After Giancarlo Abete resigned his position as president of the FIGC following Italy's graceless exit from the World Cup, we were always going to be in store for a long and painful process of replacing him. We just didn't know it was going to be this painful, or as ugly as it's starting to turn.
The election for the new president isn't until August 11th, but candidates are already positioning themselves and campaigning in the media. The favorite, Carlo Tavecchio, has already made numerous statements in the press... but perhaps he's done too much, too fast, because on Friday he let slip a turn of phrase that has turned the public and a growing portion of the football bodies that supported him against the 71 year old's cause.
Speaking of wanting to introduce stricter regulations on incoming foreign players, a system that would mimic England's increasingly xenophobic work permit regulations, Tavecchio uttered these horrifying words:
"Welcoming is one thing, but playing football is another. In England they identify the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play. Instead, here we say that any old Opti Pobà can come here, before he was eating bananas, now he’s playing in the Lazio first XI."
- Translated quote source: Football Italia
Oh. That's, uhm... well, that's pretty stunningly racist. Like, really really holy-crap-did-he-just-say-that racist.
Before making that statement, Tavecchio was the overwhelming favorite, believed to have the vast majority of the sides from Serie A, Serie B, and Lega Pro behind his candidacy. Now, it seems that backing might be dissolving, with Fiorentina publicly withdrawing their support, and others believed to be wavering. Fiorentina cited their "ethical and civil values" in their statement, and called Tavecchio's candidacy "unsustainable".
Given that Italian football has been mired in one racism scandal after another in recent years, perhaps having an old-school president who so carelessly utters racist remarks like that isn't such a hot idea. Enter Demetrio Albertini, the one time Vice-President of the FIGC who has officially registered his candidacy for the president's seat this weekend.
The former AC Milan star has already been backed by both the Players' and Coaches' associations in Italy, but faces an uphill climb unless the leagues start removing their support of Tavecchio. Sadly, that doesn't seem likely after each of the league presidents all raced to support Tavecchio after his gaffe.
Despite being a younger mind with seemingly fresher ideas more in line with the progress the rest of Europe is making, Albertini is likely to have to take a back seat to an old-school good ol' boy who wants to make changes that will make it harder for Italy to close the gap forming between Serie A and the other top leagues on the continent.
And, oh yes, he made a derogatory and racist statement to the press as casually as could be, like it ain't no thang. That's nice, isn't it?
From a Napoli viewpoint, this isn't a great situation to be in. Even before Tavecchio said what he did, Aurelio De Laurentiis didn't sound thrilled when telling the media that he was the favorite on Thursday. De Laurentiis is far more forward-thinking than most top men in Italian football seem to be, so the thought of another FIGC president who wants to keep Italy trudging along the same mostly-failing course can't be terribly thrilling.
With the specter of racism now hanging over things, though, this could be even worse for Napoli than previously thought. Napoli have been the target of racist and discriminatory hatred from fans around Italy repeatedly over the past few years, and while clubs have been punished for it in the past, the idea of having a president who says racist things in the media is... concerning. Will he investigate and punish these incidents in the future, or will he just sweep it under the rug as "just fans being fans"?
In all honestly, there's not much about Tavecchio's background that screams "good candidate" to be the new FIGC president. He has a long and sordid history as an executive and politician, including being jailed five separate occasions on various corruption and tax evasion charges. Is that really what we want from the leader of Italian football?
In all honesty, it's hard to say if Albertini is any better as a candidate, but at least his issues stem from more of a lack of experience angle. Given the malaise Italian football finds itself in over the last decade, why not roll the dice on someone who can bring change rather than stick with the same thing that still isn't working? Especially when that sameness comes in the seemingly-awful package that Tavecchio offers, there's no reason to put up with it.
Hopefully the Italian football leagues make the right choice and vote for Albertini or someone else who isn't Tavecchio. There's nothing good down that road.