Is It Time to Rethink Italy?

By Eric Imhof
Andrea Pirlo – by καρλο [ AKA Gilyo] on Flickr

In the winter of 1875, Karl Marx finally submitted his proofs for the updated and translated version of Capital, Volume I, which he had been working on for more than eight years, to his publisher in France. The revised edition’s 10,000 copies sold quickly, but in March an article was printed in London’s Fortnightly Review which critiqued Capital not so much for its content but rather for its vernacular. Perhaps throwing ridicule at its obscurity, or else offering Marx a shred of consolation, the review noted (prophetically, in hindsight): “People may do him the honor of abusing him; read him they do not.”

Similarly to Marx, the Italian side heading into the semi-final match with Germany suffers not so much from refutation but rather ignorance of their work. Since bowing out of their group in the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, Italy has been, weirdly, flying under the radar. As Germany, Spain, and Holland (ha) were all making waves heading into the European championship, Italy, like France (it should be mentioned), were seen as somewhat of a wildcard—at least by me and most of my friends. But maybe I should just speak for myself.

I admit that I didn’t really know what Italy was up to, football-wise. I concentrated on France, as their mutiny in 2010 intrigued me greatly, and of course England just provides so many headlines, albeit from continually underwhelming soccer. Germany is a team that’s just amazing to contemplate, and Spain is a team that, in my mind, is easy to root against. I don’t much like dynasties, and after sighing with relief at Barcelona’s stumbling in La Liga, watching the same team, for all intents and purposes, win Euro 2012 will be irritating.

But Italy is the consummate tournament team, and it should really come as no surprise at all that they’ve advanced this far, even considering they drew Spain in their group. Yes, they’re known for writhing around in Oscar-performance-like agony just as much as they’re known for achievement, but this Italian side is patient, creative, and seasoned. No wonder they’ve found themselves in the semi-finals. Far from parking the bus, this team has attempted to win in real time, which makes them a different, more endearing Italian side. And even though they won the World Cup in Germany in 2006, this current incarnation is more than utilitarian; they’re flamboyant, even at times amusing (did anyone else laugh, out of respect, at Andrea Pirlo’s penalty?).

With Pirlo playing adventurously, Gianluigi Buffon playing like a man on fire, and coach Casare Prandelli reveling in some gusto (saying this week:  “I would prefer to concede a goal on the counterattack than suffer in defense for 90 minutes.”), Italy is not just making me feel guilty for my ignorance of their qualifying run, but also making me rethink my disdain for them all these years, if only slightly. I still think Germany plays prettier, more inspiring football, but this Italian side has forced me to pay attention to them, something I haven’t really done since tacking my Roberto Baggio poster to my wall in 1994.

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