The invincible Italy of the Thirties and the rhetoric of fascism

Italy won two of his four World Cups during the coach’s inimitable era Victor Pozzo which fell at the height of the fascist regime: the Rimet Cups of 1934 and 1938, held respectively in Italy and France, were celebrated together with other great sporting triumphs (from transatlantic flights to the successes of Primo Carnera in boxing and Gino Bartali in the Tour de France) from the point of view of the rhetoric of the regime.

The triumph of Italy in the two World Cups

There is no doubt that the Azzurri’s Giuseppe Meazza and Silvio Piola and teammates were the strongest national team of the moment. In 1938, in France, they were able to redeem themselves from the accusations of a piloted World Cup that had accompanied them after the home victory four years earlier. Captious accusations given that Italy had also been victorious at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and the 1935 International Cup, facing all the main Central European teams. Furthermore, as reigning world champion, on November 14, 1934 he had fought the so-called “Battle of Highbury” against the English masters, collecting a 3-2 defeat which however greatly reduced the sense of superiority of the “masters” from across the Channel, reluctant until 1950 to participate in the Rimet Cup.

Italy in 1934 won by qualifying against Egypt, beating the United States 7-1 in the round of 16, the Spain of the “flying” goalkeeper Zamora 1-0 in the quarter-finals in a repeat of a match that finished 1-1, in the semi-final great Austria by Matias Sindelar for 1-0 and in the final, in a comeback, Czechoslovakia for 2-1 after extra time, with the decisive goal by Angelo Schiavio. Four years later, in France, they had a rough start by defeating amateurs Norway only in extra time 2-1, but later set up the hosts 3-1 and beat Brazil 2-1 in a semi-final that went down in history for refusal of the green-gold to field Leonidas, the Pelé of the time, for the certainty of an easy victory which required him to rest in view of the final. Gino Colaussi’s goal and Meazza’s penalty, the Ambrosiana-Inter champion, downsized the Brazilians: the doors were open to the Paris final against Hungary, which finished 4-2 with braces from Colaussi himself, the whimsical player from Triestina, and of the 25-year-old Piola, at the time under Lazio.

Two very different national teams on top of the world

In two World Cups, Italy had beaten the big three of Danube football, which would have remained unfinished without the World Cup on the bulletin board: Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary. He had ruled the green-and-gold, Spain and France. He had suffered more than any other challenge the Norwegian “Vikings”, first underdog of the history of the World Cup. In essence, he had made a clean sweep of the competition by presenting deeply renewed teams. Only Meazza, the midfielder, took part in the two reviews John Ferrari and the defender Eraldo Monzeglio. In addition, of course, to the technical commissioner Vittorio Pozzo.

The 1934 World Cup had been that of the natives: midfielder Luisito Monti and winger Raimundo Orsi, both from Juventus, joined Roma striker Enrique Guaita and had played excellent games; that of 1938 consecrated Silvio Piola, destined to become the most prolific scorer in the history of Serie A and brought players from second-tier teams in the championship to triumph, such as Colaussi from Trieste and Aldo Olivieri, starting goalkeeper for Lucchese in 1938.

At the same time, Italy presented Bologna “that makes the world tremble” winner of the Mitropa Cup, a Central European ancestor of the Champions Cup, in 1932 and 1934, Juventus of the “golden five-year period” winner of the Scudetto from 1931 to 1935, an attraction for great champions and coaches coming both from the Danube area and from central Europe, including Arpad Weisz, winner of the 1930 Scudetto with Inter and of those 1936 and 1937 with Bologna, who would have tragically died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944.

The “war” of fascism to control football

A very heterogeneous and complex movement, football was exploited with great force by the fascist regime, which focused on it as a mass sports movement, understanding its importance for the purposes of consensus. The Mussolini government pledged huge resources: from the transmission of radio news to the construction of stadiums. Mussolini understood the “political” role of football well in advance of his times. After all, what better than the National team, which performed the Roman salute before matches and united sons of the province with horses returning from emigration, could represent the symbol of “worldwide” Italy of Fascist rhetoric? Football would serve as mobilizing factor even in the absence of any type of regime, but putting it in a “black shirt” Mussolini exploited all its propaganda effects without the iron adhesion of the members of the national team.

Italy’s footballers greeted Romans for a quiet life. Pozzo was a former Alpine soldier “who appreciated trains on time but couldn’t stand squads, who paid homage to the Alpine troops monument but not to the fascist shrines”, as Giorgio Bocca recalled. “He was not an anti-fascist, nor did he ever claim to be, but neither was he an auctioneer who was too exploited by the power. […] Perhaps that was the only way to prevent his team from becoming Mussolini’s national team”, commented Gianpaolo Ormezzano. In other words: fascism had occupied football militarily, the clash between the Bolognese hierarch Leonardo Arpinati and the FIGC had general Giorgio Vaccaro, at the head of the federation in 1934 and 1938 during the victorious races for the iris, with the general secretary Ottorino Barassi called to resolve the links between football and politics.

“Nothing in the world more beautiful”

After all, Pozzo himself left very little room for the rhetoric of the regime where he found himself, in the unprecedented role of coach and correspondent, commenting for The print as a journalist the dynamics of his own national team. “There is no such satisfaction nothing in the world more beautiful and greater than one’s duty successfully accomplished,” wrote the ct-journalist on The print of 20 June 1938 shortly after the second victory at the World Cup. A dry chronicle, da Of beautiful Gallic of the ball. And just “Nothing more beautiful in the world” is the title of an interesting publication by the journalist Enrico Brizzi, who studied the trajectory of football from 1938 to 1950 in Italy, underlining how in this period the ball entered the daily life of Italians. “Whether they play with the Method or with the System, Hungarian or barricaded with bolts”, notes Brizzi, these champions “appear to us as children of an Italy that is still young, more severe and frugal than we know it”. In short, Italy’s real result of the two World Cups is not the rhetorical exploitation by fascism, but rather the demonstration of the sporting depth of football of the past and the social value of the most popular sport in the world. Capable of genuinely uniting the country, with a Meazza or a Piola, more than the black-shirted marches ever could.

The invincible Italy of the Thirties and the rhetoric of fascism