Massimo Bonini turned down Italy to stay true to his native San Marino, reports Paul Virgo

Massimo Bonini was the strong, silent type behind Juventus’s success in the 1980s. His running and tackling in midfield provided a platform for the headline-grabbing exploits of Michel Platini, Paolo Rossi and Zbigniew Boniek further forward. Indeed, when the late Juve chairman Gianni Agnelli pulled Platini up for having a cigarette one day, the Frenchman famously quipped that “what really counts is that Bonini doesn’t smoke”.

But while Bonini was helping the club to three Italian championships and a European Cup, his intelligent grafting was not at the service of a national team. Born in San Marino in 1959, Bonini played nine times for Italy’s Under‑21 team between 1980 and 1983. He was unable to make the move up to full international level because a rule change meant Sammarinese were no longer considered Italian, even though the tiny republic did not have a national team of its own at the time.

Bonini could have sidestepped the problem by taking Italian citizenship. But he refused on principle. “It wasn’t a choice not to play for Italy. I would have liked to. It’s logical, the Italian national team can aspire to the great things and being part of it is the maximum for any player,” Bonini explained recently. “But it didn’t seem right with respect to my country to change nationality. I have the good luck and the bad luck to have been born in San Marino. Bad luck, because I couldn’t play for Italy, but above all good luck because it’s a place where you can live well and in peace. Lots of people would give anything to have been born in San Marino.”

The player admits to “a little regret” at never taking part in a European Championship or World Cup. But mostly he counts his blessings: “I had the fortune to play for a club that gave me the chance to face the best sides in the world. I won the European Cup and the Intercontinental Cup. I’m satisfied with my career.”

Bonini eventually got a taste of international action towards the end of his playing days, after the San Marino Football Federation (FSGC) gained UEFA membership and he had moved from Juventus to Bologna. He won 19 caps between 1990 and 1995 – including playing in their worst ever defeat, 10-0 against Norway – before taking over as San Marino coach for three years. He puts a positive shine on slumming it in a team of amateurs, too. “It was very beautiful because my team-mates were the lads I had played with as a child,” he said. “So I had the chance to represent San Marino and be reunited with my old friends, who hadn’t had my luck in football. It was great.”

Modesty doesn’t allow him to accept Platini’s compliment, though: “Michel’s a funny guy and he liked to joke. Don’t pay any attention to what he said about me doing all the running. He used to get around the field, too.”

From WSC 251 January 2008

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