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Italian soccer can’t blame foreigners for not making the World Cup

Quotas on foreign players in Serie A will not solve the Azzurri’s problem.

Italy v Sweden - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: Second Leg Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

It hasn’t even been a week since Italy was beaten over two legs by Sweden and denied a spot in the upcoming World Cup and foreign players in Italy are being blamed for it. Paolo Cannavaro, brother of Fabio Cannavaro, reacted to the news on Instagram by calling for an exit of the “mummies” who control Italian soccer and the ones blocking Italian youth from succeeding:

"Guys, we didn't lose the World Cup [Monday]. We lost it 15 years ago when thanks to incredible cashing in by those in the football world, Italy brought in flops from every area of the world to unfairly steal places from our lads ...”

Fifteen years is an odd timeline to choose. Italy won the World Cup in 2006, 11 years ago, and went to the finals of the 2012 European Championships with Mario Balotelli, the son of Ghanian parents, as their striker.

Cannavaro isn’t the first one to express this repulsive sentiment, though. Arrigo Sacchi and Carlo Tavecchio, head of the FIGC, one of the supposed mummies, have said the same things in the past.

Blaming foreigners when things go wrong is one of the oldest and most boring reactions in human history. It’s incredibly predictable. Especially at a time when immigration is a big world topic. It’s hate and fear masquerading as reason. The foreigners, the malicious Other, are taking all the jobs, committing all the crimes, stealing the benefits, trying to ruin your country’s identity, and holding back the success of the children.

It’s scapegoating, but when the disdain for foreigners has gotten to this point, it’s a difficult thing to argue against because it’s not based on tangible evidence, just fear. And fear and anger can’t be reasoned with; they want to be nourished.

It doesn’t matter that Italy only went to the playoffs because they finished second in their group to Spain after gaining 23 out of 30 points. Which is a great record, even with their aging squad. Spain is the better team, and only dropped two points. There’s no embarrassment in finishing under them. The group structure just meant that only the first team advanced straight to the tournament.

Losing to Sweden is embarrassing, but it’s embarrassing because Gian Piero Ventura should have never been the coach of the national team to begin with. Playing a system without wide forwards, when your best attackers are wide forwards, makes no sense. Refusing to play Jorginho — born in Brazil — makes no sense. Keeping Lorenzo Insigne — the best attacker on the team — on the bench in the second game, when Italy needed to win, was so ludicrous that even Daniele De Rossi lost his mind at it.

As for the idea that foreigners have taken away a generation of young Italian talent — it just doesn’t make any sense. Italy also has great youth players, and most of them are playing regularly in Serie A.

At the end of the 2015-2016 season, Serie A announced that each team would be required to include at least four youth-team players, and at least four players with Italian experience. The four youth players must have spent at least three years, between the ages of 16-21, with the youth team of the clubs and the other four players need to have spent three years with an Italian team before the age of 21. The goal was obvious, to give more chances to Italian players.

So the foundation was already set. The clubs are forced to give chances to Italian youth, the youth players proved that they were good enough by reaching the semifinals of the UEFA Under-21 championship, beating Germany in the process. They play for their club teams ... yet it’s the foreigners who are responsible for these players not being called into the full national team and for Italy failing to score a goal against Sweden.

This habit of blaming foreigners in dire times has happened with other teams as well.

When France won their World Cup in 1998, they championed the diversity of the team by nicknaming it Black-Blanc-Beur. After France crashed out the group stage of the 2010 World Cup, Laurent Blanc was involved in a conversation with top French officials that brought up the possibility of an ethnic quota that would limit the Black and Beur of French youth to give more chances to the “true” youth of France.

He was cleared of any discrimination because while the quota was brought up in the conversation, “Laurent Blanc took part in this type of meeting for the first time. He was neither the organizer nor the pilot. The hearings show that he came in on the debate and that he had no project or fixed opinion.”

Last year, France reached the finals of the European Championship with a very diverse team that included Cameroon-born Samuel Umtiti, Senegal-born Patrice Evra, and Congo-born Steve Mandanda. They also had Paul Pogba, a Muslim with Guinean parents, and Blaise Matuidi, who was born to an Angolan father and Congolese mother. The team also features Eliaquim Mangala, who was born to Congolese parents, Anthony Martial of Guadeloupean descent, the same as Kingsley Coman; Adil Rami has Moroccan parents, Moussa Sissoko, whose parents are from Mali, and André-Pierre Gignac is of Romani descent. They’re also favorites to win the World Cup that Italy missed out on.

England is now good with partial thanks to Dele Alli, who has a Nigerian father, Raheem Sterling, who was born in Jamaica, Chris Smalling, of Jamaican descent — the same as Daniel Sturridge — and Nathaniel Clyne of Grenadian descent. And that hasn’t stopped old English coaches from saying foreigners are stopping English coaches from succeeding.

This also happened with the U.S. national team, who also missed out on the World Cup, and had their own controversy beforehand when foreign-born players were being blamed for bad performances and keeping “real” American youth from succeeding.

Blaming foreigners when things are going wrong isn’t new or reasonable. It’s a quick conclusion based on hate and fear that’s only working to serve those vicious emotions rather than addressing the reality of the problems that the teams and societies face. Italy didn’t make the World Cup because they didn’t finish above Spain; their coaching was awful and the team was old. There were no foreigners on the field or in the technical area for Italy in those games, just Italians who couldn’t score a goal in two games. Shifting blame onto foreigners won’t change that, and it’s especially toxic for Serie A, which has a long history of bigotry.