Book review: Calcio, a history of Italian Football

by

Calcio, a history of Italian Football : by John Foot

First Published : 2006

ISBN-13 978-0-00-717575-8

Score out of 5 :

Romeo Benetti played for Milan, Juventus and many other clubs in the 1970s. His appearance alone was terrifying. A huge muscle-built man, with a big face, he sported a large red moustache. Rarely did he come away from a challenge without the ball. His job in every team he played for was a simple one – win tackles, and then give the ball to the appropriate playmaker. Benetti was the epitome of the mediano – defensive midfield ball-winners who were – and are – a key component of every successful football team.[…] Nobody enjoyed being marked by Benetti. You never had a moment’s peace, or a yard of space, and you came off the field feeling as if you had been at war, not in a football match. Players like Benetti were the water carriers or, to use one of my favourite Italian football phrases, distruggitori di gioco – destroyers of play. Over the years, Italian football made destruction of play into an art form.

Back when I started watching football in the 1980s Italian football was a far-off exotic animal, you only ever had fleeting glimpses, like their national side destroying the second-best Brazilian side ever in the 1982 World Cup in Spain, likewise West Germany in the final (with Marco Tardelli and that goal celebration). Then there was the low point of Heysel in 1985, but it was still an unknown (but very much a threat) to any British fan whose club or country wanted to progress away from our shores.

That all changed (the knowledge, not the threat) in 1992, with Channel 4 and Football Italia. After watching that first unforgettable live TV game, a thrilling 3-3 draw between Sampdoria and Lazio I was hooked on Calcio (the Italian word for football which also means ‘kick’), and a (fairly uncommited) Sampdoria fan. I’ve had since 1992 a keen interest in Calcio as in broader Italian culture (the most stylish people in Europe, with the best cuisine), and anything about their version of the beautiful game.

This book really is a must if you want to know the background and rich history of the Italian game. Pretty it ain’t – calciopoli is only the last in a long line of ludicrous football scandals to afflict the sport. But the beauty, la passione, is there for all to see. A long chapter entitled ‘Foreigners’ highlights the baffling lack of success of British players in Italy (apart probably from John Charles or Liam Brady), compared to the huge successes of players from Holland (Van Basten, Gullit, Rijkaard). There’s lots more, the legendary and tragic Grande Torino side of the 1940s, heroes on the pitch from brutal mediani like Romeo Benetti to the outrageously talented abatini (young priests) like Gianni Rivera. If you like football you’ll love it, if you enjoy Italy you’ll also love it, it’s a fantastic read.

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2 Responses to “Book review: Calcio, a history of Italian Football”

  1. john Says:

    hi I know what you mean I was at the 90 world cup and got to know a few Italians they have some passion for there team differant class at times and Liam brady is Irish the book is not perfect but who is
    take care

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