Italy's unruly men

France's Mathieu Flamini (right) escaped with a light punishment for his shocking tackle on Spurs defender Vedran Corluka.-AP France's Mathieu Flamini (right) escaped with a light punishment for his shocking tackle on Spurs defender Vedran Corluka.

Gennaro Gattuso's excesses are merely the latest in a long line of violence by Italy's players, which can be traced way back into the 1930s when, under the imposing aegis of the late Vittorio Pozzo, the Azzuri twice won the World Cup. Over to Brian Glanville.

“If they can die for Italy they can play for Italy,” declared Pozzo Grandio Sely, meaning that Oriundo were liable for army service. But when Italy invaded Abyssinia in 1935 Guaita was caught trying to sneak across the border to Switzerland with other Oriundo. Play yes, die, no.

Monti you might say was a Porteno, alias a Buenos Aires thug. When Argentina met France in the 1930 World Cup in Montevideo, Markel Pinel, the French centre half, complained that he never came near Monti with the thought of receiving a kick or a blow of some sort. Yet in that Montevideo final against Uruguay, the then young Argentine forward Francisco Varallo, by then in his late 90s, declared that Monti was so terrified by death threats that he was inept.

Pozzo put him in the Italy team at the expense of the far more polished and creative Fulvio Bernardini, a graduate of Rome University, later a most successful club-B manager. “The fans say clever Bernardini,” Pozzo told me he said to Fulvio, “but you are holding up the play.” By contrast with Monti, who swung the ball about. You might say that nemesis overtook Monti at the so called battle of Highbury in November 1934. Italy the World Cup holders played England in a so called friendly. After 90 seconds, Monti was kicked on the foot by England's centre forward Ted Drake, broke a bone in his toe and limped off in agony, telling Pozzo, “he kicked me deliberately.” Something Drake, in future years, always denied to me. But from that point on, the Italians were “retaliating.” Fists and elbows flew. England squeezed by ultimately 3-2, after leading 3-0.

Monti was succeeded in Italy's 1938 World Cup winners by the Uruguayan Oriundo, Andreolo, when soon after their 1938 victory, he played for the rest of Europe against England at yes, again, Highbury. Andreolo spat at the English referee Jimmy Jewell. Ken Willingham the young England right half cried, “Leave him, leave him!” and duly exacted revenge.

Enzo Bearzot was a classics student who eschewed University to concentrate on his playing career — Pozzo was never a serious player. Though he pursued a policy of what he called “Disintoxication,” purging his World Cup players of the poisons of the hectic Campionato, he too wasn't disinclined to use hard men. Gentile was one of the worst. Peter Barnes, the ex-Manchester City winger, told me that when, as a youngster, he made his international debut versus Italy at Wembley in 1977, Gentile knocked him to the ground, shouting at him as he lay there, “English pig!” But the blond Romeo Benetti was little better.

As an instance of his double vision, I remember Bearzot protesting to me in Argentine during the 1970 World Cup, that Holland's Aarie Haan had badly fouled the inoffensive Zaccarelli, ignoring the fact that just beforehand as he made his way up the left touchline, Haan had been painfully fouled by Benetti who, later in the game, felled Johan Neeskens with an elbow to the jaw.

After Gattuso's outbursts, Spurs manager Harry Redknapp was at pains to declare what a nice fellow Gattuso certainly was, that this was merely an unfortunate lapse. If so, it was a lapse that fitted into a pattern. From Monti through Gentile and Benetti, thuggery has, alas, played a prominent role in the history of the Azzurri: propitiated by the strange double standards of well educated managers such as Pozzo and Bearzot.

So what, alas, is new? Gennaro Gattuso, the combative — to put it mildly — Milan and Italy midfielder has recently been given a four-match ban from European matches by UEFA, the result of his reckless assaults on the Spurs coach, Joe Jordan. Once, as Jordan has proudly reemphasised, a Milan centre forward himself. If there could be a gain of sympathy for Gattuso, it lay in the fact that for all his flamboyant aggression, he didn't do remotely as much damage in the game as his team-mate France's Mathieu Flamini, whose shocking tackle, if you could call it that, on Spurs, defender, Vedran Corluka, could well have put him out for months rather, most fortunately, weeks. Because he had been given merely a yellow card by an inept referee for the two footed foul, UEFA decided, in their legalistic unwisdom, that they could do no more — though this was highly arguable.

Not that Gattuso had any cause to complain — which he loudly did — at his treatment. He erupted against Jordan both vocally and physically on the touchline and at the end of the game, abusing him and laying hands on him. Given Jordan's own reputation when playing as a very hard man indeed, this may have seemed a risky, even a courageous policy. Afterwards, Gattuso's representative tried, somewhat unconvincingly, to insist that Jordan had provoked Gattuso with a stream of abuse, accusations which Jordan scornfully waved aside, emphasising his own happy years with Milan.

The fact is, alas, that Gattuso's excesses are merely the latest in a long line of violence by Italy's players, which can be traced away back into the 1930s when, under the imposing aegis of the late Vittorio Pozzo, the Azzuri twice won the World Cup. I knew Pozzo very well, from my days as a young journalist in Italy, liked and admired him, but found his double vision over his own players' sporadic violence as difficult to understand as that of Enzo Bearzot, a good friend of mine and winner with Italy of the 1982 World Cup final. An irony of which being that the horrific assault in the Seville semi-final by Germany's keeper, Toni Schumacher, on France's Patrick Battiston had quite overshadowed the appalling methods of Italy's Claudio Gentile when Italy beat Argentina in Barcelona in their second group game and Diego Maradona was subjected to endless mayhem by Gentile: watched blandly by a weak Rumanian referee in Rainea.

The surprising factor being that both Pozzo and Enzo were well educated men. Pozzo spoke several languages, not least English, having spent several years before the Great War living in the English Midlands and conferring with great footballers of the day, such as Steve Bloomer.

Yet, as with Bearzot in later years, there was this curious blind spot, this double vision. All too well emphasised by the case of Luisito Monti. A thug ever there was one. Imported by Juventus and used by Pozzo with two other Argentine internationals wingers, Orsi and Guaita, as so called Oriundi: South Americans of Italian parentage and thus qualified for the Azzurri.