No, it’s not because they lost to Costa Rica and were eliminated at the group stage in the last World Cup.
In football, I have three loves. At the club level it’s Chelsea and AC Milan, and at the international level it’s the Italian national team. My relationship with the three of them started at about the same time, right when I started to become interested in football. Italy captured my heart at the 1996 European Championships, the first time I watched football, and Chelsea & Milan did it in the following season, 1996/7.
Eric Cantona, one of the greatest football players among the philosophers, has a famous saying: “You can change your wife, your politics, your religion, but never, never can you change your favorite football team”. And even though I wasn’t aware of this saying until a few years ago, it makes sense intuitively. How CAN you change your favorite football team?
Anyway, following Italy caused me many moments of joy over the years, and also a few very painful moments, like the 2010 world cup. And yet, despite never doubting my initial decision of cheering for Italy, there are times when I feel embarrassed to tell people who ask me about my favorite team at the upcoming international tournament that I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the Squadra Azzurra.
Why is that? The reason behind my embarrassment is not the Italian team’s strength, not their squad for the tournament, nor is it some shameful event from the past which casts a shadow over the entire team.
I am a man of numbers, and therefore the embarrassment also has to do with them.
My fear is that when I answer and say that I’m an Italy fan, my conversation-partner will ask me who is our all-time top scorer, and how many goals he scored in his international career.
I will redden, gurgle, and mumble some unpronounceable syllables, before answering that our all-time top marksman is Luigi Riva, and that his total for the national team comes down to 35 goals.
“35 international goals?! That’s it?! LOLOLOLOL” will be the response, and sadly, it will be quite adequate.
It won’t help to explain that those 35 goals were scored in a mere 42 games, or that Riva is a legendary forward who won helped Italy win the 1968 European Championships, and that he even scored 3 goals en route to third place at the 1970 World Cup.
35 internationals goals are too little, surely for a national team such as Italy.
In fact, 35 goals are such a small amount that they put me in inferior position to fans of pretty much any other national team on the globe.
For example, if I happen to meet an England fan, he won’t hesitate to wave at my face Bobby Charlton’s 49 international goals.
A France fan? No problem, make way for Thierry Henry, who scored 51 international goals for Les Tricolores.
I had some bad luck and encountered a Spain fan? Well, I could laugh at him due to his team being eliminated even earlier than mine at the last World Cup, but I’ll be still wiping my tears long after he’s gone, when he’ll proudly present David Villa and his 59 goals.
Ok, so maybe I’ll dare to meet some fan of Argentina? Good luck with that! The Argentinean fan will promptly pull out of his pocket Batigol’s photo, the long-haired Gabriel Batistuta, who scored 56 goals in only 76 international caps.
Embarrassed, I’ll return to Europe, and will look for a Germany fan. A really bad idea it will be, since he will not hesitate to unleash lashes at me with a double-ended whip: Gerd Muller and his 68 goals, and the new record-holder – Miroslav Klose and his 71 goals.
Fans of the Netherlands are really popular here in Israel, so it will be difficult for me to avoid them, but if so happens and I will come across one, I’ll run away quickly before he can gloat while yelling “Robin Van Persie! 47 goals!”.
Fans of Brazil I will prefer to avoid in any case, because their favorite national team’s successes overshadow even those of my favorite Azzurri, but they also KO me in the goalscoring department: Pele scored a staggering amount of 77 goals in his international career.
I don’t know any fan of the Iran national football team, and I guess it will stay this way for a long time. And it’s for the best, since fans of Iran will be able to look straight in the eyes of any other fan, while wearing proudly the jersey of Ali Daei, the legendary forward, who scored a truly mind-fucking amount of 109 goals in 149 caps for the national team, an all-time record. It’s true that most of those goals were scored against opponents of the kind that Brazil played their “preparation” matches against before the 2006 World Cup, but the amazing numbers remain the same.
Ok, so after I was beaten so badly against the great national teams (+Iran), I’ll try to look myself some easy opponents, of lesser magnitude. Hey, it most certainly worked for Floyd Mayweather Jr., why can’t I do the same? Let’s look for a team who hasn’t won a World Cup recently…
What about Uruguay?
But Uruguay will be a bad choice as well, since the proud Uruguay fan will mention that Luis Suarez already scored no less than 40 goals for the national team, and that he is only 27 years old.
So yes, this trick won’t work against Uruguay. But it also won’t work against Portugal (Cristiano, 50 goals), Ivory Coast (Drogba, 65 goals), Switzerland (Alexander Frei, 42 goals), Sweden (Sven Rydell, 49 goals), Denmark (Poul Nielsen and Jon Dahl Tomasson, 52 goals), and many more…
But not only against fans of the big national teams and those at the level right below them will I be humiliated. Even fans of Hungary (Puskas, 84 goals) Bulgaria (Viktor Krum, eh, I mean Hristo Bonev and Dimitar Berbatov, 48 goals), USA (Landon Donovan, 57 goals), Mexico (Jared Borgetti, 46 goals), Chile (Marcelo Salas, 37 goals), Poland (Wlodzimierz Lubanski, 48 goals), Angola (Akwa, 36/8 goals, it depends on your source), Honduras (Carlos Pavon, 57 goals), and really – a whole lot of other national teams, which I won’t write because I don’t want to be occupied with this post until 2017. AND ALL THE FANS OF ALL THOSE TEAMS will be able to laugh at me, an Italy fan.
In fact, it seems that only the laziest national teams haven’t found a player who scored more goals than Luigi Riva. It might be that the reason behind my family’s immigration to Israel, back in 1992 – my dad probably knew that Israel’s top all-time marksman, Mordechai Spiegler, scored only 25 goals for the national team, and that I could walk the streets feeling safe. BTW, according to the Israeli Football Association count, Spiegler has 8 additional goals to his credit, but since those were scored in mostly Olympic-related matches, they are not part of the official counts. Well, unless Romario is the one who’s counting.
