Words: James Bird
Illustration: Alfonso Durante for Gazzetta dello Sport
Images: Juventus and Euro2020
You see religious shrines like the one in the illustration above on streets everywhere in Italy. Little saints, Santini, glowing from candles in boxes, or on walls lit by flickering lights, or people’s window sills drenched in moonlight. They make you feel safe and guilty and watched. They’re everywhere.
There’s a saying in Italian: sei come il prezzemolo—you’re like parsley. You’re everywhere. At some point watching Italy against Spain during the Euros, my girlfriend turned to me and said, “There he is again, the meet-and-greeter.” And there he was again. Edge of the pitch, chatting to Luis Enrique, waiting for a sub. Federico Chiesa. Frederick Church. Il prezzemolo. Everywhere.
When I wrote this, during the Italian fever dream of the Euros, it could have been about Alberico Evani, the man who was on the Azzurri bench with the glasses, moustache, hair—the perfect Pixar-rendering of an Italian man—or about how your stomach drops like you’re on a swing every time you see Gianluca Vialli on the bench looking happy, healthy, alive.
But it’s about Fede. Glorious Fede. He doesn’t really look like the rest of the Italian national team. He’s not. His dad played for Italy, he went to International School, he enrolled in the University of Motor Sciences in Florence. He’s not gladiatorial like Chiellini, covered in tattoos like Di Lorenzo, from the dusty streets of Frattamaggiore like Insigne, a former altar boy like Belotti. He looks a bit like the more well-off kid invited to the party. Running hard to prove he should be there, hiding the sweater that was around his shoulders when he arrived in a corner. But boy does he deserve to be there; this party would not be the same without him.
He’s constantly at full pelt. Scrapping. Legs whirring. Arms akimbo. Eyes wide. His movement’s active, every time, and when movements are active, big moments are magnetic. The head, nudge, finish against Austria. Against Spain, the Insigne O Tir a Gir tribute curled into the corner, and he’s away, sliding on knees, arms up, eyes to the heavens. The prodigal son, the kid on the street, the Motor Scientist, the gladiator, the saviour all in one.
He's at it again for Juve now. Tearing about, sweaty hair licking his cheeks, playing every frame of every game like he's proving something new to somebody new—a new teacher, a new friend, a new dad. In the game against Spezia this evening, his numbers whirred. A goal, the most ground duels on the pitch, the most key passes, the most accurate crosses, the most successful dribbles, the most tackles.
Un Santino, absolutely everywhere you look on the pitch. Abbi fede in Fede—Have faith in Fede. The golden boy, like parsley.
This piece was originally written for our Instagram during the Euros. We do lots of nice things on our Instagram, you can follow us here.