Sport Man > Football > Balotelli for President! Date posted: March 24, 2013

Balotelli for
President!

Balotelli

Swide went behind the scenes with the Italian national team for their trip to Geneva to take on Brazil in a friendly. As far as international sporting experiences go, it just doesn’t get any more Italian than this.

On a day when Italy mourns the passing of an Olympic great Pietro Mennea, its his name that dominates the sports pages and the cover of La Gazetta dello Sport, but where it not for ‘La Freccia Bianca’ passing away, for sure it would have been Mario Balotelli who grabbed the headlines for himself. Football is king in this country, an institution, all other sports occupy a niche that is virtually insignificant when compared to the passion, the enormity of football in this country.

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The clubs bear the hallmarks of their region, a history closely linked to the identity of each different provincial culture, allegiances are passed down from father to son and are for life. Looking at the club culture it’s easy to see how Italy is a disunited country, disparity of ancient loyalties and fiefdoms, of polarised politics, of young and old, all coalescing as the Republic of Italy.

Then there is the national team. Nothing unites all these conflicting elements like the Italian National Football Team. Not only does it bring the anarchist and the free market capitalist together, it unites the Catholic with the anti-clerical, the college student and retiree, the supporters of all factions come together to get behind the Azzurri. Not an easy thing to do.

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When Swide got the chance to accompany the Azzurri on their trip to Geneva to take on Brazil in a friendly we got the opportunity to see this body in action from the inside out. Arriving at the FIGC’s (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio) plush headquarters in Corveciano in Florence, we are welcomed and treated to lunch – a very Italian affair, we join tables of FIGC employees lingering over coffee and dessert, and eat Italian, the wine is Sangiovese, typical of Florence. The atmosphere is incredibly relaxed, but there’s business to be done, you can feel it. After what seems like easily twice as long as was needed for lunch we made our way to the coach and to the airport in Florence, on board our Al Italia flight to Geneva crammed with an bewilderin number of technical staff, administrators and fitness specialists and invited Italian journalists.

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The players take their own coach to the runway and join us on board, amidst tight security. The atmosphere is relaxed but the players are treated with kid gloves, in the end the focus is all on them and making things as easy and hassle free for them to play their best game. As the plane came in the land, looking out the window there seemed to be something like little sparkling lights on the wing of the plane, for about ten seconds, then a shuddering boom, that could only have been, an engine blowing, or the plane being hit by lightning. Luckily it was the latter, but for a brief second all etiquette went out the window, as we looked into the players’ eyes, and they were as shocked as we were.

Accommodation for the players and staff is of the highest quality and there over the course of two days we got a glimpse of the life of an international footballer; light training, eating, sleeping, stretching, free time in their rooms, the few moments they swept through the hotel lobby they are open and friendly, but on their way elsewhere, as always, security is tight.

The game itself turned out to be a game of two halfs, Brazil owned the first with goals by Fred and Neymar, di Rossi and Balotelli got the Azzurri level, in the end Brazil were lucky to draw. The popular appeal of the Brazilians saw many neutrals get behind the South Americans but the intimate Geneva Stadium was full of Italians who made themselves heard above the Brazilians. With a positive result, it was back to the hotel, where the players were allowed to relax a bit, the hotel was abuzz with people looking for the Italian stars.

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The whole operation seems like a government ministry. The plush hotels, tight security, efficient, beautiful Italian women in administration, supporting older important men in perfectly cut suits, the difference, is it’s all about the footballers, but otherwise it could be a government department and there’s a good reason for that. Because nothing unites Italians like the Italian football team. The FIGC alone has this unique function, there are many other national sports that interest the Italians but ultimately they occupy a small part of the sports market and belong to tribalism, the Azzurri however, are all conquering. 

The irony was not lost on me that as the crowds cheered on the national team, the prospect of a functioning government in Italy remains evermore distant, again, due to a conflict of ideals and loyalties, but in that moment when Balotelli raced away from his marker to fire a thundering shot into the top corner and all Italians were in ecstasy, I felt that this feeling should be harnessed for the good of the nation. Balotelli for President!

 

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