Monday 26 November 2018

No Thank You, Prime Minister

Salvini (left) and Gattuso
"Dino Zoff behaved like an amateur," former PM Silvio Berlusconi said of the former coach after Italy's soul-crushing Euro2000 Final defeat to France. "He left Zinedine Zidane completely open."

The word dilettante (amateur) stung Zoff so much so that he resigned as coach a few days later, saying that he didn't need to "take lessons in dignity from Berlusconi."

He needn't have taken footballing lessons from the man either.  Zidane was cancelled out by an excellent Italy.  The goal came in the last few seconds of the game when French goalkeeper Fabian Barthes launched a hopeful ball that bounced off Fabio Cannavaro's head and into the path of Sylvain Wiltord, who put it past Francesco Toldo from a tight angle.  Either Berlusconi didn't watch the game, or he felt compelled to say anything, something, to be part of the conversation.

Throughout his Milan presidency, Berlusconi offered unsolicited advice to his coaches and players, some so ludicrous that you could almost hear the journalists chuckling when asking the various Milan coaches their opinion of the president's umpteenth formation advice.  

It wasn't as if Berlusconi was always wrong, and it wasn't as if he didn't deserve any deference.  But it was the timing, the simplicity, the, well, amateur nature of his advice that at once rankled and amused.

Why does this matter after eighteen years? Well, Italy's deputy PM, Matteo Salvini, once an ally of Berlusconi, is, unfortunately, a Milan fan.  He has no formal association with the team, but he airs his opinions on it and Milan coach, Gennaro Gattuso, seemingly every week.

The final straw seemed to have arrived after Milan's ultimately valuable 1-1 draw with Lazio in Rome. 

"Why didn't Gattuso make substitutions?" asked Salvini.  "You could see our players were spent."

Lazio's equalizer came in the 94th minute.  Salvini's opinion in the 96th.  It was the kind of facile criticism  that the twitterati subsist on.  

Gattuso finally had had enough. 

"As an Italian I could say a lot to Salvini and all the problems in our country," he said. "This isn't the first time, he seems to talk about Milan a lot."
Salvini retreated, and praised Gattuso, saying "he had only spoken as a fan." The self-deprecation arrived too late.

Political figures weighing in on sporting matters isn't peculiar to Italy, but the significance given to them in the media is rarer to find in other countries.  Salvini's and Berlusconi's comments are a provocation, an overreach. Would Salvini tolerate a public figure like Gattuso giving a potentially unflattering verdict of his leadership? Given Salvini's tendencies in general, I'd hazard a guess that he would not.

What irritates the common fan who suffers with the team, who agonizes over formations is not that Salvini or Berlusconi gives their opinion; it's more that those opinions are crude and unsophisticated.  The ordinary fan expects something extraordinary.  In short, something more than what an amateur could manage.