New Breed of Oriundi Lead Italy to Success
Italy laboured to a 3-1 win over Armenia on Friday, moving a step closer to the World Cup. Gianluigi Buffon will rightly take the plaudits for keeping Italy in the game at 1-1, but it was finally settled by a player born in Buenos Aires — Pablo Osvaldo, the Roma striker who moved to the country with Atalanta in 2006. After playing for the Italian under-21s, it was with Espanyol where Osvaldo hit the kind of goalscoring numbers required to get Azzurri manager Cesare Prandelli’s attention. He qualified for the country through an Anconese great-grandfather and has spent five seasons in the country, hypothetically satisfying any residency requirement.
The side’s openness to this new breed of Oriundi is as much as a reflection of a changing society in Europe, a phenomenon that France’s national side has been witness to for many years. Mind you, Italy’s selection of South Americans is a practice dating to Vittorio Pozzo’s side of the 1930s; but the Italian public wasn’t always so open to foreign players, responding to the national side’s World Cup failures in extreme measures — whether by imposing the three-foreigners rule of the 80s or, in Perugia’s case, sacking Ahn Jung-Hwan for scoring the goal to eliminate them in 2002.
As recently as the 2006 World Cup win, the idea of a black or minority player starting for Italy seemed a long time away, mostly because there was no reason to think that there wouldn’t be enough quality in front of them.
Mario Balotelli, a star at Euro 2012, and Stephan El Shaarawy, who made his competitive debut against Armenia, aren’t Oriundi in the traditional sense, but they’ve benefitted from the same softening of ideas. The traditionalists, those who chanted to Balotelli that “there is no such thing as a black Italian”, seek to mire Italy in the same kind of backwards thinking that led to Marcello Lippi’s re-appointment as national team coach in 2008. These same fans would’ve called up a more “Italian” player than Balotelli or his replacement in Armenia, Pablo Osvaldo.
At Euro 2012, Balotelli and Thiago Motta, a Brazilian cast-off who qualifies for Italy much like Osvaldo, helped Italy to the final before succumbing to Spain. Another Italo-Argentino, Fiorentina defender Facundo Roncaglia, is on Prandelli’s radar while American-born Guiseppe Rossi has been in the coach’s plans but racked by injuries as of late.
Part of Prandelli’s post-2010 approach was eliminating the hubris that affected Italy in the wake of the 2006 World Cup win, and saw him admit that a player not on Argentina’s radar can do a job for Italy. Osvaldo had once reacted to an Argentina snub by saying he hoped to make them regret it — scoring the goals that push the new-look Azzurri past his home country is just the way to do it.