Italy may have defeated France to win the World Cup, but the real winner was the “Old Europe” that Donald Rumsfeld once derided. After all, who would have predicted a World Cup final between France and Italy? It looks as if the national teams of the two “sick men of Europe,” felt obliged to change their countries’ images in the world.
In the Italian case, following the corruption scandals that have nearly sunk Il Calcio, Italy’s premier football league, the national team had to rehabilitate the game in the eyes of their fellow citizens. More globally, however, it is as if “Old Europe” had decided that it was time to set the record straight and prove more dynamic than the world’s emerging forces.
Indeed, in the new global balance, where football has become much more than sport, Europe is back with a vengeance. What has been unfolding in front of our eyes in the last four weeks has been a modern and reduced version of the balance-of-power system that dominated Europe and the world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
If football and its culminating moment, the World Cup, has become the universal religion of the global age, this is above all because it fulfills, in a non-spiritual way, contradictory instincts in human nature. Football magnifies the cult of the individual and the glorification of the hero, but it is also a celebration of the cooperative team spirit. More than any other collective activity, it channels the search for identity and identification that dominates our age.