Francesco Di Fulvio rates his career “as a roller coaster of emotions, so far. A lot of good moments but at the same time difficult moments, too”.

There have been those moments when World Aquatics Championship gold medals lurched out of Italy’s hands with the heart-breaking shootouts deciding victors, something he laments.

Image Source: Francesco di Fulvio and Giacomo Cannella celebrate Italy defeating Team Hungary 11-10 during the Men's Quarter-Final match at the World Aquatics Championships - Budapest 2022 (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

“It’s bad and it’s even worse to lose a world championships final with penalties. I hope they will introduce extra time in water polo again,” he said.

However, while Italy’s last two championship finals were decided in this manner with Spain winning in 2022 (6-5 shootout win) and Croatia clinching gold in Doha 2024 (4-2 shootout win), Italy had to look back to Gwangju 2019 where it elevated to the top step at the expense of Spain.

That championship win was one of di Fulvio’s three hero moments. “I have had many but three of my biggest moments have been when we qualified for Rio 2016 in the last seven seconds of the last match. The second one is the bronze medal we won in Rio 2016 (defeating Montenegro). The third one is at Gwangju 2019 when we became world champions.

Image Source: Francesco di Fulvio of Team Italy is defended by Loren Fatovic of Croatia in the Men's Water Polo Gold Medal match at the World Aquatics Championships - Doha 2024 (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

So, there was a world title and two world silvers in recent years and that bronze medal from Rio eight years ago, followed by seventh at Tokyo 2020  — an uncharacteristic outing indeed.

He won a World Cup silver in 2023, World League silver in 2017 and twice finished with bronze at European Championships (2014 and 2024).

Hailing from the famed Pro Recco club in Italy, di Fulvio has been mining a vein of gold with seven national championships; eight Italian Cups; four LEN Champions League crowns and four LEN Super Cups — all with the same club.

Image Source: Francesco Di Fulvio of Italy in action against Montenegro (Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)

Playing for Pro Recco is a dream that every young player has at the beginning of their career and it was also mine.

“Now it has been 10 years that I have been playing for this wonderful club and I’m grateful for all the opportunities I have had with Pro Recco, both in and out of the pool. Being able play alongside the champions I have been with, for water polo and life, is magical,” he said. 

“I’m now focusing to close this season with Pro Recco in a best way possible, then I will have time to think about Paris.”

Seeking to win at the Olympics is every top player’s dream. For di Fulvio, it is fundamental to his being: “The desire is unexplainable and unquantifiable with words for how much we want that medal.”

What makes di Fulvio so formidable, so dominant in the open play, so fast to the ball and then so wicked with the shooting?

“I think my speed of thinking and my strong fundamentals make me who I am. I think I am a good team-mate because I understand when someone needs help and I put the team first.”

For long-standing Italian head coach Alessandro Campagna, di Fulvio is the fulcrum in which he builds his team.

Francesco is one of the most important players in the world. It’s not only as a driver who scores, but a universal  player. He knows very well the development of the game and he has always the right answer.”

Scoring Goals put it to di Fulvio that 2024 was an incomparable year in which teams have had to try and elevate three times — especially the Europeans. Just how tough is it for he and his team-mates?

“It’s a very weird and tough season; a lot of competitions for both the national team and Recco. It’s not easy to be in good shape for the whole season. Rightly, coaches ask us for our best in every training and want to win constantly, so needing to peak for so many tournaments can be tiring. 

“I think that behind every athlete there is a team of coaches working to maximise our performances. As science develops, new information and training techniques need to adapt and are continually changing.”

With that in mind and Paris looming, di Fulvio says the focus has shifted.

“ So far, we were focused on qualifying for Paris, and we finally achieved this at the last world championships in Doha. So now, we will work hard and be together for six weeks this summer to see what we can do. But work for this two-week tournament started three years ago straight after our last game in Tokyo.

Image Source: Francesco di Fulvio of Team Italy is tackled by Marko Zuvela of Team Croatia in the Men's Water Polo Gold Medal Match at the World Aquatics Championships - Doha 2024 (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

On which opponent was the strongest when it comes to Olympic glory, he said: “There is not just a single strong opponent anymore now; everyone knows there are several good teams and I think that there are six, seven or eight teams who, on the right day, can win in Paris.”

Being captain can bring extra pressures. Has that changed how you play or react?

“It didn’t change me a lot, to be honest — neither as a person nor as an athlete — I have kept my style.”

Asked whether there was anything he wished to say about team-mates, opponents or spectators, di Fulvio said: “No. Whatever happens in the team between team-mates stays in the locker room; ha ha.”

Reflecting on his career, di Fulvio said: “I’ve met a lot people in my career, like coaches and team-mates, who have become friends. I think that at the end of my career I will remember more the times spent with them than victories and trophies.”

Five days after the water polo concludes in Paris, di Fulvio will celebrate his 31st birthday. Will it be even heavier celebrations with an elusive gold medal around his neck?