In a competitive society such as ours we often ask ourselves whether an achievement is always worth achieving regardless of the how. To go to extremes, I hope most people would agree the achievement of becoming a millionaire is not worth achieving if in order to acquire one’s millions people have to suffer.
One area where this question is more open to debate is sports. I will ignore drug cheating for now and focus on one simple pain: watching the Italian national team play football. Indeed, I can think of no better example from the world of sports where one team and its ambitions to win tournaments can cause so much misery with spectators worldwide.
Italy, I argue, has developed this special knack at winning football tournaments despite displaying rather mediocre capabilities, despite subduing its own potential to play well, and most importantly – while boring the hell out of us in the process. In fact, whenever a football World Cup or a Euro competition take place, I wholeheartedly await the Italian team to get chucked out before I feel I can really start enjoying the tournament. It is as if a stone is off my heart.
Sadly, though, as with the last World Cup, Italy quite often ends up going all the way to even win the final. Matter of fact, Italy’s tactics are not that different to Australia’s cricket agendas: while Australia is widely acknowledged as the dominant side of world cricket, it doesn’t refrain from nasty behavior towards its opponents in its way to victory.
How does Italy manage to be such a pain?
I argue that Italy’s football is high on cynicism. While in my view sports are meant to be a source of joy, Italy uses and abuses the game of football in order to maximize its chances of winning with whatever ammo it may or may not have up its sleeve.
As I have explained in my previous post, football, being a low scoring game (unlike cricket), can be cruel. Italy’s speciality is in taking advantage of this inherent cruelty by:
1. Closing the game to remove any chances of creativity.
2. Developing strong defensive capabilities to prevent the opponent from scoring. This attitude synergizes well with the removal of creativity.
3. Doing as much as they can to ensure they get a result from the slight few opportunities they have a go at creating. While not trying to create much – creativity, after all, means taking defensive risks – Italy is at its best in diving and other forms of theatrical cheating meant to steal penalty kicks from its opponents. It then goes on to score a significant portion of its goals through these often dubiously acquired set pieces.
Now, can you compare this attitude to the fast passing game approach that is meant to penetrate defences and achieve a high scoring position for other teams? I can’t, and I’m glad to say that Arsenal, the Dutch national team, and plenty of others agree with me (including teams like Barcelona, Manchester United, and the current Russian national team that has played by far the Euro’s most attractive football in its match with Holland).
Still, what do Italians think of their team and the way it plays? Do they approve of its traditional tactics in the name of winning?
Well, obviously I am in no position to assess Italian states of mind. What I am exposed to, however, are the reactions of Italian supporters on TV and the feedback I get from chats and from the news here in Australia on the atmosphere of the so called Italian community.
From both local and TV based sources, the impression is of undivided support for the national team. The way in which this support is justified by the more aware supporters is interesting: Some argue that Italy’s game is actually more entertaining than the attacking alternatives, yet while I can accept different strokes for different folks I generally take such arguments as sophisticated lies (that is, unless the person at hand is a masochist). Others actually admit to Italy’s distinct style, but argue it is an acquired taste; again, I would argue that while this is less of a lie it is still an argument most other team supporters do not use, which implies that once again this is a cover up.
We end up with a sad reality: Italians and others calling themselves Italians support their national team due to nationalistic reasons alone. There are hardly any stars worth following in the current Italian team to allow for the admiration of some astonishing talent, so we’re down to nationalism. This nationalistic selfishness is then magnified by a feedback loop where the wins acquired through nasty tactics actually serve to bolster Italian appetites for further success no matter how. Winning tastes good, and once victory has been tasted the crowds want more of it, pushing the managers to continue resorting to negative football (to quote the German game analysis I listened to this morning).
The rest of us non Italians are condemned to bi annual suffering.
Which is exactly why I urge you all to hold hands and sing, sing, sing in praise of Spain, lovely and sunny Spain, that finally relieved us of the stone this morning for the next two years: