Italy languishes in crisis after footballing failure

Former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson said that more than anything else, what caused him to lose the 1970 general election was England having been knocked out out of the World Cup a few days before the vote (by the usual Germans). Italy's failure to reach the finals at all is causing a national crisis

Italy_football
A catastrophic failure of football to inspire
Timwork
Tim Hedges
On 21 November 2017 13:31

Economic growth in Italy is still well below the European average. Unemployment, particularly in the south, is unacceptably high. Alitalia soon will be no more. The bank Monte dei Paschi is held up by smoke and mirrors whilst Carige, the Savings Bank of Genoa, very nearly went under until a hedge fund agreed to buy its non performing loans for 20 cents on the euro.

Fascists -- real fascists, not like the insipid anti-immigration grumblers in Germany and France -- won 9% of the vote in Ostia, Rome’s port.

But ask an Italian what his take is on bad news, you will get only one reply: the shocking, unmitigated catastrophe that is Italy failing to qualify for the football World Cup, losing to Sweden. Italy has proceeded to the final stages in every World Cup for the last sixty years. They have won it four times and been runners-up twice.

Ferrari have recently threatened to pull out of Formula 1 following some proposed rule changes, and several people commented without irony that without the famous prancing horse, there would be no point in holding the competition at all.

It is rather that way with the football: there would just be a lot of foreigners kicking the ball aimlessly, without any of the con brio and allegro of gli Azzurri, the Italians in their blue shirts.

This was the last campaign for veteran captain and goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, who cried at the end. Carlo Tavecchio, head of the Italian football federation, said he cried for four days. He added that the whole fiasco was the fault of the manager, Gian Piero Ventura, who has probably done a bit of weeping himself, having been sacked immediately.

Italians like motor racing (only one team, naturally), motorbike racing (Valentino Rossi) and cycling, but football is nearly a religion. Men accompany their wives to church and stand outside, smoking and talking about football. Sunday night is football night all across the country, and bars on Monday are full of men gazing critically at the Gazzetto dello Sport newspaper, which is pink, like the Financial Times.

Former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson said that more than anything else, what caused him to lose the 1970 general election was England having been knocked out out of the World Cup a few days before the vote (by the usual Germans). The fact that England had won the title in 1966 didn’t help him.

And so football has become a measurement of national success, like GDP. The Italians don’t expect much in the way of economic achievement, but they are proud of a few things and football is woven into the national fabric, as is the food and the Ferrari.

Now, throughout the summer of next year wives will have to talk to their despondent husbands, bars will be silent. There will be nothing on television.

In my view, if the Swedes had had any decency, they would have let Italy win.

So what will Italy do now? In the short term, it doesn’t look good for the ruling Democratic Party in next year’s elections. They are already behind in the polls, whilst Silvio Berlusconi used to own AC Milan, which shows he knows a thing or two.

In the longer term, my guess is that Italy will pull itself up by its own shoelaces, as I believe one day it will economically. The people are resilient in the face of disaster. They are determined when they think the cause worth fighting for, which admittedly does not happen that often. There will come a time when they take pride in their economic success.

In the meantime watch out for gli Azzurri in 2022.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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