Italian football used to be synonymous with catenaccio, the sophisticated defensive game plan that Inter Milan pioneered in the 1960s. These days, however, Serie A is no longer an incubator for tactical innovations; it is the epicenter of European football’s racism problem.
In October, the president of the Italian Football Federation, Carlo Tavecchio, received a six-month UEFA ban for describing black players as “banana eaters.” And Mario Balotelli, who is often jeered when he appears for the Italian national team, left AC Milan in August partly to escape the racist chanting endemic to Serie A.
The latest culprit is Champions League-winning manager Arrigo Sacchi. At last weekend’s prestigious Viareggio youth tournament, Sacchi, who coached Italy at the 1994 World Cup, reportedly complained that “in our youth sector, there are too many blacks.”
On Monday, a hastily backtracking Sacchi tried to frame his remarks as the poorly worded lamentations of a true Italian patriot: “I just wanted to underline the fact that we’re losing our national pride and identity.”
Then he deployed what can only be described as the footballing equivalent of “some of my best friends are black.”
“Do you really think I’m a racist?” Sacchi said. “My history speaks for itself. I’ve always trained teams with diverse colored players, and they won a lot.”