In defence of Giuseppe Rossi
American soccer fans aren’t noted for their nastiness but the reaction to Giuseppe Rossi, New Jersey native, scoring twice for Italy against the U.S in their 3-1 Confederations Cup defeat on Monday has been surprisingly vitriolic.
What has upset U.S fans is that Rossi was born and bred in the U.S. but chose to play for another country and then — to add insult to injury — celebrated when he scored twice against his country of birth.
Rossi has Italian parents (his father was a soccer coach) also holds Italian citizenship, moved to Parma when he was 12 and was part of the Italian club’s youth scheme before joining Manchester United aged 17. He has represented Italy at youth level before joining the full national side. He now plays in Spain for Villarreal and is the subject of some pretty intense speculation linking him with a move back to one of Italy’s top clubs.
There is now a facebook group with nearly 400 members called ‘We Hate Giuseppe Rossi’ which features a picture of the forward with the word ‘Scum’ superimposed on it. Twitter contributors have labelled Rossi a traitor and there is worse out there.
The word “traitor” is entirely out of place in describing Rossi. In the modern, globalised world it is nothing at all out of the ordinary for players to have dual nationalities. It happens all the time. In fact, if my wife were to give birth to a son here in Miami, he would be eligible to play for four different countries (including, like Rossi, the U.S and Italy). These sort of situations are going to become more and more common in the future.
But it is particularly unfair to attack Rossi for his choice.
First of all, there is the matter of identity. With two Italian parents, Rossi clearly has a strong affinity for Italy.
Secondly, having left the U.S at the age of 12, he has not been part of the U.S youth coaching set-up and so owes nothing to U.S soccer (the bitterness would be more understandable had Rossi benefited from years of American coaching and soccer academies and then as an adult chosen to play for Italy).
Thirdly, he moved to Italy before he was even a teenager and received five years of coaching, schooling and development with Parma and the Italian Football Federation’s coaches, so he owes them much more than he owes U.S Soccer. I mean, he even played for Italy’s Under-16 team.
Often players choose to ‘adopt’ a country in order to gain an easier chance at becoming an international player. But Rossi can hardly be accused of that. As the online magazine American Soccer News puts it:
“In fact, the decision to play for Italy was a big risk if he ever wanted to have a national team career of any sort. Winners of four World Cups (including the most recent edition) and home to one of the best professional leagues on the planet, competition for Italy’s national team spots is fierce. Personnel decisions are analyzed meticulously by the country’s soccer-mad press. The pressure on players fortunate enough to don the national team kit is intense.
“Every mistake is scrutinizedat great length in the papers and cafes and grottos and wherever else people gather. Many players’ lives (and those of their families) are ruined as a result. Why would any young man make the decision to expose himself to this maelstrom when he had a far easier, safer choice available to him?
“Rossi would have been all but guaranteed a starting spot for the US, probably for as long as he wanted, where he would not have been subject to anywhere near the same scrutiny.”
Indeed, to add to that, Rossi could find himself, in a year’s time, if his current excellent form deserts him, not making the Italy World Cup squad and be sat at home watching the U.S playing in South Africa and knowing that he would have walked into their team.
So why the bitterness about someone who hasn’t lived in the U.S since he was 12? I think it shows, above all, the deep disappointment among North American fans who have been waiting and waiting for a genuine world class talent to emerge.
While the U.S has produced scores of decent professionals, they really haven’t found anyone who would attract the likes of Manchester United or AC Milan to get their chequebooks out.
The all-time top scorer for the U.S national side, Landon Donovan, has had three tries at a career in the Bundesliga and failed to make the grade on every occasion. Freddy Adu was hailed as the first American global soccer star and although he is still only 20, his career so far in Europe has stuttered along.
Rather than vent fury at Rossi, American fans would do better to ask themselves whether Rossi would be the player he is now if he had chosen to stay in the United States and spend his formative years with a junior club here and then join a Major League Soccer team?
The sad truth is that if Rossi had stayed in the U.S, we probably wouldn’t be arguing about him now — he’d be just another no-name in the MLS, getting the occasional outing in the national side, playing with the anonymous lack of flair and style that is unfortunately typical of players coached in the U.S system.
PHOTO: Italy’s Giuseppe Rossi celebrates after scoring against the U.S during their Confederations Cup match at the Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, June 15, 2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko