn’t long after my tweet that the man himself was following me and chatting to me about his career. It was weird to come across someone’s career randomly on a website and be speaking to them the next day. I could have chatted to him for hours about all his travels but the most remarkable thing he revealed is that one of his friends used to play for Tobermore United. A club that is basically round the corner from where I live. Talk about a small world.
You need to take a deep breath before rhyming off all the countries he has played in. Italy, Switzerland, Malta, Nicaragua, Greece, Panama, Fiji, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Fiji and Iceland. He has covered all four corners of the earth motivated not only by footballing success, but the desire to experience other cultures. He didn’t want to just have a run of the mill career, he wanted to have a career that would be worth remembering.
After hearing first hand about his story, I felt I owed him the duty of a proper interview that would give football fans an insight into a career they probably weren’t previously aware of.
What were your earliest memories of football growing up in Varese? Did you always want to play as a goalkeeper?
“I started at the age of 8 in the academy in city, the name was U.S. Bosto, I played there until I was 13. When the scouts of Varese F.C. they looked at me playing in the league in a tournament and they decided to give me a small trial. I went there and played two games on trial and they decided to buy me. At that they spent 1500 Euros for me. I always played goalkeeper I decided to be a goalkeeper after watching Luca Marchegiani after he played instead of Pagliuca in the game against Norway (at the 1994 World Cup). You know when you love someone that you see at the first time, it was the same with the role of the goalkeeper. I saw this player play the World Cup and I said inside of me that I wanted to be a goalkeeper. When I played with my friend or my uncle in the garden I would always play between the posts. Every time I was dreaming of reaching the top level.”
What happened after Varese signed you and what was it like playing first team football for other clubs in Italy?
“When I signed with Varese and I played there it was something totally new. I had a lot of passion because it was like a dream. I remember that in the league we played against Milan, Brescia, Atalanta and other clubs like Como which was a derby. I made my debut against Como and I remember that after that match everyone was congratulating me as I had a great a match. It was amazing to play against these players and these teams. Unfortunately I did not get to make my debut for the first team. I’m not a tall goalkeeper and this is something that has impacted my career. I had a fantastic season at Luino when I was 19 years old. After that season one club from Serie D AC Castellettese came for me but unfortunately it was a really bad decision to say no to them. You know when you are 20 years old sometimes you take the wrong decision. This decision stopped my career in Italy a bit and I played then in the regional leagues (non-league football).”
“I have regrets about this bad choice and I also went to Switzerland to the regional leagues without an agent. When you do not have someone pushing you, without a curriculum it’s hard to do well in professional leagues. I remember in Switzerland when I had pre-season with Mendrisio that was in the third level we played a match against Locarno. I had a fantastic season and I saw that I had the quality to play higher up but did not have the chance.”
What was it like leaving Italy and going to play football in countries such as Malta and Nicaragua/
“In 2013 I played for the first time professionally and it was amazing. I am a person that likes to discover and see new cultures. It is true that Maltese culture has something from Italian culture because we are so close. But at least it was the first time I was alone far from home. I came there and the team was in the last position and at the end we finished third. I conceded less than one goal per match and it was amazing. Unfortunately in the next season they cut the number of foreign players including for goalkeepers. It was a really nice adventure.”
“I went to Nicaragua in 2014 and everything was new. Maybe at that time I wasn’t mature enough to play in Central America. It is hard, everything is different from Europe, the football mentality is different. I started very well (playing for UNAN Managua), I played against Walter Foretti and I was chosen as man of the match. I had a groin injury that took me out for two months. When I came back on the pitch unfortunately I got a red card and the relationship with the management started to worsen. I decided to split away and I was offered the chance to play for Khoromkhon FC who were the champions of the Mongolian league in the AFC Cup (Asian . But unfortunately this move did not work out. I also rejected an offer at the time from Costa Rica to play in an international cup.”
How did your move to Fiji come about?
“I was without a club for two months when I got in touch with the coach of Suva F.C. the champions of the Fijian football league to play the OFC Cup (Oceanic Champions League). I had a great experience there, the country was a paradise. It was a strange choice but I’m happy that I made it because I learned a really different way to understand football and life. I also met some really great people there.”
