Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Perhaps nothing has been more influential in determining the popular perception of the Italian game than furbizia, the art of guile... The word ‘furbizia’ itself means guile, cunning or astuteness. It refers to a method which is often (and admittedly) rather sly, a not particularly by-the-book approach to the performative, tactical and psychological part of the game. Core to furbizia is that it is executed by means of stratagems which are available to all players on the pitch, not only to one team. What are these stratagems? Here are a few: tactical fouls, taking free kicks before the goalkeeper has finished positioning himself, time-wasting, physical or verbal provocation and all related psychological games, arguably even diving... Anyone can provoke an adversary, but it takes real guile (real furbizia) to find the weakest links in the other team’s psychology, then wear them out and bite them until something or someone gives in - all without ever breaking a single rule in the book of football.

But if gamesmanship is so rewarding, why are some teams reluctant to embrace it? Why do the Spanish play such a clean version of the game and consider these tactics to be beneath them, while their closest neighbors, the Italians and Portuguese, have no such qualms? Here is Tallarita's explanation:
Ultimately, these differences come from two irreconcilable visions of the game. The Spanish style understands football as something like a fencing match, a rapid and meticulous art of noble origins where honour is the brand of valour. To the Italians, football is more like an ancient battle, a primal and inclement bronze-age scenario where survival rules over honour.
But this just begs the question: why are the visions of the game so different in nations that are geographically and culturally so close?

Tallarita on furbizia at Rajiv Sethi

1 comment:

Hassan said...

"But this just begs the question: why are the visions of the game so different in nations that are geographically and culturally so close?"

This was a most disappointing lead-in to his main point. The question is hardly being begged: if the cultures aren't close enough to be exactly identical, then differences in style of football are no more mysterious than whatever else separates them culturally.

Then, the actual argument he makes:

"I think that the answer (or at least part of it) lies in the fact that once a collective reputation has been established, it becomes individually rational for new entrants to the group to act in ways that preserve it"

This isn't really an answer. Let's say he is correct. All he has done is demonstrate that an initial situation will persist, once created. But that's only one step in the induction - where is it shown how the different styles came about in the first place, or how that reputation was earned? Perhaps we can take it that he's saying the reputation, whenever it was formed, was mere reputation and no actual difference? That's a unpenetrating thought to have on the subject of national soccer styles.

Helen, maybe you can jump in here - I've been disappointed recently by the sheer passability of arguments made by those who we trust to teach our students and further the frontiers of knowledge. This seems like a prime example of this, and the first of the list I will start making. What did you make of his point?

I will say though, the paper he cites by Jean Tirole seems like it could have some really powerful applications in other fields, if valid.