How the realities of Serie A pushed a promising player to hang up his boots

By | October 27, 2016

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By Sean Sedacca

In the world of modern football, it can be easy to forget that the payers are actual human beings.

With the proliferation of video games that transform living and breathing beings into a series of numerical ratings, fantasy leagues, and CGI filled commercials that allow famous players to achieve supernatural feats, it is all getting a bit surreal. So it was interesting to take note of two recent Serie A stories that reminded us that the men wearing the uniforms are not robots, but real people with real emotions and feelings.

Let’s start with the curious case of Filippo Cardelli. Cardelli is 18 years old, and was slated to be a regular starter this season for Lazio’s primavera (Under-19) squad, which is among the very best in Italy. He was living the dream of so many young players around the world, and he had front row seat on the fast track to Serie A, when he abruptly decided to walk away from it all. The strange and shocking decision came by way of a Facebook post (see below for the full translation), where he explained that his dreams had been crushed by the reality that is modern day calcio in Italy.

Many Italian youth players aren’t signed to multi-year contracts like their foreign contemporaries, and so they can sometimes be left in precarious situations as they try to work their way through the ranks. This was the case for Cardelli, who suffered an ACL tear just as his contract was expiring. He claims that the club he had been playing for, and was expected to continue playing for, wouldn’t cover his medical expenses, and wouldn’t even let him use certain team facilities during his rehabilitation process. He would only be offered a new contract when the new season got underway and it was clear he had recovered fully from the injury.

As if this weren’t enough, he had to endure this situation while watching his foreign teammates enjoy both financial and logistical stability thanks to longer term agreements with the club. This is the crux of Cardelli’s angry statement, and it was apparently enough to make him give up on a shot at Serie A.

While it should be noted that Cardelli’s words do contain a somewhat disconcerting tinge of xenophobia, the fact remains that Serie A is becoming less and less Italian with every passing year, just as the EPL is becoming less English, the Bundesliga less German, La Liga less Spanish, etc. In Lazio’s recent 4-0 win over Udinese, observers were quick to note that over the course of 90 minutes, the side from Udine did not use a single Italian player among its eleven starters and three subs. Not one.

So it is hard to blame a young man for feeling passed over and estranged in his own country. Yes, this is a competitive sport and the cream should always be allowed to rise to the top, regardless of nationality or color, but the modern game is putting so much emphasis on speed, power and athletic ability that it’s understandable how a teenager might become frustrated because other teenagers have matured faster, or have a certain look that garners the not yet merited label of “potential.”

I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to decide how you feel about Cardelli’s words and his decision, but hopefully it also helps us remember that this shiny and neatly packaged product being sold to us by the various television rights holders also has a dirty underside as well. The beautiful game isn’t always beautiful.

Filippo Cardelli isn’t walking away from the game completely, though. He will move to the United States to play college soccer and get a degree, presumably with a scholarship. And so we would also be remiss if we didn’t point out the irony of Cardelli now taking on the role of the “foreigner” who is taking away a scholarship opportunity from some American kid. What goes around…

Our other brief reminder of the human aspect of the game comes from Antonio Candreva. The winger is currently one of the best in the world at his position, and recently made a high profile move from Lazio to Inter Milan. Candreva was a standout during his time at Lazio, but suffered a noticeable dip in from about halfway through last season. The rumors of an impending transfer had started to intensify, and many fans felt like his heart was no longer with the club.

Such claims were instantly and unequivocally denies by journalists, pundits and various ‘experts’ on the game. Antonio was a professional, they said, and so any rumors or off the field distractions could never have such an impact on his play. Well, sure enough, in a recent interview, Candreva, who has been one of Inter’s few bright spots his season, admitted that he was not only distracted and demoralized at the realization he would be leaving Lazio, but that it most certainly had a detrimental effect on his play.

He’s only human. Fans love Candreva because he plays with an incredible amount of passion and emotion, although passion can be a double-edged sword. Just one more reason why this game is so beautiful.  

“Dopo 10 anni di sacrifici lascio il calcio – scrive Cardelli -. Ci tengo a chiarire che non ho avuto nessuna divergenza con l’allenatore (Andrea Bonatti, ndr) come è stato scritto, anzi il mister è sempre stato onesto con me. Lascio perché sinceramente questo non è più lo sport di cui mi sono innamorato da bambino. Non vedo che senso abbia giocare nella Lazio Primavera e essere circondato da stranieri, e non solo, essere trattato pure come una m…a, dopo tutti i sacrifici che ho fatto. Finché si tratta di rinunciare agli studi, agli amici, alle ragazze, è tutto accettabile perché ho un sogno, e il mio sogno viene prima di tutto. Ma quando ti senti dire che dopo un crociato rotto non sei sicuro di avere le cure della società perché non hai il contratto, quando non puoi mangiare a Formello nei giorni di doppia seduta perché non hai il contratto, quando non puoi andare in palestra a migliorarti perché non hai il contratto, quando non ti pagano la visita medico agonistica perché non hai il contratto, ti cascano le p…e e rimangono per terra. Ed ovviamente gli stranieri hanno il contratto e guadagnano anche tanto… Non ho mai giocato a calcio per i soldi ma solo per la felicità di far parte di un gruppo di amici che lottano per un obiettivo comune, ho giocato a calcio per il desiderio di poter dire “c…o ce l’ho fatta”, sono arrivato. La Serie A è piena di stranieri, il calcio degli italiani è morto, e sinceramente se devo essere trattato come uno straniero in patria preferisco andarmene. È vero, negli Usa il calcio è anni luce indietro, ma almeno ha un briciolo di dignità, quella che noi abbiamo perso. Per tutti quelli che sono arrivati fino a qua e che amano il calcio, un consiglio da chi l’ha vissuto da dentro: non andate allo stadio, non comprate gli abbonamenti tv, perché è tutto finto…“

“After 10 years of sacrifice, I’m leaving the sport. I’d like to clarify that I didn’t have any issues with my coach (Andrea Bonatti, ed.), as has been reported. Actually, he has always been very honest with me. I’m leaving because I sincerely feel that this is no longer the sport I fell I love with as a child. I don’t see the point of playing on Lazio’s U-19 team while being surrounded by foreigners, and, what’s more, treated like shit after all the sacrifices I have made. When you have a dream, you can convince yourself to sacrifice school, friends and girls, because your dreams come first. But when you hear someone tell you, after tearing your ACL, that you might not have medical coverage from the club because you haven’t signed a contract yet, when you can’t eat at the club training facility cafeteria because you don’t have a contract, when you can’t use the club gym because you don’t have a contract, when you have to pay for your own medical exams because you don’t have a contract, you lose your patience and never get it back. And obviously the foreign players all have contracts and earn pretty good money… I’ve never played soccer for the money, but only for the satisfaction of being part of a group of friends that works toward a common goal. Seria A is full of foreign players, and Italian soccer is dead. Honestly, if I have to be treated like a foreigner in my own country, I’d rather leave. It’s true, soccer in the USA is light-years behind, but at least they have a shred of dignity, which we have lost here. For everyone who has made it this far and loves the sport, some advice from someone that has experienced it from the inside: don’t go to the stadium, don’t pay for the TV packages, because it’s all fake…”

Follow Sean Sedacca on Twitter @LazialeaNY