Can you tell me about your experiences in other countries such as Zimbabwe and Mongolia?
“In 2016 I went for one month to Zimbabwe to a club called Tsholotsho FC through an agent from Portugal called Diego Martins. The plan was to stay there until July and then move to PSL (Professional Soccer League of South Africa). I played one tournament in Zimbabwe but we decided not to stay because of the conditions. It wasn’t what we were expecting. There were some problems with the coach who didn’t want European players. He preferred to bring in a goalkeeper that he knew that was at Triangle United. However, it was a great life experience. When you leave Africa you will miss it forever. It is something that I can’t explain with words. I knew very good people and I had very good relations with everyone. You see the real life, there are people with nothing but they always have a great word for you. They invite you for something even though they have nothing.”
“It was a great football and human experience. After the match that I played in the Football Fest the team manager brought me to eat a pizza. He said that he saw me playing the tournament and enjoyed me making the saves.”
“I got to Ulaanbataar (capital of Mongolia) after I contacted a coach in Holland Pieter De Jong. He was coaching in South Africa and he liked my videos and material. He was with Cape Town FC and after that he went to Ulaanbataar City FC. He made me known to the club and they were happy to have me there. It was also an amazing experience we started the league not so good but I had great performances. The city is great and has a lot to offer. The countryside is also a beautiful fantastic place, a lot of land with nothing but horses.The wild nature is in contrast with the city that is like a metropolis. It was great when the half season came that Rodrigo Hernando a coach from Malaga gave us organisation on the field that we needed. We finished third in the cup and were fighting for third place in the league. We have a fantastic relationship and respect each other a lot. The mentality of the football and culture were combining together. You give something more when you like the place where you are.”
Where did you play at after your time in Mongolia?
“After Mongolia I went to Greece in August 2017. My agent found me a club called Philippos Alexandreia. I went there with an agreement but I stayed just one week. I played a match that finished 0-0 and I played really well. The manager understood that there were problems with registration. The federation could not register foreign players who had never played in Greece before the deadline. I found another club in Athens but we could not finish the medical check on time and we split from them. I was three months without a club and in January 2018 I came back to S.K Viktoria Wanderers in Malta who again were in last position. We had a great season and saved the club from relegation, we finished in seventh position. We stayed up after a playoff match. Unfortunately at the end of the season my negotiation to stay was turned down and they found another goalkeeper. I was without a club for several months, it’s really hard when you know that you did well and you were very close to a step forward.”
“After nine months without a club I decided to join Vestri in Iceland. I went with them to a pre-season camp in Spain and they decided to accept me. Unfortunately I didn’t settle very well to Iceland life, it’s something that can happen in football and life in general. But I still have good memories of my period in Iceland. I had a really nice relationship with the President Sammy and all of my teammates.” In November 2019 I signed for Fgura a club in Malta. The sporting director wanted me there and it was a really great choice even if I just played two friendly matches. They were really happy with me but in the first division, teams can only play with three foreigners and they wanted to have a Maltese goalkeeper. I didn’t play official matches due to that restriction but I met new football people in Malta that appreciate me a lot.”
“In January 2020 I came back to S.K Viktoria Wanderers who were again in last position but we stayed in the league. I have a special relationship with Malta, I really like the place. When you are happy in one place you can give your best when all things are positive and your mind is working well. But unfortunately Covid came and the federation cancelled the league. I have an offer to renew my contract with them but I am waiting as a club in the Premier League in Malta is interested in me as well as clubs in Greece and possibly Nicaragua. I would like to continue in Malta or play in Maltese Premier League which is a main goal of mine.”
How do you reflect on your career so far and the journeys that you have made?
“I built a career from nothing and I did well where I went and people have a good memory of me which is really important. It was random my career, it was not planned to be like this, when it is your job you must accept offers when they are coming and when they are good. I never had problems with discovering new football culture. I never saw the border as a barrier. Borders are there to be passed. I think that people should discover new as it is something that makes you richer as a person. We are all human, I think that we are citizens of the world.”