Gianluigi Buffon, Piazzale Loreto and an uncomfortable relationship with history
The Luxury Player feels a certain sense of kinship with Juventus’s Gianluigi Buffon. Not because we’re both in a position to lay a justifiable claim joining the rather exclusive club of the most talented goalkeepers ever to have played the sport of football, but rather because neither of us has ever had the firmest grasp of history. Indeed, instead of wallowing in the dull and dreary past, which was all black and white until the middle of last century, both the LP and Gigi prefer to spend their time in the present, gadding about and stopping shots respectively.
The Luxury Player has harboured a certain distrust towards history and its so-called facts ever since it was told as a much younger dilettante that Ferdinand Magellan had been the first man to circumnavigate the globe, only to find out later that the Portuguese explorer had been killed along the way, making it particularly hard to know which way to answer when the topic comes up in a game of Trivial Pursuit. Facts, it seems, are often of little relevance to history’s narrative arc.
Bold Buffon is similarly sceptical towards fickle facts. Like most footballers, rarely does he let them intrude into his postmatch commentary, preferring instead the practised platitude or the commonplace quip. However, Buffon has been unwise enough to dabble in history on occasion, invariably falling foul of that bugbear of the celebrity, factual accuracy.
There was the occasion in September 2000 when Gigi showed up for work at his then club Parma with a jersey sporting the number 88 on the back. Now you boffins familiar with your “history” will know that the number 88 is used as code amongst Neo Nazis for Heil Hitler…since H is the 8th letter of the alphabet, and, well, you get the picture. Needless to say, Buffon was criticised vociferously for his choice of shirt number.
How was Buffon to have known the sick and twisted meaning of the number he was wearing? As he protested in his autobiography, he chose the number 88 because it contained 4 balls. If you look at the number carefully, you can see what he’s talking about, the clever fellow. It’s like one pair of balls balanced ever so delicately atop a second pair. This blog, for one, is thoroughly convinced of Buffon’s innocence. “We all know what having balls means in Italy,” Buffon declared in his defence, and possibly hinting at being a some sort of superman with twice the standard number of testicles.
Of course it would be remiss of this blog to fail to mention that about one year prior to his decision to don a shirt dripping with fascist symbology, Buffon and history had butted heads over another item of totalitarian-inflected clothing. In 1999 he decorated a jersey with the words “Boia chi molla”, which, roughly translated, means “death to the coward.” Whilst the origins of the slogan are unclear, it is known to have been the rallying cry of the Salò Republic, the Nazi vassal state in the north of Italy, to which Benito Mussolini retreated following the Allied liberation of Sicily and his own deposition in 1943. It was also adopted by the neo-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano who, with the backing of the ‘Ndrangheta, Calabria’s answer to the Mafia, attempted to orchestrate popular uprisings in Reggio Calabria between July 1970 and February 1971. Buffon, naturally, pleaded ignorance, saying that he’d seen the words carved into a desk drawer whilst at school. The Luxury Player has made the same sort of mistake on numerous occasions.
Buffon found himself running afoul of history again last month when he decided to come to the defence of those involved in the betting scandal currently rocking Italian football.
“We’re always the Italy of Piazzale Loreto, just one name on the front page and everything gets tainted, when at the moment nothing is clear,” he said, accusing the media of a rush to judgment. It just so happens that when summary judgments and the tribulations of the unjustly condemned come to Buffon’s mind, so does the plight of Mussolini, whose dead body, along with those of other high-ranking fascist cronies, was displayed at Piazzale Loreto, a square in the city of Milan. Perhaps, as the Italian paper Blitz quotidiano’s Mino Fuccillo points out, Buffon’s grasp of history is so poor that he has convinced himself that Mussolini was a maligned football manager in need of exoneration, and fascism a championship lost despite the team’s commitment to giving “one hundred and ten per cent”. Or, perhaps, and this has been a tremendously difficult conclusion to reach, the LP has been wrong throughout and Buffon really is a fascist.
Of course if he is a fascist, Buffon might be better off simply admitting so publicly, as his fellow goalkeeper Christian Abbiati of AC Milan did in 2008. In May this year Abbiati confirmed his devotion to his cause by celebrating his team’s capture of the scudetto whilst parading a flag with the logo of the Commandos Tigre, a group of far-right Milan-supporting ultras. Abbiati’s coming out seems to have had little effect on his own troubled relationship with facts. “Why do political opinions always have to be discussed,” bawled Abbiati. “Perhaps these days it’s not easy belonging to the extreme right,” he continued, clearly under the impression that Silvio Berlusconi really is a centre-right politician, and rather forgetting the king-making presence in his country’s governing coalition of uber right-winger Umberto Bossi of the uber right-wing Lega Nord.
Indeed, as members of the far right seldom allow the truth, historical or otherwise, to influence their convictions, Gianluigi Buffon surely has little to lose simply by admitting that yes, deep down, he really is a fascist. If anything, he’ll be freer than ever to copy his ideological brethren by disregarding historical accuracy altogether and instead making up his own version of the past. What a sense of liberation he would feel.
So go on, Gigi. Do for yourself. Do it for all of us. We’ll all feel better that way.