Sir Alex Ferguson, the former manager of Manchester United, addressed the world’s media yesterday to promote his autobiography. He had several interesting things to say about Italian football.
His favourite Italian player? Paolo Maldini, the great AC Milan and Italy defender. Ferguson recounted a speculative attempt to recruit Maldini for United.
“I approached his father Cesare [the former Italy and Milan coach] one day. He just gave me a look, that said: ‘Don’t even think about it’.” At that stage, luring the best of Serie A was beyond an English club’s reach.
The 1990s Juventus had been “the model for us”, he said, in terms of the status to which United aspired in the Uefa Champions League. Ferguson’s teams would eclipse Juve in terms of European Cup successes. He also spoke of his admiration for Italian referees, singling out the fitness and authority of Roberto Rossetti, now retired.
He also told a story of a visit he made as a spectator to an Inter Milan-AC Milan fixture. “A senior Inter official said to me: ‘Do you know the difference between the English and the Italians? In England, they don’t think a game can ever be corrupt. In Italy, they don’t think a game cannot be corrupt’.” The Inter official was exaggerating, though only to a degree.
Ferguson is right, and well-qualified, to praise many aspects of Italian football. But his anecdote from the VIP seats of a San Siro derby demonstrates how, within Italy, the praiseworthy is often lost amid a culture of conspiracy-theorising and obsessive suspicion.