Clifton, N.J.-born Giuseppe Rossi has never been a favorite of U.S. soccer fans. His decision to play for the Italian national team rather than the U.S. was criticized at length. Now, after scoring (twice) against the U.S. Men’s National Team in yesterday’s Confederations Cup match, the critique is even harsher. Unprintable, even.
Rossi’s crime was not only deciding to play for the Azzurri or his feat of scoring (twice) against the country of his birth, but also the fact that he had the audacity to celebrate his exploits on the pitch. How dare he?!?
We aren’t the first to say this, but we’re going to go on the record right now and say that Rossi has absolutely nothing to apologize for.
Let’s revisit the facts first: Born in New Jersey to Italian parents, Rossi was barely old enough for junior high school when he decided to pursue a professional soccer career in Italy. At age 13, he moved to Parma, where he was offered a spot on its youth team. His rights were sold, first to Manchester United, then to Villareal. He played all his youth international games for Italy. Aside from a brief dalliance from Bruce Arena ahead of the 2006 World Cup, there is no evidence Rossi ever received overtures to play for the U.S. (For what it’s worth, whatever his abilities as a coach, Bruce Arena is not the most charming man you’ll meet). Nor do we have any reason to believe Rossi even would have considered playing for the USMNT had he been approached earlier or more consistently. Yes, he was born in the U.S., but he was taught soccer by his Italian-born father (who raised him with his Italian-born mother), perfected his game in the Italian youth ranks (presumably under the tutelage of Italian coaches) and has not lived in the U.S. since 2000. For all we know, his first language is Italian. Playing for Italy is not only his right, but a perfectly sensible decision for a player with his background.
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 scrutinized at 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 USMNT, probably for as long as he wanted, where he would not have been subject to anywhere near the same scrutiny. Only Rossi knows the answer for sure, but suffice it to say he is not short on ambition. While all of the aforementioned negative fallout is certainly possible (and that’s if he even made the team in the first place) the opposite is true too. It Italy, World Cup heroes from Giuseppe Meazza through Paolo Rossi (no relation, at least none that we know of) to Gianluigi Buffon are arguably more popular than the pope (probably not arguably when the pope is non-Italian, as has been the case since 1978).
With the Italian national team, Rossi has a chance to be a national hero. Yes, it’s a longshot it will actually happen (for starters no European team has won a World Cup outside of its home continent and the 2010 and 2014 World Cups will both be held outside Europe). And again, Rossi is still not guaranteed a spot on the team. But he has obviously set his sights very high. And who can blame him for that?
Rossi is many things, including a highly gifted striker whose talent appears rivaled by his ambition. His decision to play for Italy is a reflection of this. A traitor, he ain’t. U.S. soccer fans need to point the finger elsewhere.