A junior school cricket game is the best analogy BTLM can think of to describe the anodyne experience of reading a typical footballer interview. The interviewer takes the role of the bowler and gently lobs, underhand, a few simple and wholly unchallenging questions towards the player who accommodatingly bats some nondescript platitudes straight back in his direction.
Back in the 1970s Shoot magazine was more outward-looking than most British football publications. It carried regular player interviews and while the majority of those featured the top players of the day from England and Scotland, from time to time the magazine laudably ventured further afield to secure interviews with top players from mainland Europe. Cruyff, Netzer and Beckenbauer were among their star interviewees, although these exchanges proved typically no less bland than their domestic equivalents.
Late in 1975, the draw for the 1978 World Cup Qualifiers placed England and Italy in the same group and it made perfect sense for the magazine to seek out Giacinto Facchetti, Italy’s veteran captain, to discuss the prospects for both nations. The problem for Shoot was that Facchetti wasn’t reading his script, the unspoken one in which he’d politely acknowledge what a tough group it was, talk about how much he admired England and the English game and how, on balance, he remained quietly optimistic that Italy would narrowly prevail. Instead of playing a straight bat and gently knocking back the easy deliveries being pitched at him as convention demanded, Facchetti preferred a refreshing approach of battering each and every delivery out of the ground while yelling “‘Ave it!” to his increasingly irked interviewer.
An erudite, intelligent and single-minded man, Facchetti makes it clear straight from the opening exchanges that he had some strong views on English football and there was no reason to dilute them just because interview protocol typically demanded it. So he proceeds to launch into a thoughtful, cogent and utterly ruthless dismantling of virtually every aspect of the English game. The beauty of his searing commentary comes from the measured tone: every point he makes is wholly rational and well-argued and much of what he identifies as being wrong with English football in 1975 remains valid to this day. Crucially there is not a hint of nationalism or xenophobia in his answers and he has no qualms about acknowledging plentiful issues marring the game in Italy too.
What is utterly delicious about the developing exchange is the increasingly prickly manner of the unnamed interviewer. As Facchetti relentlessly belittles English football with his every answer, there’s a real sense with the direction the questioning is going that the interviewer’s national pride is being affronted somewhat by this unexpected double-barrelled delivery of inconvenient home truths.
When interview protocol is broken it’s usually the result of the subject taking exception to a question, yet here we have one of those rare instances when protocol breaks down because the questioner is taking exception to the answers. The inquisitor hilariously resorts to petty ‘I know you are but what am I?’ comebacks that are either ignored or swatted away by the suave Italian. The nadir of this interview Vietnam comes with the lamest of attempts to land a blow by throwing in an excruciatingly awful jibe about Italian men liking to stay close to their mommas.
If like BTLM you thought you could have no greater admiration for the great man and peerless player the late Giacinto Facchetti was, this brilliant interview performance will only bolster his status in your estimation and make you wonder why all interviews can’t be like this one. Incidentally Italy did ultimately qualify for the 1978 World Cup, narrowly, at England’s expense.
We have reproduced the full interview here. Click on the images to enlarge.