So why the Italians have this amazing FAIL written all over them? Why don’t we have a striker who will score 40, 50 goals for the national team? What, are there no scorers in Italy? What is the reason behind this wretchedness?
And even more than that! Since I granted Italy a key to my heart, no player has even come close to Riva’s total! No player has even scored 30 goals for the Azzurri since I’ve became a fan! The fans of the other national teams are enjoying copious golascoring from their strikers, while we are treated to… eh… non-copious goalscoring from our strikers…
And it really sucks, because in the other aspect of international matches – the number of caps the players have, the Italian players have a very good record. 5 players in the history of the Italian national team have entered the “100 caps” club, and the record holder Buffon currently stands at a very impressive total of 142 caps. But goals? Bitch, please…
Since the first international tournament I watched – Euro 96, we actually had several very good strikers, only they usually didn’t transfer their goalscoring ability to the national uniform.
Alessandro Del-Piero, the prince of Juventus, their all-time top-scorer, who scored more than 300 goals for his teams during his career, has found the net only 27 times in 91 matches he played for the Azzurri. Does this looks like a normal scoring pace?!
But Del-Pierro’s record is actually good when you compare him to his brother from another mother, his twin from the city of Rome. Francesco Totti is the number 2 all-time scorer in the Italian league, but in the national team his record puts to shame even Emile Heskey: only 9 (!!!) goals in 58 appearances. Well, actually I exaggerated with Heskey, but he’s not too far. The striker who was the nightmare of Premier League defenders for almost two decades has scored 7 goals in 62 caps.
Ok, so we’ll leave the two fantasisti alone. But we also had some other players occupying our attacking roles! What, you mean to tell me they didn’t score many goals?!
The first name that pops into my head is that of Christian Vieri. This wonderful forward, who’s looks always reminded me of Brian Austin Green from Beverly Hills 90210, has scored 5 goals in 5 matches at the 98 World Cup, and another 4 goals in 4 matches at the 2002 World Cup. Damn, that’s a goal per match! What a great pace! The problem is Vieri outside the World Cups – overall his total is only 23 goals in 49 appearances.
But actually, in Vieri’s case, the solution is simple. We kill the Batman. Eh, I mean that if I were the national team’s manager, I would simply continue to call him up to every World Cup in sight, no matter what shape or nursing home he’s in, until he breaks Riva’s embarrassing record. It’s true that he’ll need another 13 World Cup matches to break the record, and with an average of say 5 matches per World Cup – sometimes we’ll reach the semis, and sometimes… well, just look at the last two… or in fact – don’t look :-(. Ok, maybe we should take the worst-case scenario of 3 matches per World Cup. It means that he’ll need a maximum of 5 World Cups to play in, and he’s already missed this last one. But hey, if we will start to call him up starting from Russia 2018, it means that in worst case scenario he’ll manage to break the record in East Timur 2034, when he’ll only be 61 years old! Vieri for the national team!
I managed to catch only the latter stages of the great Roberto Baggio’s career. He was very good at the 98 World Cup, and scored 2 goals in the process, but his international career ended at 27 goals in 56 caps. Fuck.
Wait a minute, what about Inzaghi? Super Pippo enjoyed a decent career in the national team, and his scoring average for the Azzurri was better than his scoring average for Milan, but he also ended his career with a record similar to Baggio – 25 goals in 57 games.
Vincenzo Montella? Marco Delvecchio? Well, together they have an impressive record of 7 goals in 42 caps. An excellent total. If you’re a fucking sweeper.
And what about scorers from recent times? Well, take a deep breath…
Luca Toni – 16 goals in 47 matches. Not good.
Alberto Gilardino – 19 goals in 57 matches. Oh, the horror!
Christiano Lucarelli – 3 goals in 6 matches. The average is great! But why only 6 caps?!
Antonio Di Natale – 11 goals in 42 matches. Really? Go to hell, you and your 209 goals in 387 matches for Udineze.
Fabio Quagliarella – 7 goals in 25 matches. What. The. Fuck.
Vincenzo Iaquinta – 6 goals in 40 matches. Ok I quit, there’s no way this shit is for real.
Anyway, the problem is clear. From looking at our current strikers, Antonio Cassano has 10 goals in 39 matches. That is also not a good record, but I won’t take any criticism of Cassano, not after him crying his heart out in Euro 2004. One of the most emotional moments EVER for every Italy fan. Fuck you, Denmark, Sweden and your 2-2.
Oh, wait a second, Super Mario! Yes indeed, Balotelli is perhaps the light at the end of the tunnel, and the fact that I’m saying this about Balotelli emphasizes the problem’s magnitude. So far Mario has scored 13 goals in 33 matches for the national team. The average can do better, but the trend is positive. Plus he’s only 24 years old.
On the other hand – this is Mario-fucking-Balotelli. The dude is so unexpected that I can’t even be sure he’ll reach 50 international caps.
The truth? It will be very strange to me if someone like Balotelli will score more goals in the national team than Baggio, Vieri, etc. But, hey, if it’ll mean that we can finally erase Riva’s name and abysmal record from the record-books and that we can finally look straight in the eyes of the other national teams’ fans – where do I sign???
So yes, I’m betting my money on Balotelli for now. This is probably my riskiest gamble since back in my freshman year I decided to not read the book material for the exam in Physiological Psychology A, because someone told me that the lecturer doesn’t ask about that material in the exam. Back then the gamble proved itself. Perhaps this one will too?
But for now I guess we’ll just have to continue being embarrassed.