INFTH Book Review: Forza Italia

Ian Rush once described life in Italy as “like living in a foreign country.” Though the statement appears idiotic on the exterior, with due consideration it reveals itself as possibly the most accurate reflection ever made. Living in Italy is like living in a foreign country, and Forza Italia is a story of that very life, a story of an Irish immigrant who faced all the same perils as Ian Rush, albeit as a football reporter, rather than a player.



Perhaps though, the autobiographical element, an over obsession with life in this foreign country, is the book’s major flaw; one that tarnishes what could have been an incredible work. Having lived and worked in Italy for nigh on twenty years, there is no doubt that few men are better equipped to write a book about Italian football than Paddy Agnew, yet, after emerging from the pages of Forza Italia, a feeling of disappointment prevails.


Part of this probably has to do with the book’s very own identity crisis; it’s inability to find a place for itself amidst the smorgasbord of football topics. A thesis it most certainly is not, but neither is it totally autobiographical, nor a history. Forza Italia bites off more than it can chew, it attempts to be everything, every genre, and inevitably, it fails.


Had Agnew simply elected to detail the modern era of Italian football in its entirety, such would have been satisfactory, a comprehensive look at what has been an action-packed time period. However, though Agnew does touch upon ‘hot topics’ like Silvio Berlusconi, Sven Goran Eriksson and Calciopoli, his writing is continually interrupted with accounts of personal history- anecdotes which are, in all honestly, quite dull.


The book’s opening chapter is devoted almost entirely to the writer’s cultural adjustment; his struggle for acceptance, money and press credentials. A page or two of this would have been perfect for setting the stage, but a chapter or two is overdoing it- there is only so much of Paddy Agnew’s personal life that one can bear hearing about. During his reminiscences, Agnew saturates the reader with pile upon pile of pointless drivel, from discussions of friendly neighbors, to ones of life in an Italian village. To put it bluntly, I don’t give a damn where Paddy Agnew’s daughter goes to school.


For all its faults, Forza Italia is not a complete failure- when Agnew cares to entertain the reader with thoughts on his own area of expertise, the book improves markedly, and for this particular reviewer, the change in subject prevented abandonment. Yes, when Agnew talks football, he talks about it well, and it is clear that his twenty years in Italy have not been wasted. Hearing an intelligent writer coherently describe the fascinating world of Italian football so well is a privilege to the reader, and I only wish that there had been more of it for me to eulogize.


In terms of thesis too, Agnew excels, explaining how football in Italy reflects the country’s culture, merging the beauty of Michelangelo with the cynicism of Machiavelli. Unlike many other football writers, he also manages to paint a realistic, and at times frightening, picture of the country’s lower divisions, using extensive interviews with one of football’s most unfortunate players to convey the true darkness of life in the darkest reaches of Calcio. Once again though, there just isn’t enough of it.


Sporadically brilliant, more than often dull, Forza Italia is a tantalizing read. It combines the mundane with the fascinating- trying to complement what needs not complementing, with drivel that only needs deleting. If ever there were a book in need of a strong minded editor, it is this one.

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