The Merry-Go-Round

A new phase has begun at Castel Rigone. Marco Di Loreto departed as manager on Sunday evening. On Tuesday morning, the Giornale dell’Umbria published this comment by Daniele Sborzacchi, chief of the paper’s sports section:

L’eleganza della simplicità. Marco Di Loreto è uscito di scena con grande signorilità. Da calciatore è riuscito a farsi amare dai tifosi perugini pur provenendo dal feudo rossoverde di Marmore; nella sua ottima carriera in campo si è ritagliato uno spazio importante partendo dalle categorie inferiore e scalandole con impegno e dedicazione. E da tecnico alla prima esperienza su una panchina professionistica, conscio della “particolarità” dell’ambiente rigonese, ha gestito con intelligenza e calma una situazione che, senza ombra di dubbio, avrebbe fatto saltare i nervi a molti altri allenatori. Il suo presidente lo ha criticato aspramente dopo una vittoria importantissima, di quelle in grado di consolidare lo spirito di gruppo perché ottenute in rimonta e contro un avversario ostico. Lui, in tutta riposta, non ha assolutamente esasperato i toni chiedendo semplicemente un confronto con il suo datore di lavoro ma ottenendo in cambio un incredibile benservito in quanto, secondo patron Cucinelli, non avrebbe rispettato le “regole”. Nonostante questo (e non è poco…), ha tolto il disturbo con grande stile: “Ho capito che posso fare l’allenatore e di questo ringrazio la società. Ho solo fatto quello che si doveva per il bene della squadra. Mandando in campo i giocatori nella migliore condizione fisica e mentale.” Stop. Niente clamore. Niente rabbia. Nessuna parola pomposa o altezzosa. L’eleganza vera è nella semplicità.

“The elegance of simplicity. Marco Di Loreto has left the scene with great distinction. As a player he succeeded in being loved by Perugian fans despite coming from red-and-green rivals Ternana Calcio. In his excellent career on the field, he carved out an important place, starting from the lower categories and moving up with commitment and dedication. And as a manager in his first experience on a professional bench, conscious of the “specialness” of the Castel Rigone environment, he handled with intelligence and calm a situation which, without a shadow of a doubt, would have shattered the nerves of many other coaches. The club’s president criticized him harshly after a very important victory, of the sort that could consolidate team spirit because it was obtained in a comeback against a tough opponent. Di Loreto, in all of his response, showed absolutely no tones of exasperation, simply asking for an exchange with his employer, but instead receiving an incredible sacking because, according to team patron Cucinelli, he did not follow the “rules.” Despite this (and it’s not a small thing …), he defused the problem with great style: “I realized that I can be a manager, and for this I thank the club. I only did what was necessary for the good of the team. Sending onto the field players in the best physical and mental condition.” Stop. No fanfare. No anger. No pompous or arrogant words. True elegance lies in simplicity.”

There are some biting choices of phrase in this opinion piece…

First is an implicit comparison of character and behavior between the manager, Di Loreto, and the club president Cucinelli. To the former, the writer ascribes “signorilità” (“gentlemanliness),” “eleganza vera,” “intelligenza,” “calma,” and a ‘stile semplice.’ (Interesting because such words are commonly ascribed to the fashion entrepreneur Cucinelli, as in this Forbes profile.) For the latter, there are loaded words such as “particolarità” (in scare quotes), “incredible,” (as in “disbelief”) and “regole” (again in scare quotes). The final short sentences, in saying what Di Lorteo did not do or say, simultaneously seem to suggest and ridicule a high-mindedness (“pomposaaltezzosa“) on the part of the chairman. This while describing how Di Loreto climbed his way up, while the wealthy patron (who also climbed his way up), did him wrong. Perhaps that sense of wronging results in part from the fact that Di Loreto was a well-loved player at AC Perugia, the longtime hometown team about which Sborzacchi has written a book.

Questions arise, then, about standards. What are noble standards of behavior (those to which we ought to strive to meet)? Are there standards of such a height that they can not reasonably be met by reasonable people? How does one help another learn to meet those standards (rather then just expect them to be met; implied in the mention above of Di Loreto’s ‘first job’ as a manager)? In short, how does an individual or a group find the fulcrum for their aspirations?

