Watching a game on television, or even with friends, is like listening in on some serious literary criticism: ‘un passaggio sopraffino, filigrana’ (‘an extra-fine filigree pass’) or else ‘un passaggio sincopato, che splendore ritmico’ (‘a syncopated passage of play, what rhythmic splendour’). The other side of the game is the ‘furbizia’. It’s the ability to tilt the game in your favour through slightly sly, but perfectly legitimate, tactics… Watch young amateur Italians and they will already have learnt all the guile from their favourite players. I sometimes go and watch  a teenage student of mine, who plays in a semi-professional league. He’s a tall central defender called Francesco. Towards the end of one game, when his team were hanging on to a one-goal lead,  he doubled up and raised his hand as an attack was on its way. The game stopped for five minutes as Francesco wobbled around, staring at the grass. He was pointing at his eyes. The parents around me started muttering: “Good old Francesco, always so professional.” As the seconds ticked away, it slowly dawned on me that he was looking for his contact lenses. The game eventually restarted but only for a couple of seconds before the final whistle. At the end, I congratulated him on the win. “I didn’t know you wore lenses,” I said.

“Of course I don’t,” he laughed.

Tobias Jones, “The Dark Heart of Italy”.

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Chief theatre critic for The Times. Twitter: CliveDavisUK Facebook: Instagram: clivephotos
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