Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Italy and Spain were the big buyers, snatching the best players in the world. But problems developed as well – two foreigners were allowed to play in a single match. The big clubs routinely had three foreigners in their squads, as precautions against injuries and bad form. But it was not enough… and ‘oriundi’ rule was increasingly employed to grant citizenship to foreign players. Sure, some were really of Italian or Spanish descent, but not everybody – certainly not Ladislao Kubala or Ferenc Puskas. And di Stefano sounds more Italian name, than Spanish – but Spanish he became. Frictions developed – both international and domestic. For political reasons Eastern European states protested the inclusion of the ‘traitor’ Puskas in the Spanish national team. It was seen as a deliberate ideologically motivated ‘provocation’. (The name of Puskas virtually disappeared in Eastern European press after 1956. When mentioning him was impossible to avoid, he was always the ‘traitor’ who went to the West for money and is constantly exploited by his capitalist employers. Which serves him right!) Brazil, although rich on talent, was not happy either when Brazilian stars suddenly donned the jersey of the Italian national team. It was seen as extremely unfair to develop players, who were going to play for somebody else and against you. In 1964 FIFA banned the inclusion of naturalized players who previously played for another national team. This cooled down the import of South Americans a bit, but not entirely. It was domestic outcry to really affect the import: officially, even today, the promoted version for the ban on foreign players in Spain (1964) and Italy (1966) is nationalistic concerns. Foreign stars, playing key positions in the clubs, stifled local talent, which, in turn, led to poor national teams. As a result, foreigners were increasingly included in the national squads, but it was not good at all, for foreigners lacked patriotism and never played strongly. To prevent that, the best was to ban foreign players and develop local talent. Hence, the prohibitions. The argument is valid, but it is not the whole truth. Unsaid remain the complicated club politics, which also played very big role – competition between the big clubs was increasingly below the belt: every big club schemed to get more stars, and get them citizenship, so to be able to use them constantly. But the same tricky club cried murder when the competition did the same, so everybody accused constantly everybody else in unfair practices. Who is proper ‘oriundi’ and who was false was constantly disputed to no agreement. Meantime smaller clubs, unable to compete with the rich, found themselves in increasing disadvantage: the handful of big clubs were permitted to do whatever they liked, getting stronger and stronger teams. For the small fry there was hardly any reason for playing – the results were predictably against them. It was no football anymore. At the end even the big clubs grudgingly agreed to the ban – it would be better if only the other clubs were affected, but since it was impossible to grant exceptions only for ‘us’ (always singular ‘us’ - say, Barcelona under ban, but not Real), better no foreigners at all. For who knows the bastards will naturalize tomorrow and we will eternally on second place. Deep down no big club ever gave up the desire to have foreign stars, but publicly they expressed agreement.

Jose Altafini, the typical oriundo. He was champion of the World in 1958, as Brazilian named Mazzola. His nickname comes from the great Italian striker Valentino Mazzola, the father of the 1960s megastar Sandro Mazzola. To be a Mazzola in Italy was a bit of a sacrilige, so Altafini reversed to his real name – and played for Italy in the 1962 World Cup. Players like him forced FIFA to ban players changing national teams and the Italian Federation to ban imported players.