On Roberto Baggio and accepting failure.

Roberto Baggio was not the greatest footballer of all times. Let me say it straight away: many nostalgic Italians, very used to magnificent defenders and goalies, but mediocre forwards, consider him in the top 10 ever at least – they are just wrong. I understand them, but cannot objectively agree. However, this is only partially important in this context. It is only because I do not fall in the category of those compatriots of mine for whom Baggio was a saint, and the lesson he taught me has little to do with football.

Nevertheless, he was very good – for a couple of years surely among the top. He single handedly dragged a quite boring Italy to a boring final of a boring World Cup in 1994. I remember risking being chased by a few angry relatives of mine because 12 YO me was supporting Brasil – I was a sucker for their game, and patriotism is very alien to me, what can I tell you.

Netflix Italia know that Italians will always fall for their football heroes, or maybe we simply don’t have good film makers anymore, so they produced Il Divin Codino, a film on Baggio’s career. The film will come out in a couple of weeks, and will probably not deserve any awards. But as I was watching the trailer yesterday, a thought struck me: in spite of not having a loving, admiring connection to Baggio, and being quite sure that the film will be poor, my perceived experience is, and unconsciously always has been, enriched by his story. With a lesson that I cherish more than most, and quite literally changed my life at a certain point:

It's OK to fail.

Roberto Baggio was young, handsome, rich, and controversial. Controversial because he was always too smart for football interviews; controversial because in spite of being a superstar, he now lives in the countryside and very rarely appears on TV; he was controversially a Buddhist in a very Catholic nation; he chose to move to Juventus from Fiorentina, causing riots.

The whole nation really saw him as a God back then. Italy does not consider football as a mere fitness and sportsmanship exercise: we are closer to Brazil than to England in this sense. People pray to their saints if their team wins, cause riots when their footballers join other teams, and quite often physically clash with rival fans. In a poor country, football is seen as a relief, rather than an exercise (and this is known and used by many a politician, panem et circenses right?). When Italy did win the World Cup in 2006, it was the best of their life for many people. So imagine the status that carrying the national team to a final would give you. You own the country. Were it not for the constitution, people would vote you for king.

So a mediocre team of a peripheral country makes the final, in conditions of incredible heat and not-so-much-interest by the American locals. Facing Brazil’s Bebeto and Romario, Cláudio Taffarel, Dunga: a very strong side, though admittedly not the best Brazil ever. Italian manager Sacchi is not loved by the fans, the team’s play was always quite lacking. But Baggio sparks all of the few lights that led to an unexpected final.

The match itself is VERY boring. The interesting part is boring itself, by design: penalties. A moment embedded in all of our minds, ask any Italian.

A fallen God. Roberto misses his chance for eternal glory as a footballer. He also misses the penalty by quite a bit – a really ugly one indeed. He seems to want to overdo it, by smashing it in the top corner. Almost like wanting to send a desperate message of hope to the team, but missing. What makes this story interesting though, is that he does achieve, somehow, eternal glory as a person, a human representation of all of us. People never ceased to love him. He was ever humble, before and after the fall. He is just a person, who did not let his immense talent take over him. A person with a simple side and a rebel side, with talents and flaws. Like anyone.

After the World Cup, Baggio kept playing, maybe his best years, in smaller teams. He played amazingly in Brescia, and to this day his team mates are very frank in saying how they could not believe they were playing with that icon. They also could not believe the level of game they were witnessing day in, day out. Pep Guardiola, another legend, played with him for 1 year or 2. I want you to watch at a couple of minutes of this video: Guardiola introduces Baggio to Lionel Messi. To contextualise: Guardiola is (probably) the best football manager of all times; and Messi is (probably) the best footballer of all times. Now, see how Guardiola speaks of Baggio. Like a teenager with his poster on the side of the bed. So much so, that both Messi and Baggio look a bit embarrassed.

Thinking about it, Baggio missed penalty taught me that even the best can fail. It's OK to fail, to stay human. Indeed, it's a requirement.

Baresi, another legendary but less flashy football giant, also missed his penalty that day: he’d miraculously recovered from a severe injury only to make the final, his appointment with history: the images of him unapologetically in tears after the loss are, again, embedded in our nation’s collective mind.

I don’t like the idea of having idols at all, and neither Baggio or Baresi are. But I do think that there’s a lesson to learn from their tears after the missed penalties. Even the best will make mistakes, and you, too, are allowed yours. It’s OK, the world will go on, and you will be alright. You are a victim of the general idea that you must race, you must succeed, no matter the consequences. You might lose happiness, but at least you won the race, is what society lead us to believe. You must build a wall of money and success around you, is the zeitgeist.

