Thursday, September 28, 2006

Gianluca and Arsene

If you’re really interested in sports, politics and culture, stop whatever you are doing and go pick up a copy of Gianluca Vialli’s The Italian Job. This is probably one of the most intelligent football books ever written.

The first half of the book dissects the essence of national football cultures (in this case, specifically those of England and Italy, where Vialli spent his entire career) in greater and more thoughtful detail than any other book ever written (David Winner’s Brilliant Orange and Alex Bellos’ Futebol are in the same league, but the lack of a comparative aspect makes them somewhat weaker). The second half lacks something in structure but is still a thoughtful overview of the current state of many of football’s main institutions.

The book is based around a series of interviews with some of the most important figures in the game in both countries. One of its endearing strengths is the extent to which Vialli lets his subjects – including such luminaries as Alex Ferguson, Marcello Lippi, and Jose Mourinho speak for themselves in long, revealing unedited quotes. Cappello’s comment that Serie B is painful to watch, and “for Serie C you have to be on drugs”, for instance, goes a long way to explaining his decision not to go down with the bianconero ship this summer.

I’ll be returning to some of Vialli’s more interesting thoughts over the next few weeks, but I thought I would start things off simply by offering you one of the book’s more astute quotes, from Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger on why English fans are so much more loyal to their teams that Italian ones, and why they are so much less likely to boo or speak ill of the team even things are going desperately wrong on the pitch. Here’s Arsene:

Anglo-Saxon culture is all about banding together in small groups, which, to survive, had to remain united and loyal to each other. If you think about it, British history is the history of thousands of years of warring clans. To survive, they looked inward, fostering unity and loyalty among themselves, that was their strength. It was very clannish and tribal. Now Italy and France were also tribal. But to survive they did things differently. That’s why our history is the history of alliances and betrayals, of the Borgias, of double-crosses, of being with one ally one year and another the next. You love your colours, but you love your own survival more.

It comes down to rationality. The Latins think more, they reason more, they are more analytical. If they find something they like, they ask themselves why they like it. And that creates detachment. The Anglo-Saxons don’t do this. If they like something, that’s it, they are attached to it and they will always feel attached to it with the same intensity. Maybe it’s irrational, but that’s the way it is. They don’t question their love or their passion. This is part of the reason why I always say that if I were going to war, I would want to do it alongside an Englishman and not a Frenchman. The Frenchman would think too much.

Maybe so, but thank God they do. Can you imagine an English coach saying all that? Can you imagine an English player who could write a book with those words in it?


Blogger Dave Heasman said...

"Can you imagine an English player who could write a book with those words in it? "

Gareth Southgate.

And Wenger's historically wrong, anyway; the French military over the last 1000 years have been very successful. How does he think, with a name like his, that he's French?

3:30 PM  

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