Luca Fusi, new manager of Castel Rigone

On Friday, 25 Oct., the Giornale dell’Umbria published a story that included a report about the rules of the Castel Rigone club. The club has now hired a new manager; his name is Luca Fusi, and he had a superb pedigree as a player, winning the UEFA Cup with Napoli and Champions League with Juventus. His managerial career has been more limited, but he had happened to be in the stands during last weekend’s game against Tuttocuoio — not because the chairman had already decided to call him in — but because, as he said in the Giornale (24 Oct.): “…ero curioso di vedere da vicino questo stadio senza barriere.” (“I was curious to see, first-hand, this stadium without barriers.”). His philosophy appears to be based on the simple value of hard work: “Per provare a fare risultato, non c’è altro modo che lavorare.” (“To try to get a result, there’s no other way than to work for it.”) His first match will be away, Sunday, against last-place Arzanese.

What about those club rules? Here’s the text (right from the Castel Rigone website, with its own  emphases), translation (which I’ve itemized), and a few [explanatory notes]:

La società ha accolto insieme alla squadra è il nuovo allenatore Luca Fusi. Sì è colta l’occasione per ribadire i principi che regolano la società.

Si ricorda come lo scopo primario sia quello di fare sport. Piacere di divertirsi nel rispetto delle regole e degli avversari, non simulare, nell’ esultare farlo con garbo. Grande rispetto per i rispettivi ruoli. Lavorare con massima collaborazione, avendo il coraggio di ascoltare (cosa che poco si pratica nella cultura contemporanea). Le decisioni strategiche si prendono insieme dopo attenta analisi.

Qualsiasi tema, anche molto personale, si affronta con lo staff identificato nelle persone di Luca Quarta, direttore generale e direttore sportivo in forza alla società praticamente quasi dalla nascita della stessa, con mansioni di massimo livello a tutto tondo, Francesco Scarpelloni, segretario alla sua prima esperienza e da molti anni dipendente della Brunello Cucinelli Spa, Marco Pobega, alla sua prima esperienza di allenatore in seconda, calciatore per 6 stagioni nella nostra società, il dottor Ermanno Trinchese, responsabile medico, nostro qualificato collaboratore da qualche anno.

Tutte e quattro persone giudicate dalla società persone perbene. Alle fine della piacevole discussione si è convenuto come sempre che il fine di tutto non può essere solo la vittoria; e comunque al di sopra di tutto deve esserci lealtà, franchezza, rispetto e verità. Dice il grande filosofo Socrate: E’ dovere di chi parla, dire sempre la verità.

“The club, together with the team, has welcomed the new coach Luca Fusi. And so the opportunity is taken to reaffirm the principles that govern the club.

  1. It is remembered that the primary purpose is to play sports.
  2. It is a pleasure to play with respect for the rules and the opponents, not to simulate [meaning not to fake fouls or injury], and to celebrate gracefully [‘with good manners’].
  3. Great respect for respective roles. Working with maximum collaboration, having the courage to listen (something hardly practiced in contemporary culture).
  4. Strategic decisions are taken together after careful analysis.
  5. Any subject, even one very personal, is negotiated with the staff identified in the persons of… <the general manager/sporting director, secretary, assistant coach, and chief doctor>… All four persons deemed by the club to be decent people.

At the end of a pleasant discussion it was agreed, as always, that the end of everything cannot just be victory, but that above all there must be loyalty, frankness, respect and truth. The great philosopher Socrates said: It is the duty of the speaker always to tell the truth.”

Bill Shankly

The first point is about perspective — it’s a game. Probably the most famous quote ever made about soccer was by Bill Shankly, manager of Liverpool, who said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Taken seriously (as it usually is), that’s a scary sentiment, and so this has become the most mis-used quote in all of soccer — a way to prove that a player’s or manager’s or supporter’s commitment matches a kind of unassailable religious devotion. But in all likelihood the statement was meant to be ironic. (For a brilliant and original portrait of Shankly, see David Peace’s new book, Red or Dead; I’m reading it right now.)

The second point re-emphasizes the club’s expectation of respect. Two items in particular take a stand against current general practice: pretending a foul in order to get a referee’s call for a foul, penalty, or card; and celebrating a goal excessively. From this week’s Champion’s League match with Juventus v. Real Madrid, here’s an example of ridiculous simulation by Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal, in which he tripped himself in the area and then appealed for a penalty. In Elfo’s Pub, packed with Juve fans while I watched the game, everyone just laughed at him:

The third, fourth, and fifth points have to do with work environment and relationships. Basically: respect peoples’ responsibilities, work together, listen (with a jab at the general lack of listening in “culture contemporanea“), don’t go off and do your own thing, and communicate with the people in charge of the club. These points, and the timing of their reaffirmation, may be a response to the events  surrounding Di Loreto’s dismissal as manager, and perhaps how they were reported (see above). Even if they are not related to the coaching change, they set out clear expectations for the next manager (and others at the club), effectively and publicly establishing grounds for action.

