What are the expectations for the team?
As world champions, Italy are expected to do very well, but a huge question mark hangs over coach Roberto Donadoni, who has done well so far but has little support from the Italian federation. His job security has not been helped by leaving out Alessandro Del Piero, who still has many supporters among the media and has been playing brilliantly for Juventus. Failure to survive a tough group would mean the end for Donadoni, but he may go in any case, unless he wins the whole thing.
Are there any players who have appeared in TV commercials or other advertising?
Rino Gattuso has been starring in ads for Vodafone, most of them alongside Francesco Totti. His strong southern accent casts him as a wily regional character with national appeal, which also helped him get a role in promoting – tongue-in-cheek, as he does not pass as the most erudite person – an encyclopedia. Andrea Pirlo, Marco Materazzi and Daniele De Rossi appeared in an ad for bank giants Unicredit, in which someone in the street looks in their general direction, does a double take, then walks past them to greet three other men in a table behind them with the words: “Hey, I know you, you work for Unicredit!” When the man nods towards the three footballers’ table, pointing his finger at the three bank workers and adding “See, what a team!”, Pirlo stands up in anger but is restrained by his fellow Azzurri.
Which players are good interviewees and who are the worst?
Fabio Cannavaro, as captain, is as close to an official spokesman for the team as there could be, but he doesn’t say much. Gigi Buffon can be blunt and dour at the same time but will never be short of things to say, while Gattuso’s sincerity in calling out those who do not appear to be willing to pull their weight, as he sometimes does for Milan, may also be something you’d like to listen to.
Do any of the players have famous girlfriends or wives?
Buffon’s girlfriend, Alena Seredova, is a Czech model and a TV personality of the kind you’ll see on Italian football shows for no specific reason other than her good looks – while Luca Toni’s is model Marta Cecchetto, no celebrityseeker as they met while he was an unknown lower-division player. Players’ wives and girlfriends are often in the papers and gossip magazines but they have never reached WAG level, although it was said the number of hangers-on and players’ families who were allowed into the team hotel at Euro 2004 in Portugal contributed to the general failure of that side.
What will the media coverage be like?
Sky Italy have bought the rights to the Euro 2008 but RAI, the state-owned television company, will show selected matches, including probably those involving Italy. RAI has become something of an audition stage for coaches in search of a job: Fabio Capello, who has returned as a pundit a decade after he first appeared, provides sharp, insightful comment in between England duties. Generally speaking, Sky, who count Marcello Lippi, Paolo Rossi, Gianluca Vialli and Luca Marchegiani among their contributors, provide much better coverage, if typically over-hyped (Lippi, with a World Cup under his belt, says “there’s nothing like the Champions League” in one of Sky’s ads, for example). Newspapers will typically send two or more reporters to cover every sneeze and breath of the Azzurri and perhaps assign a couple or more to other groups. Coverage and interest would dramatically drop if Italy fail to progress, though.
Will there be many fans travelling to the tournament?
Italy are sure to be among the best supported sides especially in Switzerland. Not only do many Italians live there, but it takes only a few hours to drive from northern Italy to Zurich and Bern, where the Azzurri will play their first-round matches. But there is only a small hardcore group of fans who try to travel everywhere, the rest are just spur-of-the-moment supporters. The Azzurri only enjoy great support when they start winning, but do not be fooled by the TV shots of people cruising the streets on mopeds or cars or jumping into fountains: the average Italy match raises few eyebrows.