It is fascinating watching a game with commentary from different countries. You realise how many nuances there are in the Italian approach to sport, the concept of ‘respect’ and ‘fair play.’ There are some issues that Italians and the British have fundamentally opposing views on – and I don’t just mean grappling in the penalty area. Antonio Conte’s celebrations at the Dall’Ara were a case in point.
Before the final whistle had even been blown on a 2-0 victory, Juventus Coach Conte was pumping his fist to get the crowd going, shouting ‘Andiamo!’ (Let’s go) and blowing kisses into the television cameras. It was a marvellous performance, one lapped up by Juve fans in the stadium (of which there were 10,000) and at home. Bologna boss Stefano Pioli was furious and went over to berate Conte and his staff for “lacking respect” towards his team. You may well argue such a reaction was daft – and it was – but it’s not the first time I’ve seen it.
People wonder why Italian teams always stop playing when they have a fairly comfortable lead, often turning out to be not all that comfortable come the final minutes of the match. It is not because they are conditioned to think defensively and sit on a lead to protect what they have. It’s simply a sign of ‘respect’ towards the opposition. They’ve made their point, they have the win, there’s no need to humiliate anyone. This is why Fiorentina could’ve easily scored another two or three when beating Inter 4-1, but opted to just pass it about in midfield for 15 minutes instead. It’s considered rude to rub it in.
When someone does break that unwritten code of respect, it gets extremely ugly. Catania players and even directors got into a brawl with Roma when they were beaten 7-0 at the Olimpico, insisting such a heavy loss was “unnecessary” when the points were already under lock and key. Would it not be equally insulting to know the opposition is taking pity on you by holding back because you are so clearly inferior?
Dear commentators, no longer despair when Italian teams rush to put the ball out of play when someone is down injured. It doesn’t matter that the rules state the referee should choose when to stop play, for in Italy anyone who carries on is considered a cruel, heartless cheat. I have seen Coaches like Francesco Guidolin of Udinese and Genoa’s Davide Ballardini scream themselves hoarse on the touchline, angrily shouting at their own players to put the ball out. Ballardini even got sent off when the referee mistakenly thought the furious outburst was aimed at him rather than the Genoa squad. It is also why when a player carries on and the whistle is eventually blown, a brawl tends to break out with everyone hurling insults and shoving the ‘disrespectful’ figure who has violated the code of fair play.
It’s remarkable, therefore, that other things are considered to be acceptable in Italian sport. The racism problem in Serie A is part of a wider approach fans have to their opponents – they are the enemy and any insult is fair game. Fans who idolise their own black players will make monkey noises at the opposition, because somehow that makes sense in their little brains. I recently saw abuse aimed at Livorno midfielder Piermario Morosini, who had collapsed and died during a game. Every time Fiorentina play Juventus, there are banners referencing Heysel.
Team buses arriving for an away game are often pelted with objects, including rocks, and in Italy people are just used to it. That’s the way it is. Racist abuse is met with fines and utterly empty threats, because they are resigned to it happening. Yes, even the wrestling matches in the box are allowed because ‘if you give that, you’ll end up awarding 10 penalties per game.’ Try awarding 10 per game and they might stop doing it! Actually impose bans like UEFA have on Lazio and perhaps the rest of the ultras will be motivated enough to throw out the ones consistently making racist chants.
Amid all that, do we really want to stamp out celebrations? It’s bad enough we still have that stupid rule where players are booked for taking their shirts off after a goal. It’s a sport, you are supposed to celebrate and enjoy success! Go on Conte, giz a kiss.
Think you know your Italian football? Share your knowledge, tips and comments to win cash prizes in OLBG's tipster competition - £5,000 monthly.