Where's Materazzi?

Thomas Jones · Italy's lack of fans

It was strange last week to leave behind the flag-smothered pubs and cars of England and arrive in Italy, where you could almost be forgiven for forgetting the World Cup was on at all. One of the local bars has a big(ish) screen outside, but there are no feverish announcements about when Italy is playing. Gaetano, the caretaker at the nearby five-a-side pitch, was raking up the cut grass on Saturday morning in a Brazil shirt. 'No one likes the Italians this year,' he said. Because they're unlikely to retain the trophy? 'It's like watching dead men play.' He made some polite murmurs about England's chances (this was before the dismal draw with the USA), but said he thought Germany would probably win (this before their 4-0 crushing of Australia).

The front page of today's Gazzetta dello Sport carries the stern pronouncement 'Azzurri ricordate: i Campioni siamo noi' – a reminder to the players that we are the champions, and so they’d better not screw up. The problem – beyond the fear of a humiliating first-round exit – is that 14 members of the Italian squad didn't play in Germany four years ago, and so there really isn't any sense in which the players in South Africa are the defending champions. It's true that a team's identity has little to do with the individuals on the pitch, but in this case it doesn't seem to have much to do with the fans, either, if only because Italy at the moment has no fans. There certainly aren't any in South Africa, or none that La Repubblica’s correspondent could find in advance of tonight's game against Paraguay (though he also talks about Wayne Rooney's 'cockney accent' so perhaps he's not entirely to be trusted). And all anyone's interested in talking to him about is Marco Materazzi, the 'hero' of the 2006 final. Materazzi, as it happens, is as ostentatiously uninterested as the next man: he's currently on holiday, touring America in a camper van.


  • 14 June 2010 at 10:15pm
    pinhut says:
    Do Italians travel abroad that much, anyway? Or are they like their footballers, with a tendency to stay at home? And who can blame them, Italy is a fabulous country.

    I've been in Latin America five years and met thousands of travellers and only two from Italy in all that time (hardly scientific, but still).

    Roll on Brasil 2014!

    • 15 June 2010 at 7:33am
      Geoff Roberts says: @ pinhut
      half of the population of Argentina has Italian roots - so how does that tie in with your theory?

    • 15 June 2010 at 2:37pm
      Bob Beck says: @ Geoff Roberts
      Travel (tourism, if you prefer) and emigration aren't the same thing. Many Italians re-settled in Argentina in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as in the US, Canada and so on, and some are still doing so, but that flood has (so far as I know) slowed to a relative trickle.

      Meanwhile it's not uncommon to meet Italian tourists here in Canada, for example.

  • 15 June 2010 at 7:33am
    Geoff Roberts says:
    One thing clearly in Italy's favour - their manager is an elegant, good-looking, eloquent and competent fellow. If only he would wear something other than that red anorak for the game. It was raining, but it didn't do him credit. Italy usually do badly after winning last time round. It's a bit early for forecasts but My money would be on Germany at this moment in time. As for Italians not travelling, ever been to Argentina?

  • 15 June 2010 at 7:43am
    Geoff Roberts says:
    To take up a literary theme, where is the World Cup novel? or the report that takes the lid off the skullduggery of officialdom in the awarding of the tournament? There was an interesting film made of the German side's progress in 2006 - all about the 'summer night's dream' that was more of a hype for Klinsmann than a cool objective critique. Somebody ought to be at work, writing the definitive book about the underside of Football. What DO managers say at half time? Klinsmann revealed himself quite dramatically in one scene of the 2006 film.

    • 15 June 2010 at 10:52am
      Have you not heard Tom. 1-1 draws are now considered the best way to ease into the tournament (that's my story and i'm sticking to it).

      Fifa and tax avoidance? Surely not....

  • 16 June 2010 at 3:26pm
    Flavia says:
    Your assessment of how Italians feel about their team at the moment may well be correct, but I don't think it explains the absence of flags and merchandising etc or the apparent lack of enthusiasm. If you happened to be in Italy four years ago, indeed during any world cup with the possible exception of 1990, you would have seen exactly the same attitudes you have just described.

    Generally,people here in Italy tend to feel a little superstitious about getting all excited too early in the tournament. If the team makes it to quarter-finals then the supporters will start to take them more seriously.

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