- 23 Mar 21
How an unlikely controversy over a language certificate scuppered Luis Suarez’s planned move to Juventus.
Uruguay footballer Luis Suarez can’t speak Italian. This has been confirmed by the principal of Perugia University, Simone Olivieri, and by the head of the university’s Italian Language department, Professor Stefania Spina. Prof. Spina was Luis’ language tutor.
“He does not utter a word (of the language),” she said, after the university presented Luis with his Intermediate B1 Certificate attesting that he was sufficiently fluent in Italian to follow public events or conduct an everyday conversation.
Luis needed the certificate to complete a transfer from Barcelona to Juventus. The B1 had been made a requirement for Italian citizenship by far-right Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, in 2019. At the time, Salvini explained to anyone who needed explanation that the point of the new regulation was to exclude the class of immigrant arriving on Italian shores after crossing the Mediterranean in a rubber dinghy – folks unlikely to have a B1 certificate in Italian.
A related difficulty for Luis was that Juventus already had the maximum allowed number of non-EU players on their books. To qualify to join Juve, Luis needed the B1.
Unfortunately for all involved in the multi-million euro manoeuvre, details of Luis’ linguistic misadventures were leaked to the wide world after Professor Spina posted a smiling picture of Luis and herself with a caption quoting the professor saying what a pleasure it had been to tutor a fellow who had tucked away 500 goals for clubs and country and who, she cheerfully admitted, despite her tutoring, had neither focal nor cuid focal of the local lingo.
At which point, as Luis would certainly not have put it, si e scatenato l’inferno.
A cacophony of condemnation arose, most loudly from spokespersons for institutions devoted to fair play and rectitude in academic life such as Lazio, Inter, Napoli, Milan, Roma, Atalanta etc. Luis, sensibly, fled the seething imbroglio and escaped to the Wanda Metropolitano, home of Atletico Madrid.
A good move in the end? Juventus had won Serie A for nine years in a row – a dangerous juncture, as fans of Celtic will be all too aware. Juve’s chances of making it 10 have plummeted. They are currently seven points off the pace.
Meanwhile, Atletico top La Liga, five points to the good with a game on hand over both Barcelona and Real Madrid. Luis has scored 16 goals in 20 matches in the red and white stripes. What’s more, amidst the chaos engulfing Barca, and Luis at the end of his Camp Nou contract, and the proposed transfer to Juve lost in translation, Atletico manager Diego Simeone was able to swoop in and sign him on a free.
Simone is the highest-paid footballing person in the world, on €42 million a year. Asked how such a vast salary could be justified, an Atletico spokesperson referred to the fact that, for example, Diego had attracted Luis Suarez to the club without paying a penny.
(Luis’ market value clearly hasn’t been depressed by his penchant for biting lumps out of the necks of defenders whom he suspects of getting in his way.)
A depressing picture of financial immorality at the highest level of the beautiful game, then, mirroring the decrepit state of Italian capitalism? Quite. But the shining light of truth occasionally breaks through.
How was Perugia professor Spina able to justify awarding Luis a B1 in Italian while simultaneously conceding that he’d be hard put to spell the Italian alphabet? “We can’t fail someone who earns €10 million a year.”
You have to admit that’s an honest answer.
“The Silver Fox”, aka “The White Feather”, aka Fabrizio Ravanelli, is a native Perugian. He began his career with hometown club Perugia Calcio, before moving on to Juventus, Lazio, Middlesbrough (!) and Marseille.
A sister of Eddie Mahon - the only Ancient Greek-speaking goal-keeper ever to play in the League of Ireland (as far as I know) – worked as a nanny for a Perugian family back in the late 1960s. Thus it is that, to this day, Ms. Mahon is the only woman from Gleneely, indeed from the whole of the county Donegal, ever to have powdered Fabrizio Ravanelli’s bum.
This could come up in a quiz.
Every now and again you chance on a song which mysteriously, as all such things must be, expresses the assumptions and spirit of the age and lingers long after the age has gone.
The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ is the most obvious example, released in 1981 amid the restlessness and riots of Thatcher’s Britain.
I wouldn’t push the parallel too far, but Bangor band the Florentinas’ evocation of how it is to come to adulthood in a place where the past won’t go away and the only way out is to hug those you know will tell you more about regions of the mind in Northern Ireland than any compendium of communiques from armies of the people or wise commentary on the significance of The Protocol.
Maybe it’s like that everywhere, nobody certain whether they’re coming or going, scattered hither and yon, together in isolation.
“So take me/ Make me want to stay/ It’s far from OK/ Far from OK.”
‘Stay’ is the only thing I’ve ever heard of the Florentinas’. Sometimes you just know. These guys are a proper band.