‘I’m not racist, but there are too many blacks in youth teams.’ Arrigo Sacchi’s statement sparked a controversial debate over the future of Italy’s national team, while the former Milan boss argued that his statement was misinterpreted and not racist and that he thinks that having players from migrant parents playing for Italy will leave the country without dignity or pride. Sacchi argues that he’s not a racists but he wants the Italian national team stay ‘Italian’.
While Sacchi’s statement came after seeing four colored players play for a youth Italian club at the Viareggio tournament, his issue isn’t with foreigners playing for Italy or else he would have argued against plenty of Italy’s former players. For example, Oriundo is an Italian word that refers to an immigrant of native ancestry. Ermanno Aebi was the first Oriundo to feature for Italy, he made his debut in a friendly against France in 1920, 39 other non-native footballers have represented Italy, amassing 321 caps, 96 goals and seven World Cup winners’ medals. When Italy won their first World Cup, they had four players born to Argentinean parents and a Brazilian in the squad. Later on, Juventus legend Omar Sivori featured for Il Nazionale, Most recently, Mauro Camoranesi was an integral part in Italy’s last World Cup triumph while Mario Balotelli was the team’s main man up front in the Euro 2012, we also can’t forget PSG star Thiago Motta.
The presence of Argentinean and Brazilian players in Italy’s national team has always sparked a debate, many fans objected to the idea of naturalized players who have no personal links with the country. The oriundi question, which continues to divide Italy nearly a century after Aebi’s first appearance, is an issue that seems to be highlighted with a greater extent when the player featuring for Italy is of African descent and has darker skin.
The oriundi are always the scapegoats after an early tournament exit, these players are viewed as lacking passion and commitment to Italy’s cause even if the reality isn’t like that. Mario Balotelli was heavily rebuked for a supposed lack of hunger and desire to play for the shirt after defeats to Costa Rica and Uruguay in Brazil last summer but his attitude was no different than many of the other Italians on the squad. Italy’s seniors need to accept and integrate colored players. Sacchi’s statements are not an excuse for whatever he meant to say
The likes of Balotelli and Ogbonna in Azzurri selections are a plus for Italy. If a foreign-born player has exceptional ability or can perform a role that natives are unable to, he should be permitted to play for the national side, Italy should show itself to be an open, welcoming society in this globalised world by not only allowing but encouraging those who can represent the Azzurri regardless of their place of birth. Other countries like France and Belgium benefitted from having children born to migrant parents in their squads. Zidane, Ibrahimovic and many other stars are Oriundi who contributed heavily to their national teams.
Brazilian Eder and Franco Vazquez, born in Argentina have been called up by Antonio Conte to Italy’s upcoming two fixtures. They might not be the best players in the world but they can surely offer Italy a helping hand in their campaign. Globalization has changed plenty of things in the world and the archaic mentality of some people like Sacchi needs to change as well.