Post-National Football?

NEW YORK – Some of the more hysterical German newspapers blamed Germany’s defeat against Italy in the semi-finals of the European championship on the fact that few players bothered to sing the national anthem. Contrast that with the Italian players, all of whom belted out the words of Il Canto degli Italiani (The Song of the Italians). Indeed, the captain, Gigi Buffon, sang with his eyes closed, as though in prayer.

But the Italians had no chance in the final against Spain, the best team in the world, none of whose players opened their mouths during the Spanish anthem, Marcha Real – which stands to reason, given that the “Royal March” has no lyrics. And, besides, the Catalonian players feel uncomfortable with the national anthem, which was much promoted under the late dictator Francisco Franco, who hated Catalan nationalism.

We know that in football, the most successful teams are not always those with the greatest stars. Champions operate as teams – cohesive, untroubled by the egotism of prima donnas, each player prepared to work for the others. Is patriotism really the key to this kind of spirit for national teams, as the German critics of their team believe?

Football has often been called a substitute for war – a symbolic, more or less peaceful, way to fight out international rivalries. The fans of national sides are actors in a kind of patriotic carnival, dressed in the costumes of their national stereotypes: English fans as medieval knights, the Dutch in clogs, the Spanish as bullfighters. Germans, understandably, have a problem with national symbolism, but I spotted a few fans in quasi-Bavarian dress. The prize for the most humorous masquerade must go to the Italians dressed as popes and cardinals.