Only the Azzurris can transcend the nation's bitter divisions
Turkey, Switzerland, Wales, Austria, Belgium, Spain and finally, England. This was Italy’s hard-fought path to the Euro 2020 championship that was secured after Donnarumma’s crucial save in yesterday’s penalty shoot-out.
It was a punishing tournament, but with each win, the bond between the national team and the Italian people deepened. After all, it’s well-known that Italians and football are an inseparable pair, and the Azzurri are the living embodiment of this fact.
On occasions such as the European Football Championship, the “Tricolore” — the Italian flag — can be seen flying across the entire country, from North to South, from the cities to the countryside, in regions that often speak completely different dialects, spreading an ancestral and religious sense of unity throughout the nation. As the intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini famously said, “football is the last sacred representation of our time”.
Indeed, football has historically been capable of achieving what politics has always failed to do: inspiring a sense of national unity in a country that is deeply fragmented and diversified. One could almost go as far as saying that the Azzurri, in a certain sense, have helped complete the task began by the Italian patriot and “father of the fatherland” Giuseppe Garibaldi more than 150 years ago.
From the factory worker to the businessman, the housewife to the office employee, the village pitch to the Olympic Stadium in Rome — the national football team binds the Italian people together and serves as a representation of the Republic as a whole. Which is somewhat at odds with the fact that the blue of the national team’s shirts is actually a tribute to the colour of the House of Savoy, the royal dynasty that ruled Italy at the time the national team was created, in 1910. But this piece of trivia is yet another confirmation that the national team is a supra-political symbol, so much so that even after the fall of the Monarchy no one felt the need to change the team’s colour.
Indeed, there are several occasions in which the Azzurri transcended politics with their victories. In 1982, for example, Paolo Rossi’s goals and Italy’s World Cup victory completely overshadowed the dramatic events that had gripped the nation up until that moment — namely the bankruptcy of the Catholic bank Banco Ambrosiano, which involved the P2 Masonic lodge and the Camorra, eventually leading to the mysterious “suicide” of its president Roberto Calvi in London.
Similarly in 2006, Italy’s World Cup victory against France in the last penalty by Fabio Grosso achieved the impossible: getting Berlusconi’s supporters and opponents, which had been engaged in a bitter political struggle for years, to embrace each other in the squares. And this just a few months after the most polarising elections since the disappearance of the Communist Party and the Christian Democrats from the political scene a decade and a half earlier — won by a tiny margin by the centre-Left candidate Prodi against Berlusconi.
The Euro 2020 journey that ended yesterday in Wembley possibly had a greater social significance than any previous competition. Since March 2020 Italy has been hit very hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, an event for which the country was completely unprepared, but from which we are slowly recovering thanks above all to our public health system — one of the best in the world.
In Italy, as elsewhere, Covid-19 has torn apart the fabric of our society. The Azzurri’s extraordinary ride has helped reverse this trend, and the jubilant scenes around the country last night were a vivid testament to that fact. That’s the greatest goal we could have hoped for.
Paolo Cornetti is a policy adviser. He is head of communications for the Italian magazine and blog “La Fionda”.