04 February 2011

Serie A Giants and Conflicted Interests

I am a self-professed Juventus fan when it comes to supporting teams in the ever popular Serie A. No, I have never been to Torino or been to the Stadio delle Alpi, but something allures me to the bianconeri and I think it is the club's strong history. Recently, the Old Lady has not been looking its finest when playing, with the mid-2000's calciopoli, but, one could look at a huge embarrassment to the sport in the country, but must surely look at the commitment of those Juve players that stuck to their team, many of whom could be graced with the honor of being the strongest players in Italy's 2006 World Cup victory.

If you are not fully convinced of a team to support in Italy, don't just settle for a team whose kit can be found online. In picking an Italian team, there are three ways of going about it:

1) You support a team that represents the area where your family is descendant from or where you were born/live. This tactic proved useless to me, with no Italian on my family tree, whatsoever, but given the large amount of Italian-Americans, could be greatly applicable to many supportive of soccer around the globe.

2) Pick a team by whichever playing style you enjoy the most. Examples could include, Inter's strong defense and counterattacking play, AC Milan's high profile players and graceful attacking play, and Juve's strong midfielders spreading the field. This tactic lends itself a little more to the bandwagon fan, as many AC Milan fans still wear Kaka's jersey today.

Before introducing the third approach that I believe is valid to finding an Italian soccer team that you can come to enjoy watching for years to come, I must say that usually, the two above methods are sufficient enough in other leagues around Europe and the world. Author Tobias Jones introduced the concept of the third approach to me in his autobiographical account of Italian culture viewed through the lens of an English emigrant, The Dark Heart of Italy. Tobias presents, in the chapter entitled "Penalties and Impunity," that the owning of football teams in Great Britain and in Italy have vastly different connotations. In Great Britain, owners are, more often than not, those who are lifelong devotees to their club and successful businessmen. This trend has since soured, as many Premier League teams are owned by Saudi, American, or Russian billionaires. Italian owners, however loyal they appear to their team, are more of a combination of the Renaissance ruling families (i.e. Medicis) and American robber-barons that were so common around the end of the 1800's and the beginning of the 1900's, adding the soccer team that they purchased to the accomplishment cabinet.

Massimo Moratti, Inter Milan's President since 1995, is the current CEO of Saras S.p.A., an oil refining company that he inherited from his father. Another oil giant o
f an earlier time was John D. Rockefeller. Moratti invested in the nerazzurri, while Rockefeller spent his funds on eradicating
yellow fever and establishing the University of Chicago, but this is not about taking shots at Moratti, rather an adjusted view of societies interests and concerns. Like a family found in Florence or Venice in the 1400's Moratti also got by with a bit of help from his family. The above mentioned inheritance of an oil company from his father was a start. His brother, however, continues the success that is added to the Moratti household. Gianmarco Moratti's wife was the former Italian Minister of Education and, in 2006, became the Mayor of Milan. Following the third approach to picking an Italian soccer team, in order for one to be a fan of Inter Milan, one must buy into this Italian oil tycoon.

For those looking at the Rossoneri of AC Milan, agreeing the policies of
the Italian Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi is something that you will have to accept. Berlusconi doesn't follow Moratti in the family ties, as one of the Prime Minister's more admirable traits is that most of what he accomplished he did without the help of nepotism or anything of the like. This, however, does not render him fully clean as a politician, as he achieved success by surrounding himself with the dubious characters from both sides of the political spectrum. By purchasing the shares of large Italian communications companies, he rose the corporate ladder, eventually purchasing AC Milan in 1986. Owning 3 of Italy's 7 nati
onally-broadcasted channels speaks volumes to the strength of Il Cavaliere, as he is known, and also ensures that he is omnipresent and Milan is always shown. To be a fan of Milan, know that you are investing in Berlusconi, his administration and his tangled web of conflicts of interest.

Juventus, the third of the big Serie A teams that fall under this extremely capitalistic, vastly unregulated umbrella, is owned by the Agnelli family, of the Fiat fame. The past few years of shirt sponsorships for Juve have been New Holland Construction vehicles, also owned by the Italian automaker. Keeping the team within the family has been a focus of the Agnelli's since Edoardo Agnelli took control of the club in 1923. Andrea Agnelli took over for Juventus in May of last year and one of his first acts involved the appointment of a new manager. The Juve supporter must also support the Italian auto industry.

So there you have it. If you are wishing to become a fan of one of the Big Three in Italian football (to which I consider Napoli, Fiorentina, Palermo, Lazio, and Roma generally year in and year out to be competing for the number 4 spot in popularity and revenues), you must also understand the implications of throwing support to an oil tycoon, Prime Minister, or auto manufacturer. If you just like watching Calcio and don't get all political in the support of soccer teams, don't worry about who owns what, or whose pockets you are lining!

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