23 March 2006
If you want to come closer to an understanding of Italy through sport, then football can be the only choice.
Dr John Foot [UCL Italian] has realised this, and his 'Calcio: A History of Italian Football' reveals more about the national character than any dry study of politics or economics ever could. …
Italian football is a cynical game, and Italy is a cynical nation. "Cheating … is not seen as morally wrong," Foot writes. A player who dives to win a penalty is not derided - only those who cheat to no effect are criticised. In such an ethical vacuum it is hardly surprising that skulduggery extends from the pitch to the higher reaches of the game.
Such is the state of financial chaos in Italian football that it was calculated in 2004 that if only those clubs who had paid their wages, taxes and insurance premiums were allowed to compete, Serie A would consist of just three teams. But as Foot points out, "in a country where the rules and laws are not only broken with impunity, but where those who do so are actually rewarded for their pains, and where judges were condemned as 'communists', it was unlikely that the most popular, the most important and the most wealthy sport would be a 'happy island' of legality, peace and tranquility."…
Foot clearly not only knows Italy exceptionally well, but loves the country, too. He explains, without judgment, the links between football and fascism and communism, the extraordinary attraction of the game for the Italian media, and the different ways in which great players and managers have reflected the national character.
There is doping and fixing and fouling, plane crashes and car crashes, sexual shenanigans and endless political posturing. This is a hefty work (500 pages plus voluminous notes) but there is so much going on that the pace never slackens. Foot is a meticulous and knowledgeable guide to his complex subject, and leaves the reader wanting to investigate further.
Andrew Baker, 'The Daily Telegraph', 23 March 2006