You read well: me, an Argentine, suffering with the game, and my Italian peers undeterred by what was happening (The street, full of people relaxing in open-air bars, showed no signs of historical defeat). “They wouldn’t specifically care about football” you might think, but a few weeks later I saw the Europa League final with two of them (AS Roma fans), and passions blossomed when they saw the “giallorosso” champion. They explained to me: They don’t care about the national team; what matters is the club.
Let’s compare with Argentina: What would happen if the blanquiceleste were left out of a World Cup today? To begin with, a certain fast food establishment located in the middle of Av. 9 de Julio is shielded. Beyond the capital (so as not to be porteño-centric), the entire country would be plunged into existential anguish. A similar phenomenon occurred in 2002, when the combination of the total national crisis and the elimination in the first round broke us all far beyond what was strictly sporting.
However, Why is this abyss of reactions possible? The simplest answer, while accurate, has to come with the same level of fanaticism in front of football: It sounds trite, but the Argentine passion is unique. Let’s start from the palpable fact that Buenos Aires holds the honor of being the city with the most soccer stadiums worldwide, and that this in turn results in each neighborhood linking its own identity to that of its local club.
Believe me, this is an extraordinary phenomenon and most likely all of us (at least those of us from Buenos Aires) have normalized it until the moment we get the experience of living in a foreign city. To continue the comparison with Italy, I can give Turin (where I live) as an example, a city that is home to the most victorious team in the country (Juventus) and its historical rival (Torino FC), which although it is currently a team of minor competitive relevance knew how to be in its golden age the most important team in the country (and one of the most respected in the world). Despite this, the folklore to which we are accustomed in Argentina is not palpable in the city: no graffiti, no street talk, no tattoos, and very few people wear the team colors (you don’t even see this in the neighborhoods of the stadiums). Far from claiming the symbiosis between club and neighborhood that we see, for example, in La Boca, Napoli is undoubtedly the only case of all the cities that I had the privilege of visiting that is assimilated to that Argentineanism: Napoli is the city, but Napoli is also the club that gave the south (through its only titles) an unprecedented national status.
However, beyond what is merely sporting or passionate, there is another factor that explains the particular passion of the average Argentine for his national team, and it is a much more historical factor, as well as much more political: nationality itself. Contrary to what is often said lightly, Argentina is not a young Nation as such: to give two examples, the unifications of Italy and Germany were proclaimed in 1861 and 1871 respectively, while in our case we usually have 1862 (a point of reference that can be questioned) as the starting date for the definitive Argentine Nation-State (that is, when the country was constitutionally unified under the national leadership of Mitre).
What is really young in Argentina is the Argentine identity itself. Rather, it is not that the Argentine identity is younger than, for example, the Italian identity, but it is much younger than the identities that make up the Italian identity: to simplify, the “Argentine” is much younger than the Roman, the Venetian, the Neapolitan, the Piedmontese or the Sicilian. This fact implies that Argentina is born much more quickly and effectively as a new identity where the Mayo society mixed with the waves of immigration. On the contrary, in Italy (and other countries with similar pasts) the longevity of local identities means that they often prevail over the national one, sometimes even in complete opposition, as is the case in much of the south of the country. which to this day historically condemns Italian unification as a process, plain and simple, of conquest.
A Massimo D’Azeglio the phrase is attributed to him “Made Italy, you need to make the Italians.” Like any process of creating a nation, both Argentina and Italy needed imaginaries that would make society feel part of a whole: that is, part of a common Homeland. In Argentina this process was much faster and more effective than in Italy: Through civil war, a unifying national liturgy was formed and the immigrants who arrived ended up formed by the normalizing school tradition devised by Sarmiento. On the Italian peninsula, for its part, the national unification movement known as Risorgimento he tried to create an Italian identity through education and the army, although he had rather modest results, while the Italian State competed with the Church for its sphere of influence and exercise of power.
In the political field, this has translated into projects that directly raised (in the Catalan manner) the secession of the territory of origin, as is the well-known case of the old Lega Nord (today, having abandoned those purposes, simply “Lega”) .
In our country, the animosities between the parties (provinces against Buenos Aires, or vice versa) today are no more than politically opportunistic Chicanos, generally more common at election time. Nevertheless, no sector of the leadership (at least, of the non-marginal leadership) seriously poses any type of territorial disintegration. Going a little further, even the aforementioned Chicanas do not go against the national identity but rather in the very sense of it, and when there is “pica” between provinces, each one arrogates to itself the authentic “Argentinianness”.
In a fragmented world, where it is increasingly difficult to feel identified with a “whole” or, at least, with large groups, one of the main virtues that Argentina can still display is, precisely, Argentina itself as a unifying feeling. 20 years ago and in the midst of a crisis that seemed destined to disintegrate the nation itself, Argentine identity did not vanish and the different social sectors stationed in the streets raised patriotic symbols against what they judged to be a failed political leadership. Today that Argentine, still young and going through economic difficulties, finds a catalyst in this selection: the unbeatable Scaloneta, the final repository of national illusions, a very Argentine team commanded by a Messi in maximum spiritual communion with Diego.