We are delighted to announce the winners of the 2022 Total Player Award, Francesco Di Fulvio (ITA) and Maddie Musselman (USA).
Francesco Di Fulvio has been a serious contender for winning the Total Player Award several times. This year, our jurors decided – Francesco Di Fulvio was the best male water polo player in the world in 2022.
Di Fulvio (29) had a magnificent 2021/22 season with Pro Recco. The best Italian club won both domestic trophies and the LEN Super Cup. The crown of the season was the second consecutive title of the European champion after a thrilling final match in Belgrade and a penalty shootout win over Novi Beograd.
A special gift he received several months ago is something that describes what Di Fulvio has achieved with Pro Recco and how his play has been important for the team. On March 26, Pro Recco beat Ortigia 7:5 in the Italian League. Di Fulvio scored one goal in that match. Scoring that goal, Di Fulvio continued his successful row. The game against Ortigia was Di Fulvio’s 100th consecutive match in the Italian League, in which he scored at least one goal. The club gifted Francesco a t-shirt designed especially for this jubilee.
After a successful season with Pro Recco, there was no time for a break. A few weeks after the Final Eight, the World Championships in Budapest started. The „Settebello“ arrived in the final, where they lost to Spain after a penalty shootout, which proves that there was no big difference between the winner and the 2nd-placed. One says Italy wouldn’t have reached the final if it hadn’t had Di Fulvio on the team. That may be true, or maybe it isn’t. Italy has a great team, and many excellent players. Anyway, there is no doubt that Di Fulvio was instrumental in winning the silver medal. He was the true leader, the best scorer of the team (14 goals) one of the fastest swimmers in the Championships since he won many swim-offs.
At the European Championships in Split, where Italy finished 4th, Di Fulvio displayed his outstanding scoring possibilities once more. He scored 15 goals, but the statistics show he is a great play organizer. He had 12 assists.
And when and where did Di Fulvio’s career start?
He was born in Pescara in 1993. The water polo club Sisley from Pescara was one of the best in the world at that time. It won the Champions League in 1988, the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1990, 1993, 1994, LEN Trophy in 1996, etc. Francesco’s father Franco won several medals playing for Sisley.
Francesco followed in his father’s footsteps. Still, the Pescara-based club ceased to exist in 2009, so Francesco’s senior career began in the capital of Italy. His first club was Roma (2009-2010). Between 2010 and 2013, he played for Florentia. After one season spent in Brescia (2013/14), he moved to Pro Recco, and has played for the Italian giant for more than eight years.
Playing for Pro Recco, Di Fulvio won six national championships (in 2020, the league was canceled, while Brescia triumphed in the next year), six Italian Cups, three Champions Leagues (2015, 2021, 2022) and three LEN Super Cups (2015, 2021, 2022).
In 2014, Di Fulvio achieved his first significant result on the international stage, winning the bronze medal at the European Championships in Budapest.
Representing his nation, Di Fulvio clinched two medals at the World Championships – gold in 2019 in Gwangju (where he was voted the best player of the tournament) and silver in Budapest 2022. He has an Olympic bronze medal from Rio 2016 and the 2017 World League silver medal in his treasury.
In August, Francesco Di Fulvio will turn 30. He will have enough time to add new trophies to his treasury before he decides to end his playing career.
As far as the Total Player Award goes, Maddie Musselman makes a little bit of history this year by becoming the first player, male or female, to ever win the award twice.
After an incredible year in 2021, Musselman received big votes from thirty-two of our thirty-nine expert jurors this year, accumulating nearly double the votes as the next best player.
But collecting awards is just what Maddie Musselman does. Plain and simple.
At the age of 24, Musselman is already a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist (from Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020) and a four-time World Champion, most recently in Budapest earlier this year.
And her performance throughout the competition in Budapest was a major factor in Team USA’s winger maintaining her status as the Total Player of the Year. Her five-goal contribution in the final against Hungary was arguably the only difference between the two teams in a great final that saw her named MVP. Musselman finished third in the overall scorer rankings, one score behind the joint-first place winners, Bea Ortiz and Judith Forca, having played a game less.
However, Musselman had been reaching those outstanding heights at home in the USA prior to Budapest with her college team, the UCLA Bruins.
While UCLA went crashing out of the NCAA’s at the semi-final stage, Musselman led the Bruins in practically every statistical department in 2022: she had the most goals (69), most assists (39), most steals (46), most blocks (17), and even the most swim-offs (60).
This year, Musselman finished her collegiate career with 251 goals, making her the school’s all-time leading scorer. As a four-time best college player of the yeae (2017–2019, 2022), she joins an elite group of only six other Bruins in UCLA history. Not only that, but she joined Rachel Fattal (2013-2015, 2017) as the only other Bruin to be named to the First Team All-America on four separate occasions (2017-19, 2022).
Musselman’s emergence as one of the greatest players of her generation is unsurprising.
As the daughter of a former professional baseball player for the New York Jets, it was always likely that Musselman would be destined for a successful sporting career.
Long before bursting onto the scene as a teenager at the 2015 World Championships or the 2016 Olympic Games, a twelve-year-old’s determination to train with the older boys at her club distinguished her as a fearless and gifted future superstar.
One of the most intriguing questions about Musselman is whether or not Europeans will ever witness her grace the continent’s professional leagues. As a student of medical science of the highest calibre, it is possible that this will never occur, as a doctorate beckons. Even still, it’s hard to argue with her status as the best player of this decade so far.
What the future holds for Musselman is probably more of the same. We can expect to see her at at least two more Olympic Games. She currently sits on 30 Olympic goals , but is more than likely to surpass Maggie Steffens as the all-time top Olympic Goalscorer, who set a new record of 56 in Tokyo.
You can hear more about Maddie Musselman, and her spectacular journey to becoming our two-time Total Player her Episode of the Total Waterpolo Podcast.