History is such a prickly thing, and sometimes it's neither forgotten nor forgiven.
Yesterday saw the spawning of a number of rumors about Napoli being interested in striker Danny Welbeck of fallen English giants Manchester United. The rumor itself is stupid; Welbeck is terrible and wildly over-rated, and based on the history and known preference of Rafa Benitez when it comes to strikers, there's really no reason to think he'd be interested in bringing Welbeck in.
The Guardian is one of England's better respected newspapers, and Barry Glendenning, one of their football staff writers, apparently felt indebted to write something about the matter in his rumor mill column this morning:
The news that Danny Welbeck is apparently unhappy with his lot at Manchester United has aroused interest in Naples, where Rafael Benítez has stopped making that wide-no-narrow sideline gesture he does with his two forefingers for long enough to register his interest in the disillusioned striker. Napoli sporting director Riccardo Bigon has let Welbeck's agent know that Napoli are interested in signing up his client, but with Everton and Tottenham also interested, the club from one of Italy's mafia strongholds will need to make Manchester United and Welbeck himself an offer they can't refuse.
"[T]he club from one of Italy's mafia strongholds will need to make Manchester United and Welbeck himself an offer they can't refuse." Uh oh. Oh crap. He didn't just make a Godfather joke, did he? He did? Oh god.
Look, it's hard to deny that Italy and the mafia have a long and sordid history, and that it's still part of the country's present self to some extent. Depending on what stories you believe, Aurelio De Laurentiis' refusal to kowtow to the mafia has been a cause of problems for the club and its players around the city at times. But to make light of that out of nowhere in a rumor article, with no context or reason whatsoever, is totally unnecessary, smacks of a lack of professionalism and starts heading towards xenophobia.
Napoli fans have already threatened to sue The Guardian and Glendenning, with a fan group representative saying "There were false and offensive statements against the club Napoli, the city of Naples and the Neapolitans. It is false and offensive to say Napoli is ‘the club from one of Italy’s mafia strongholds.’ We understand the bitterness that a Manchester United player could be sold to SSC Napoli, but we cannot justify gratuitous insults."
Even SSC Napoli itself, the very club that represents the city being libeled by Glendenning, is upset enough that club communication director Nicola Lombardo issued the following statement:
Dear Mr Prior,
I write to you to ask to publish the following message about an article which appeared on the website of such a prestigious newspaper as the Guardian:
"Napoli sporting director Riccardo Bigon has let Welbeck’s agent know that Napoli are interested in signing up his client, but with Everton and Tottenham also interested, the club from one of Italy’s mafia strongholds will need to make Manchester United and Welbeck himself an offer they can’t refuse."
I am aware that it can happen that an article is not read carefully before being published. It is possible that as the editor of the Guardian's sports pages you may not have realised what was written. If not, we would be dismayed to read such a dated, dumb, vulgar cliche as this, linking the city of Naples to the mafia.
This is an archaic impression that is also rejected by English tourists who every year choose Italy - and Napoli - as their holiday destination. They would not do that if they thought that Naples is Italy's mafia stronghold, a place where people fire at or rob each other in the street. We would not judge a city like Newcastle on the basis of MTV's Geordie Shore; we do not think all of that city's inhabitants are rude, gym-addicted and sociopathic. It is a shame to see the Guardian did not afford Napoli the same courtesy.
I would still prefer to think that you had not read the article, and in this case, I would ask for a correction, in the name of both Neapolitans and Italians.
I get the feeling that this is far from the last we'll hear on the matter.
As of the time of this publication, the rumor article in question is still published on The Guardian's website with the offending paragraph unedited.