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Italy laps up emotion of Schumacher's retirement

Written by: Staff
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MILAN, Sep 11 (Reuters) Italian motor racing fans never truly took Michael Schumacher to their hearts but they have realised what they will be missing when the celebrated Ferrari driver bows out at the end of this season.

Schumacher announced yesterday, shortly after winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, that he would call it a day after the final race of this year's championship.

The seven times world champion is the most successful Formula One driver in history having broken a series of records.

But while Italian fans lapped up the years of triumph for Ferrari and their German driver, Schumacher was never really adored in the way many sportsmen are in the country.

Schumacher was perceived as cold and had not learnt enough Italian and while there is nothing the local fans respect more than a winner they also want their champions to be 'simpatico'.

The German has tried to fit the role -- his language in media appearances in Italy changed over the years to reflect the Italian wish for emotion, commitment and sentimentality.

It always appeared a little forced but on Sunday he showed genuine emotion at the reaction of the most passionate fans who poured on to the track to salute his last victory in Italy.

ITALIAN GRATITUDE The response to his retirement was straightforward gratitude for the success he has brought an Italian sporting institution.

''Grazie Schumi'' was the headline in Monday's Corriere dello Sport while Gazzetta dello Sport switched languages to lead with ''Danke Schumi''.

But the Italian media also did not waste the opportunity to highlight the emotional nature of yesterday's race and the decision that followed it.

''The cold champion is now fragile,'' said Corriere della Sera in an article noting how Schumacher's personality was always much more human than the image built up of the ruthless winner.

Yesterday, Italians got the emotion they had always wanted from Schumacher -- the pictures of his wife Corinna in tears and receiving a hug from Ferrari's team boss Jean Todt were accompanied by a wedding day photograph of the happy couple.

''For you he is a legend, for me he is a husband,'' Corinna was quoted by Corriere della Sera in an article recounting their relationship.

Schumacher said yesterday his decision was based on a desire to go out at the top, but Gazzetta also focused on his warm words for his family.

''I decided with Corinna,'' was one headline in the newspaper's coverage.

Gazzetta's main editorial on Schumacher's retirement began: ''He did not cry, but he wasn't far off.

''It was in that moment, when a man confronts what he has inside, that Michael Schumacher could hardly find his voice,'' wrote columnist Pino Allievi.

Once the emotion of Sunday's announcement fades, it will be Schumacher's record seven world titles that will be remembered most by Italians and has assured the man from Huerth-Hermuelheim of a place in the country's sporting history.

REUTERS AY RK1755

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