The Italian Job: Revisited

By | May 30th, 2012 | 4 Comments

Police raid the Italian national team camp and an earthquake in Emilia-Romagna forces the cancellation of the Italy-Luxembourg Euro warm-up. It’s been a tough week for Italian tifosi, on and off the pitch.

Defender Domenico Criscito left the Euro squad after being implicated in the latest wave of prosecutorial investigations and charges. Meanwhile, Antonio Di Natale emerged as a pale as a ghost after riding out the 5.9 magnitude quake in an elevator.

The latest developments in calcio’s corruption and match fixing scandal have produced 19 arrests, including that of Lazio captain Stefano Mauri and ex-Genoa man Omar Milanetto. Prosecutors in Bari, Cremona, and Napoli have also implicated several dozen high profile players, managers, and club officials. That this mess is taking place only a few years after “calciopoli” — which famously landed Juve in serie B and penalized Milan, Lazio, and Fiorentina — is a potent indictment of the Italian football system and its willingness or ability to reform itself.

Italian authorities and prosecutors inspire confidence in some circles that the metastasizing problem will finally be addressed (read Declan Hill’s blog post here), but I find this optimistic view problematic on a number of levels. Here’s why:

First, the justice system in Italy is utterly dysfunctional. From civil to criminal cases, almost nothing works properly. The country has more than 10,000 laws on the books, that’s more than most, if not all, other countries in the world. Moreover, culprits of egregious crimes are often let off the hook with little more than a slap on the wrist while minor cases take years to resolve. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Second, calcio works exactly like Italian politics. Family and “big man” cliques dominate and actively seek to expand their narrow interests against the common good. From serie A and B all the way to the lowest amateur ranks, this situation makes it almost impossible to develop a fair, equitable, and sustainable solution to the football rot.

Third, Italian sport and society struggle with a culture of cheating that pivots around what may be labeled “situational ethics” and a common sense rationalization that laws are made to be circumvented.

Given this dispiriting local situation and a worrisome rise in match fixing, corruption, and bribery on a global level, the Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti’s recent statement “that it would really benefit the maturity of us Italian citizens if this game was completely suspended” for a couple of years seems like a good idea. It might create the space needed for a soul-searching dialogue aimed at finding long-term solutions to calcio’s spiral of decline.


Benni’s Bucs Reprise

By | May 28th, 2012 | 6 Comments

By Mohlomi Maubane

SOWETO, South Africa — “Why the f**k did he not do that at West Ham!!!” reads a YouTube comment in response to the video clip above featuring Benni McCarthy’s superb free kick in the 2011 Telkom Cup quarterfinal between Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows. This is the best goal I have seen in the PSL era: an extraordinary strike in a tense match Pirates were losing by a goal to nil. And while Swallows players were still scratching their heads in bewilderment, he got a second and sealed the match.

West Ham were the last European team McCarthy played for in a chequered 14-year European career whose highlight was a 2004 UEFA Champions League medal with FC Porto under Jose Mourinho. A sometimes controversial character who had endless run-ins with the South African Football Association, Benni set tongues wagging in the local football scene when he decided to return to South Africa. Some critics believed he was over the hill while others knew he still had something to offer. The man himself said he still had a lot of football in him, and with the right service, he would excel. At Orlando Pirates, he found the perfect setting to shine although he would have to do it without Dutch coach Ruud Krol who had just left after three years at the helm.

The Mighty Bucs boasted one of the best squads in the country and were brimming with confidence after winning a treble the previous season. Krol’s long term (at least in South African terms) afforded him the required time to build a team and mould plentiful talent in service of the collective. Team-play became paramount above all else, and prima donnas were booted out. The defense became mean. Opponents learned the hard way that beating Pirates meant playing to the final whistle. For example, in a November league game against Swallows. The Dube Birds looked set for a 1-0 victory, but as my friend Katiso Motaung wryly noted, Pirates managed to turn defense into attack and Jele equalized in the nanoseconds it took the referee to lift the whistle to his mouth to blow full time.


Digital Diouf: Video Villain (and Hero)

By | May 24th, 2012 | No Comments

If Didier Drogba represents the image of a contemporary African hero on the global stage then who or what does Senegalese striker El Hadji Diouf represent?

Meet Digital Diouf. David Kilpatrick’s intriguing post in the New York Times GOAL blog tells us about “We Tripped El Hadji Diouf: The Story of a Photoshop Thread,” a recent exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

The story is about the intersection of sport, art, and digital technology. At the heart of it is a three-second clip of Diouf (at Rangers) sent flying by Hearts midfielder Ian Black’s tackle. The video was photoshopped and then posted on, where users imaginatively molded it into extraordinarily creative and wide-ranging videos. Eventually, 35 of the videos were looped together and displayed at the Museum of the Moving Image.

