Tuesday, January 8, 2008
The slowest of slow news days
You may have heard the words 'slow news day' used in connection with the appearance of news that, in a regular situation, would not find its way past the editor's desk. Reading a paper brimming with those empty shells of news is excruciating, but just try to imagine a stretch of 21 days filled with the printed equivalent of hot air.
This is what has happened in Italy since December 24 - the day when newspapers carried the reports of the last Serie A matches before a three-week break. The combination of no matches and the proximity of the transfer window meant that most news outlets had to combine a void of meaningful news with the inevitability, in the case of the daily papers (and especially the sports dailies) of having to be in newsstands every single day - bar a couple around Christmas and on New Year's Day - and the results were not brilliant.
Transfer speculation, innuendos and plain fabrications, perhaps fuelled by agents keen to gain the upper hand in negotiations - how else can the headline guaranteeing that Boca Juniors' Ever Banega was in Juventus' hands, only to see the talented midfielder join Valencia a few days later, be explained?
Furthermore, we see an increase in the number of news plainly and simply copied from foreign newspapers, mostly British, with the conscience-saving trick of writing 'The Spanish/British/French Press wrote'. A domino or boomerang effect is then created, whence the original piece of news comes back to the place where it was created, with an added degree of believability through the very fact different newspapers in different countries reported it.
The fear of letting a piece of transfer news slip (and of being thrown into the journalistic equivalent of Dante's Inferno) is such that when a Spanish newspaper wrote of Naples' interest in Barcelona's Lionel Messi on Spain's equivalent of April Fools' Day, more than one Italian media outlet felt obliged to report the story, just in case it turned out to be true. Such behaviour leads, when a rare prediction/innuendo proves correct, to the paper printing the relevant page from a few days earlier with the note "as we had predicted...". No mention is, of course, made of the other 90% which never hit the mark.
Among other boring or weird stuff, there have even been front page headlines about AC Milan's goalkeeper Dida conceding six goals in& training, albeit with a strong connection to the fact that the Brazilian had gifted Inter the winning goal in Milan's derby on December 24. Now even coach Carlo Ancelotti seemed to have raised his eyebrow even higher than normal and warned Dida that no more mistakes will be tolerated, or else.
Theoretically, this means they should have a replacement ready, but they don't. Aussie Zeljko Kalac, who expressed sympathy and respect for his team-mate (somehow, the names Lehmann and Almunia don't come to mind) has himself been susceptible to the odd howler since he joined Milan two years ago.
There is also a whiff of the old superiority complex of Italian clubs and commentators towards other countries in the rampant and oft-repeated speculation about Elano leaving Manchester City for Inter Milan in January. It may still turn out to be true, but simple logic should dictate that playing most matches in a starting role for a good team on the up, in a beautiful stadium, playing home and away in front of large, passionate crowds should beat being just a part of the squad rotation for - admittedly - one of the best sides in the world; who still cannot fill their own ground and play to less than full houses away from home. With the ever-present danger of violence halting matches added in to the equation.
Unless an unbelievable sum of money is thrown at Sven, it is difficult to believe someone would leave Manchester City for the sheer name of Inter, just as the laughable attempts to link Frank Lampard to Juventus for well over a year were based on very feeble evidence. In fact, it would make very little sense swapping the comfort of Stamford Bridge for the sparse crowds of the Stadio Olimpico, where you could barely find ten men who could go to mow a meadow.
The slowness of news days has been so painful that front-page status in the sport section was almost acquired by the news of the birth of Gianluigi Buffon and Czech model Alena Seredova's first child. For a few days, then, Italian football fans and the general public stopped looking at Buffon as arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, or as a poor actor in a series of unbelievably bad TV commercials for a chain of toy shops and a new brand of minivans. What they saw was a 29-year old man who had just become a father for the first time and had predictably stated the feeling was "better than saving a penalty in a World Cup final" (which, funnily enough, he never did, as penalty-saving counts among one of the very few weaknesses in his otherwise fantastic game).
What impressed people less about Buffon and his partner was the name they chose for their baby: Louis Thomas. Eyes rolled skywards, heads dropped - two unrelated movements, one imagines - and a general sense of discomfort hit people which, if not for the small matters of rubbish submerging Naples, economic hardship, rising prices for fuel, gas and every other conceivable commodity and a state of affairs in politics that is way beyond repair in this country, would sprout something of a moral crisis.
As silly and embarrassing - not to mention non-football related - as it is, the matter of the names given by celebrity footballers to their sons and daughters has arisen with this latest example, which Buffon himself explained was borne out of his admiration for former Cameroon goalkeeper Thomas N'Kono and his desire to honour his partner's country of origin by choosing a name her family would identify with.
Louis Thomas Buffon may sound awkward for Italian traditionalists, but it falls perfectly in line with the increasingly diverse nationality mix in the country and also follows the aforementioned trend by celebrity soccer players to choose exotic-sounding names for their offspring.
Only a couple of months before Louis Thomas, indeed, Tobias Del Piero had been born in Turin, the son of Alex Del Piero and his wife Sonia. The name had apparently been chosen as a sign of respect for Guns 'n' Roses' Paul Tobias, but was met with scepticism by many, including those who filled fans' websites and messageboards with comments such as 'Tobias is a dog's name' - which for Italy may well be the case.
Indeed, the general public's sceptical but hardly vitriolic response to the name Buffon chose for his own son was too much to bear for Ilary Blasi, herself the oddly named wife of Roma superstar Francesco - now there's an Italian-sounding name! - Totti. The Tottis became the butts of nationwide jokes for naming their daughter Chanel, and the ebullient Ilary, a TV dancer and presenter, sniffed an anti-Roman prejudice in the fact their own choice of name had apparently been more criticized than Buffon's or Del Piero's - which may be true. Chanel, by the way, stressing the 'e', brings to mind that a few years ago that was exactly the name Roma owner Franco Sensi, clearly not a television expert, used to identify his clubs' own television station, Roma Channel, on the day of its launch.
And for those who may question what all of this has to do with football, my answer is: do not ask me, ask the media outlets who filled pages and pages with this stuff during the holiday period, adding it to the transfer speculation, stories on footballers holidaying in Miami's South Beach - where vacationing Italians seem to outnumber residents at the moment - and reviews of the sporting year which made Christmas lunch with relatives entertaining by comparison.
As famed writer and polemicist Ennio Flaiano, a true genius in one-liners ('if people knew each other better they'd hate each other more') once said about Italy, the situation is dire but not serious, and the debate about childrens' names is yet another example of this national attitude. Flaiano, though, died 35 years ago, and it is a sign of the times that his name, Ennio, would today sound weirder, for many Italians fed on a diet of foreign TV shows, than Thomas.
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