Young and gifted, Giovanni Montani appeared to have the world at his feet. Known for his ready smile and good manners, he had emerged as a promising striker with Bari’s youth team at the age of 18.
But on Monday he was shot dead at the wheel of his car by two hitmen on a motorcycle who drove alongside his Nissan Micra at a crossroads. One fired through the window into his face. The car veered out of control and smashed into a garden fence. “It happened so quickly he had no time to react,” police said.
As officers began an investigation into the murder there seemed no doubt that he had become the latest victim of the brutal gang wars now sweeping the Italian south. His uncle is Andrea Montani, a former Mafia boss, who is serving 15 years in jail.
The Montani family is a leading Mafia clan in Bari. In September Salvatore Montani, also 18, Giovanni’s cousin, was shot dead after a clan quarrel that arose when he stole a dog from a pet shop. The footballer had been questioned by police about the incident, police said, and rival clans may have suspected him of “collaborating” with the authorities.
“Giovanni’s dream was to make the name of Montani famous for sporting achievements rather than crime,” said Enzo Tavarilli, the Bari youth team coach. “This is like losing a son,” Tavarilli said in tears at the Bari stadium. “Football was his life.” He said that Montani, who resumed playing only recently after pulling a muscle, had dreamt of joining a Serie A team, “preferably in the north, to get away from all this”.
Vincenzo Matarrese, the President of AS Bari, said that Montani had had “a great future”. Jean-François Gillet, the club's goalkeeper, said that he had watched Montani play in a training match ten days ago. “He scored a great goal. I complimented him and he beamed back at me — a smile like the sun.”
Montani is the latest victim in a wave of killings attributed to organised crime. “Crime emergency in the south”, ran a headline in Rome's Il Messaggero newspaper this week.
Francesco Gatteri, the chief of police in Bari, said gang warfare had claimed four victims in the area during the past three months. Violence has also scarred Calabria, home of the Ndrangheta, the local Mafia.
The worst death toll has been in Naples, where nine people have died in the past ten days. There have been calls for troops to be sent in after a local Mafia boss was shot dead near the cathedral in central Naples on Monday and an 18-year-old was fatally stabbed in Pozzuoli by a 16-year-old.
Clemente Mastella, the Justice Minister, said bringing in the Army was “no longer taboo, because something must be done to ease the insecurity and fear”. Last night the Government in Rome dispatched 1,000 policemen to the region.
Police said that 66 people had been killed in and around Naples this year, with 49 of the murders linked with the Camorra, the Naples Mafia.
Meanwhile, there will be a minute's silence held at all this weekends matches up and down the country.