“While many of the images embrace Diouf’s agony as some kind of karmic retribution for his villainy,” Kilpatrick writes, “others allow technology to revise the outcome and provide a happy ending.” Rumor has it that Dakar’s digital griots are planning a sequel.

Benni Leads Orlando Pirates to PSL Title

By | May 21st, 2012 | 2 Comments

Benni McCarthy’s two second-half goals earned Orlando Pirates their second consecutive Premier Soccer League title. It was sweet revenge for McCarthy writes Rodney Reiners in the Cape Argus, “He’s been put down, trampled on, ridiculed, and dismissed as an over-weight, over-rated charlatan more often than any footballer should have to endure. Yet, each time, the 34-year-old Cape Town-born striker has come back to splatter copious bowls of beaten egg on the faces of his critics.”

McCarthy — the most prolific scorer in Bafana Bafana’s history — has experienced a rebirth since the humiliation of being left off the 2010 World Cup squad for lack of fitness (see photo).

Pirates went into the tense closing Saturday with a two-point lead over Soweto rivals Moroka Swallows. Both contenders took care of business in their away matches in KwaZulu-Natal: Bucs beating Golden Arrows 4-2 at Durban’s monumental but seldom-used Moses Mabhida stadium (highlights here); The Birds winning 1-0 at Maritzburg United’s more humble and intimate Harry Gwala stadium.

Smiling broadly, Benni McCarthy told Ryan Cooper of Kick Off magazine: “I’m doing the thing I love most, and that is playing football. The haters out there . . . next year I’m gonna keep coming back with more!”

Champions League Final: Predict the Winner

By | May 18th, 2012 | 13 Comments

Tomorrow’s Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich seems promising, even for neutrals like me. The Bavarians are at home, but Chelsea are currently in better form. In an intriguing twist, Chelsea have four players suspended, Bayern three, “which means any assessment of what might happen is going to be dotted with ifs and maybes” writes Jonathan Wilson in his column.

So let’s play every armchair manager’s favorite fun game. My prediction: Chelsea 2, Bayern 1, possibly after extra time. Goalscorers: Drogba, Mata, and Robben.

What’s your prediction?

Goal of the Week: A Goal and…a Spare

By | May 15th, 2012 | 4 Comments

By Simone Poliandri

To celebrate the end of the football season and awaiting the kickoff of EURO 2012, Goal of the Week issues its concluding gem with a funny twist. On May 12, Toshihiro Aoyama of the Japanese league team Sanfrecce Hiroshima scored the go-ahead goal on a 70-meter-long shot that caught visiting Yokohama F. Marinos goalkeeper by surprise. Already a fantastic feat, this goal was paired with a much creative “Bowling” celebration by the home side akin to the “famous” goal celebrations introduced and performed by Icelandic team Stjarnan FC.
For the record, Yokohama won the game 1-3.
This goal offers a smile and provides the icing on the Goal of the Week first season cake.

See you in the fall!

Del Piero’s Poem (not quite Giacomo Leopardi)

By | May 8th, 2012 | 1 Comment

WE WERE THERE By Alessandro Del Piero

When we were winning, always. On the pitch, more than anyone else.
When we fell.
When we didn’t know where we would end up.
When we learnt, and accepted it. Struggling to rise up again.
When we took the field in Rimini.
When the others celebrated.
When we were just watching.
When they hoped we would never return.
When we started climbing back up.
When we couldn’t find our way.
When we found it: winning.

This is our party, conquered right at the last drop of sweat.
It’s the party of all those who always believed.
It’s the party of all you Juve fans who instead of abandoning us let your voice be heard even louder,
It’s the party of those who cheered for a goal in serie B as much as the one that brought the scudetto.
It’s the party, why not, of opponents (not all) who always respected us.
It’s the party of Balzaretti, Belardi, Bianco, Birindelli, Bojinov, Boumsong, Buffon, Camoranesi, Chiellini, De Ceglie, Giannichedda, Giovinco, Guzman, Kovac, Lanzafame, Legrottaglie, Marchionni, Marchisio, Mirante, Nedved, Palladino, Paro, Piccolo, Trezeguet, Venitucci, Zalayeta, Zanetti, Zebina. Manager Deschamps.

And it had to end like this, I never stopped believing.
Thank you, lads. Let’s enjoy this, we deserved it.
I was there, you were there. We were there. And we are here, finally.
We have returned.


[My translation from the original Italian here. Grazie Vlad for sending it!]

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