Italian football loves scapegoat – someone to heap all the blame on after a disastrous outing in a major competition.
After failing to navigate the first round of Brazil 2014 World Cup, the senior players in the team led by Gianluigi Buffon blamed the junior players, particularly Mario Balotelli, for not showing enough hunger against Costa Rica and Uruguay – games they lost 1-0.
But Carlo Tavecchio, vice-president of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), has upped the ante, blaming the influx of foreign players, especially blacks, into Italian football as the reason for the no-show in Brazil. He suggested that Italy should replicate England’s stringent requirements for non-EU players; and in the process, he was caught in racism row after referring to African players as “banana eaters”.
“In England, they identify the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play,” Tavecchio said at the summer assembly of Italy’s amateur leagues (LND).
“Here, instead, we get Opti Pobà, who previously ate bananas and then suddenly becomes a first-team player with Lazio. That’s how it is here. In England, you need to demonstrate what you have on your CV and your pedigree.”
When quizzed by reporters afterwards, Tavecchio said that he could not recall what he had said in his own speech.
“I can’t remember if I said the word ‘banana’ but I was referring to the CV and professionalism required by English football for players who come from Africa or other countries,” he said.
“If anyone has interpreted my speech as offensive, I offer my apologies.”
His apology was not accepted by the president of the Italian Footballers’ Association (AIC) and former AS Roma midfielder Damiano Tommasi who condemned Tavecchio, saying that he had received numerous complaints from angry players.
“I am disconcerted by Tavecchio’s comments on bananas and Opti Pobà,” he told the Ansa news agency.
“I don’t know whether to be even more shocked by the silence that surrounded them. I have received a number of phone calls of protest from Italian and foreign players who are just astounded by this.”
Tavecchio, who is favourite to head FIGC after the resignation of former president Giancarlo Abete, is vying for the top job with former AC Milan and Italy midfielder, Demetrio Albertini. Election is fixed for August 11, 2014.
Abete stepped down immediately after Italy’s embarrassing early exit from the World Cup.
Meanwhile, FIFA has directed the Italian FA to immediately open investigations into Tavecchio’s racist comment.