Even well-intentioned ideas can be terribly wrong, especially those born in the storm of emotions. In Italy debate the appropriateness of naming Rome’s Olympic stadium, the mythical “Olimpico”, after Paolo Rossi, former national team centre-forward and hero of a Spanish summer exactly forty years ago, who died at the end of 2020. As a tribute. Something like that, it was said, when they recently renamed the San Paolo in Naples “Stadio Diego Armando Maradona” – with some success, by the way. After a short time, the new stadium name became established. “Maradona” comes out of the lips with surprising routine, even for veteran reporters who have been reporting from “San Paolo” for half their lives.
But yes, the idea of the “Stadio Paolo Rossi” in Rome is well intentioned, but in comparison it is very short-sighted. Naples and Maradona merged in every respect: the Argentine brought unprecedented sporting fame to the Neapolitans and crashed in the city, he embodied all their contradictions in his person. During his career Rossi played in many clubs and cities in Italy, in Vicenza, Turin, Como, Perugia, Verona – but in Rome he only played as an opponent. If he hit, it hit the Romans in the heart. With the Italian national team? Rossi made four international appearances in Rome, all in friendlies. That’s why they say in Rome: “Ma che c’entra con noi?” What does that have to do with us? And for once, Romanisti and Laziali, who are otherwise always opposed to each other on principle, see it the same way: “Ao!” – That’s Roman for: “What’s that about!”
The idea came from Gabriele Gravina, President of the Italian Football Association, when he attended the inauguration of a bust of the footballer in Prato, the town where Rossi was born in Tuscany. A moving moment with a lot of celebrities. The widow was there too, and she thought that the story of the name would be a nice touch that Paolo deserved. Dino Zoff and Marco Tardelli, two teammates from the 1982 World Champion team, were also very impressed. Paolo Rossi unites the Italians, they said, which, despite all the credit for his footballing talent, is a rather steep thesis.
Pictures for eternity from the summer of 1982 – but is that enough?
A deputy from Vicenza from the Forza Italia party managed to put the renaming of the “Olimpico” on the agenda of Parliament, complete with a vote. Well, 387 MPs thought yes, the question of renaming the Olympic Stadium deserved to be examined by Parliament soon. It is important to know that the arena does not belong to AS Roma or Società Sportiva Lazio, who play their home games there, nor does it belong to the municipal administration of Rome or the national Italian Olympic Committee, the Coni. But since 2019 the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance. If you want to organize sporting and cultural events at the Olimpico, you pay the state rent. So it doesn’t work without politics. And then Gianni Infantino joined the debaters. The head of Fifa rarely refuses in such cases, even without being asked: the project, said Infantino, has his total support. “What Paolo Rossi did for Calcio and Italy is unforgettable.”
That’s true, of course, and the memory of the gaunt man with the wonderfully intuitive foolishness is still colorful and vivid. Burned into images from the 1982 World Cup in Spain. “Pablito,” as they called him, almost alone shot the Azzurri to the title. Above all, the victory against Brazil fit into the category of never-ending souvenirs – a tricked but deserved victory. 3-2, in the sweltering heat of the Sarriá in Barcelona. Rossi scored all three goals. Cynical but smiling. And everything was forgotten, including the shame of the “Totonero”, which almost cost him his participation in the tournament. Rossi had been banned for two years because someone had blacked him out in the betting scandal. Apparently wrongly, as later came out. Without the confidence of Enzo Bearzot, Commissario Tecnico of the time, the national coach with the whistle who never dropped his centre-forward, he would not have traveled at all. Paolo Rossi drove to Spain crouched, crushed by the burden of the damned. As “Pablito” he wrote one of those stories that are particularly successful in sports.
His death from cancer on December 9, 2020, at the age of 64, in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic, moved the Italians. The television stations showed his grieving wife and children from his second marriage. Rossi had made a name for himself in the second part of his life as a relaxed, clever, sometimes self-deprecating commentator on football, he was popular with everyone. The blemish of the “Totonero” was almost completely gone. Nearly. Now, in the debate about the name of the stadium, it shines through again as an argument from the opponents.
Treated like a colony: That’s how it feels in Rome
In general, in Rome, which has always been a small number when it comes to football, five championship titles in just over a hundred years, three for Roma and two for Lazio, you can see that the mighty North is taking it easy with this request, the usual arrogance. Why don’t they name the Vicenza stadium after Paolo Rossi? After all, he played for quite a long time. Or one in Turin? Or maybe soon the new one yet to be built in Milan?
Alessandro Onorato, responsible for sports in the Roman city government, said that this attempt once again revealed the “colonialist approach” of the North against the city of Rome. The sentence sounded like an admission of one’s own surrender. “Stadio Paolo Rossi” would seem like the seal of eternal shame, at least. It’s been a long time since Rome was a metropolis and everything around was colonies. Caput Mundi, capital of the world.
In terms of football, they weren’t even in their own country, never, not even in times when at least AS Roma had produced a little king, a modern “Re di Roma”. Francesco Totti, 45 years old, has been retired for a while and is making headlines these days with the rumor that he has fallen in love, when you thought – and hoped! – that the long-term love with the TV star Ilary Blasi would last forever. They were Rome’s royals in the new millennium. But they could never name the Olimpico after Totti anyway, not even in a hundred years. The Laziali would demolish the store.