As a coda (or perhaps, a refrain), is the club’s statement that it can’t just be about winning (see point one, above). Compare the opinion piece at the head of this post, which explicitly says, “criticized him harshly after a very important victory,” implying that since Castel Rigone won, the manager should get a break. Four principles are in fact elevated here above victory: loyalty, frankness, respect and truth. Lealtà and rispetto have to do with not putting one’s own interests above the established structure and aims of the club (and the game itself); these reprise points two through five. Franchezza and verità are about how one carries out one’s actions and interactions. One’s character is revealed in their means and manner.

Socrates in the Louvre

The statement then explicitly invokes a philosopher — Socrates, no less. The source of this quote (written down by someone else, since Socrates did not leave any books) is Plato’s Apology 18a (thanks, Carl), in which Socrates is prefacing his argument to an Athenian jury in the trial that brought about his death. Basically, Socrates is asking the jury-members (δικασταί) not to evaluate his defense on style, but rather on substance. Here’s the text (from Perseus, with words hot-linked to their definitions; translation adapted from H.N. Fowler):

καὶ δὴ καὶ νῦν τοῦτο ὑμῶν δέομαι δίκαιονὥς γέ μοι δοκῶτὸν μὲν τρόπον τῆς λέξεως ἐᾶνἴσως μὲν γὰρ χείρωνἴσως δὲ βελτίων ἂν εἴηαὐτὸ δὲ τοῦτο σκοπεῖν καὶ τούτῳ τὸν νοῦν προσέχεινεἰ δίκαια λέγω  μήδικαστοῦ μὲν γὰρ αὕτη ἀρετήῥήτορος δὲ τἀληθῆ λέγειν.

“…so now I make this request of you, a fair one, as it seems to me, that you disregard the manner of my speech—for perhaps it might be worse and perhaps better—and observe and pay attention merely to this, whether what I say is just or not; for that is the moral obligation of a jury-member, and an orator’s moral obligation is to speak the truth.”

The context, then, of the original quote, belongs to a defendant pleading his case (here’s a primer on the Athenian legal system). The keyword associated with both jury-members and a speaker (here, Socrates) is: ἀρετή. Arete is a rich concept; it is often translated as “virtue,” but it really means “a quality of excellence,” especially in male pursuits such as war, as the root of the word is connected to Ἄρης (Ares), god of war (so its agonistic origins become interesting in the context of modern athletic competition). For Plato, arete is chiefly a moral ideal. As such, it could be understood here as a “moral obligation,” or “duty,” since everyone ought to strive for excellence in their respective roles. Only that way will a community, if comprised of citizens all striving for the highest moral excellence, itself become excellent.

So an ancient philosopher is invoked to underpin a modern soccer club’s philosophical emphasis on truthfulness, rules are established to demand arete from the members of its community in their respective roles, and a purpose is thereby generated to maintain and improve the club itself through those virtues. The challenge is to develop and educate the members of the community to live up to those standards.

What would Bill Shankly (see above) have thought? Well, he considered honesty “the greatest quality of all.”

Luisa is true in 8 1/2

One detour, at the finale, and to justify the title of this post. The struggle with truth in art and life is at the heart and at the end of Fellini’s 8 1/2, where the Director, reviving from his despair at being unable to make the film he wants and in response to the blank-page modernist nihilism of the Intellectual, says: “Dire la verità, quello che non so, che cerco, che non ho ancora trovato. Solo così mi sento vivo…” (“To speak the truth, one which I don’t know, which I search for, which I have not yet found. Only like that can I feel alive…”):

(Italian with French subtitles)

Is it Truth (more than Winning) that permits the Art of Living?

If so, how well are modern societies doing at that?

FOOTNOTE: Back to Real Data. Today a medical notice was published by the Castel Rigone club (Giornale dell’Umbria, 26 Oct.) that attested that the defender Sbaraglia, claimed by the former manager Di Loreto (Giornale, 22 Oct.) to have a meniscus problem, did not have such a problem. Whether or not the defender was medically able to play has been at the heart of this recent dispute and debate.

<—Back to “Weeks 7-8: The Mountain and the Valley”

—>Ahead to “Week 9: Home and Heart”