The mega-rich Italian Agnelli family has bulging coffers. They own the Fiat Chrysler Corporation, Ferrari, and have a controlling interest in Turin’s Juventus football team, one of the premier clubs in Europe. The Agnellis aren’t exactly friends of the working person.
Last week, Juventus splurged about $130 million to purchase the contract of one Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid to play for Juventus, based in Turin. A local Fiat workers union is threatening to go on strike. The union says that enriching one individual at the expense of everybody else in the Agnelli work force is a tad one-sided.
This is a bit like the film “The Italian Job” (the Michael Caine one), where the Mini Minors shake off the Carabinieri in their Fiats racing through the streets and sewers of Turin…in other words it’s a heist tale.
If one follows football, Ronaldo is like the itch one can’t scratch. He’s a game-changing player, one of the best in the world. But he is also an egomaniac, forever looking for an opportunity to take off his shirt after scoring a goal to expose his torso (no tattoos though). A Brazilian NY friend told me that in the last World Cup down there, many famous players were approachable on the street. Not so Cristiano Ronaldo…he was always surrounded by bodyguards and the entourage, while being whisked away in a stretch limo.
Turin has a rich history of football shenanigans and worker’s struggle, some not without irony and humor. Bill Buford described the following in his book “Among the Thugs,” a must read about European football hooliganism. Sometime during the 1980s, Manchester United fans (all two hundred of them – the given allotment) were greeted at the Turin International Airport by the Italian Army and escorted into the city square by tanks and armed troop carriers. Despite this military cordon, the English crowd and the Juventus followers still managed to mix it up and severely damage downtown Turin and themselves. That probably says more about the Italian armed forces that it does about the soccer goons. The point is that Turin has borne witness to its fair share of football related bashes.
And then there is the Muammar Gaddafi (sp?) story. Gaddafi was always accused of supporting European radical left groups and he occasionally did. Among them were the Italian Red Brigades, active in the Fiat plants. They received the odd suitcase full of money from the Libyans. But at the same time that he was bankrolling their enemies, Gaddafi bailed out the Fiat Corporation, pumping loads of capital into the then financially stressed company. He might have single-handedly saved Fiat from bankruptcy. How’s that for walking both sides of the street.
The Fiat workers today are right. Why do these professional sports stars take up so much money? It’s not as if they are the sole providers of a necessary social service, like driving a bus through the neighborhood, or selling affordable hot-dogs on the corner, or manufacturing cars on the line. They represent the gross inequality of the gap. And they usually have nothing of value to say about any of this.
It got me to thinking. How would something like this go down in the U.S.? What if LeBron James was traded to Detroit or New Orleans (Los Angeles is bad enough) and organizations of residents and/or workers seeking to redress their deteriorating circumstances yelled “foul.” They might be faced with a similar opposition as the kneelers at the NFL games have gotten, not just from the owner class and the official sports body, but also from fellow fans, inside and outside of the stadium. Inside is less likely since the price of tickets is prohibitive to many people.
This Ronaldo kind of nonsense (the big contract swap) happens all the time in the American professional sports world. Mostly, popularity and solidarity with the home squad seems to win out. But the Fiat example is a front worth considering, a different sort of Italian job.