A few Saturdays ago, Inter Milan, an Italian team without any Italian players that’s coached by a Portuguese, won the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, a German team, coached by a Dutchman, whose two best players are Dutch and French, known in Germany as FC Hollywood, by playing that most Italian of games: Il Catenaccio.
Catenaccio translates loosely as door bolt. It is Italy’s gift to the world game; it is anti-space, anti-movement and it seeks to corral the match in the defensive third of the field. It’s how they won the last World Cup. In tandem, that is, with being fitter than anyone else. They simply wore the other team out by making them do all the running and then scored in the last ten minutes when the other team was knackered.
Inter’s victory can confidently be described as Italianate in the sense that it is in the Italian tradition, but can it be called Italian? It is an Italian club in an Italian city owned by an Italian and supported by Italians. On the pitch itself though, these are foreign mercenaries representing Italy (an idea that complicatedly makes the Inter team more-rather-than-less Italian in a Swiss Guards, Borgias are actually from Spain kind of way). Would it have still been an Italian victory if the soccer itself had been less Italian in its style; if Inter had played like Barcelona would that have made it a more or less Italian victory? Does Italian heritage and Italian style outweigh the complete lack of Italians playing in the actual game itself?
These questions do not present themselves in the World Cup. In the matter of national identity, the World Cup is very simple: the team is the country, and the country is the team.