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23 May

Calcio Opium Populi

Carlo Marx and Italian Football: Who cares about anything when Alessandro Del Piero retires?

Winston Churchill once said: “Italians lose wars as if they were football games and lose football games as if they were wars”. Outrageous insult for Italian people’s honor? Of course, but not for the reason it was meant.

Italians are socially allowed to be alienated from any political party, but have to root for a football team. Anti-patriotism is widely accepted and harsh criticism of the nation is often encouraged, but being sympathetic for a foreign national team during a World Cup equals being a castaway of society.

Doesn’t matter what happened in the world, football will always have it’s spot in the sun all on television news, front pages of news papers, social media trends, and ultimately people’s interactions. When Serie A stops for religious holidays or national mourning, it is like a big part of the collective routine is missing.

Calcio is the place where you can shelter from the roughness of everyday’s life, knowing you will never be alone. Karl Marx wrote that Religion is the heart of a heartless world where people seek consolation and distress: Religio opium populi, i.e. religion is the opium of the masses. Calcio is the modern and ultimate opium of Italian people, with the undeniable advantage that unlike God, a ball is something you can see, listen to, touch and possibly kick at your disposal.

Marx argued humans are alienated thus produce religion as a reflection of theirs: In other words, man created God in his own image and not the other way round. Calcio is a microcosm of Italian society, a pseudo-theatrical representation of its virtues and flaws. It just has it all, from gossip through justice to politics.

“Once a rule is born, a new way to cheat is found” goes an Italian popular saying. Italian football players are well-known floppers and whiners, perfect incarnations of citizens who are instinctively seeking to get around the law and mock its enforcers.

Internships and poorly paid temporary contracts are pretty much all the Italian job market has to offer till you are in your late twenties. Italian young football players are rarely given a chance to shine in pro teams and are labeled as “young” –thus inexperienced- till when they are 25-26, ages when foreign colleagues are expected to have reached a mature phase of their careers.
Yet, sometimes Italians manage to make it against all the odds thanks to an inner extra-something.

“When the going gets rough, Italians get going” wrote Italian columnist Beppe Severgnini commenting the way Italy strives to avoid a Greece-like state failure. The unsolved Brazilian mystery

“How could Italy possibly get 1982 and 2006 World Cups?”- won by under-talented Italian teams against overqualified international juggernauts- commonly finds the same answer offered by Corriere della Sera’s journalist.

Too bad most Italians would fail to catch Churchill’s subtle irony and downgrade it to mere football taunting (“Oh yeah? So why did the English hire an Italian coach for their national team?” would be my candidate for most common counter-argument).

“The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness” said Marx1.  Too bad Italian masses are so addicted to their own opium not to let the beautiful sport of Football prevail over the pagan cult of Calcio.

Last modified on Wednesday, 23 May 2012 16:01
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Enrico Cellini

Enrico Cellini is a graduate from the University of Bologna, with a focus on International Relations.

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