Italy’s Armani squad

Unlike other public holidays here in the office, today is June 16 and it is quiet, with many empty chairs and desks. So myself and photographer Lisa Skinner decide to spend a couple of hours with the world champions, Italy, to see how they prepare for the Confederations Cup at Southdowns College, Pretoria.

A quick phone call is made to the Italian media officer, Diego Antenozio, and he grants us permission. It’s 11.30am and we arrive at the college, which looks like the Italian team headquarters in South Africa. Everything — windows, fence, entrance, dustbin, walls and burglar guards — bears the name Italia. Even the security guard at the gate greets us in Italian as we make our way in.

At the training ground we find about 12 players, most of whom had featured in the 3-1 win over USA the previous night. From the way they are training they seem to be the first team for the tournament. For almost two hours the players practise crosses from both the left and right wing and they get it right, banging in the goals.

On the side of the pitch several media contingents look as bored as we do having watched the same training routine over and over again. Now the focus has shifted from the players to the media guys, most of them from Italy, so we feel out of place. Most of them speak a language we don’t understand and are dressed up as if they are going to a fashion show or some important formal function. Language is not really a big deal, but the dress code makes me feel like hiding myself in the team bus only to resurface when everyone has left.

The Italians are snazzy dressers. It appears as if these guys have told themselves to bayosicindezela (oppress us). Not that they are wearing suits, but expensive designer jeans, shoes and shirts. We are talking Giorgio Armani, Replay, Gucci, Valentino and Giafranco Ferre. Nike air force sneakers are like R10 sandals to them. And these are just journalists and photographers. Not that I’m gay, but I can’t take my eyes of these Italian men. No wonder our sisters are mad for the Italians.

Those who happen to notice us know we are South Africans by the way we are dressed. We are not used to seeing journalists and photographers dressed up for a training session. What we normally see, locally, is guys dressed like they have come from a wrestling match, wearing tracksuits like the officials of the teams they are visiting.

The Italians are not only stylish, but they know how to take good care of people, especially the media. Antenozio is on hand trying to assist everyone. Even he is wearing a rare tracksuit. Just before the press conference, guys behind the counter, most of them wearing Armani, treat us to good Italian food. They serve Italian chocolate crossaints, sandwiches and pizza. There is good wine and cappuccinos for those who want to keep warm. What we experience at the Italian camp is highly unlikely to be repeated in the Bafana camp, where you might find two or three platters of sandwiches.

We leave the food, which we can’t finish, and head for the conference room. The two-goal hero in the 3-1 victory over USA, Giuseppe Rossi, the star of the show, spends about 45 minutes taking questions. Those who want one-on-one interviews with him don’t even have to book in advance. The media officer makes things easy for everyone and there is no security guard with a big tummy telling reporters about protocol.

This isn’t the case with Bafana Bafana, where you have to book players well in advance for interviews as if they are the Ronaldos of the world. Then you get the Bafana head of security, who believes he owns the team and pulls players away when he thinks the interview has gone on for too long.

The world champions are properly organised and a lot can be learned from the team, not only in the field of play, but also about how to run things smoothly. And they know how to treat the media.

Before another visit to the Italian team (who are sponsored by Dolce and Gabbana), I will ensure that I make a stop at Spitz and search my wardrobe for my Sunday best to keep up with their standards.

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Lucky Sindane
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