In the grand scheme of things, a penalty kick that would have created happiness for 60 million people can still go wrong: and you know what, it’s alright. And if that is OK, you can afford to not make your life a first-place-or-death race, don’t you think? You can be a hero, or not: you can be whatever you want to be, and you are still special.

Sure, let’s celebrate Italian fascism on Twitter, why not

Looks like a great idea, surely most responses will be positive. You gotta tweet something right!?

So the Italian Marina Militare (the Navy) (yeah I mean, the Official Navy of the Italian state) posted a couple of tweets, such as this one (see pic) in which they celebrate WWII attacks to Greece.

Let’s set up some quick context.

Greece is a sovereign state if I’m not mistaken, and was such 80 years ago as well – just probably worth mentioning.

Greece were NEUTRAL, and Italy single-handedly attacked them.

Italy was a Fascist regime.

Italy ended up being soundly defeated on most battlefields, showing a lack of preparation which costed a lot to our German allies. And luckily so, some might say. A beautiful display. And on top of this, the way that little bit of history is studied at school is utterly ridiculous, it almost looks like we were invaded by the Fascists, and we were all partisans, and all that. Poor us.

So I just wanted to put this here, as a reminder for myself. When the conversation in the UK goes in the direction of ‘this country is not progressive enough’, and I will be tempted to see it that way, I will want to have this, here, to remind myself of where it is that I come from. That shameful bug, I want it to be there always.

-isms, part 1: the ‘whoever your favourite human being is’ paradox

There’s been some (but not enough) talking in Italy, in the last week, because not one, not two, but three different shows on national television (Rai) were based on the trope ‘sexual assault that was faked by the victim’. Many associations complained, but the conversation never really broke through to the really ‘decisional’ areas of politics (say, the parliament, or any of the major parties). But it’s always the woman’s fault isn’t it. She was wearing a tight skirt, is the point. She was drunk, is relevant.

One of the reasons why I left the country in the first place is the somewhat backward culture when it comes to inclusion: diversity is still not seen as a resource. Of course, I reckon that the cultural and historical factors change immensely between English-speaking countries, and Italy. I mean, we did try colonialism in the last century, but slavery was a major factor only millennia ago (this might be superficial, I reckon, if we consider the internal slavery systems present in Capitalism, which rely on enslaving based on class, rather than other -isms. However, this is not a topic I’d wish to explore now). This could probably be a reason why the convo re: skin colour is not really felt in Italy: we are indeed prone to evaluate one’s worth from the colour of their skin, but that’s not even the real problem-the real problem is that we barely talk about it. Blackface is not really a thing, in Italy-we don’t see the problem with it. I did not myself. It’s much more heartfelt here, for historical reasons. Don’t get me wrong, racism indeed exists in the UK, but it’s fiercely contrasted by the media, for instance. It’s part of the conversation. People of all walks of life supposedly are allowed any jobs. It’s not the same in my hometown.

The same goes for sexism: I can see sexism here, and I could see it back in Italy too. The difference is, over there it’s not even part of the conversation. The numbers are incredible, like everywhere else for that matter: 21% of women have been harrassed in some form *. Like, I’ve had 5 girlfriends in my lifetime, at least one of them has been harrassed sooner of later: quite cringy uh.

So I thought I’d start writing something about the topic. As ever, this is more to track moments in time, for myself, than for an actual audience.

My starting point about all -isms is what I call the Leonardo da Vinci Paradox (or the ‘[insert your favourite incredible human being here] paradox’, whatever): Leonardo lived during the Renaissance, let’s say around 1,500. In that period, the access to advanced studies, a meal to go back home to so that you didn’t have to gather or hunt it yourself, freedom, rights, contacts, and what we now consider basic privileges, were only granted if you were:

  • Man
  • Cristian
  • European
  • White
  • Adult
  • Cis
  • Hetero
  • Landowner/rich
  • I might be forgetting points but you get the gist

This would ridiculously diminish the possibility of someone finding themselves in the condition to skill up so much that they’d paint the Ultima cena, or anticipate flying objects by centuries, or advance anatomical knowledge, etc. Now let’s assume that there are as many women as there are men, in the world (it’s actually more than that). Let’s say 50/50%. Were women allowed the same life as men, we’d have had not one but TWO Leonardo’s; TWO Einstein’s; TWO Newton’s; TWO Laplace’s. Can you imagine where we humans would be in that scenario?

And what if we also included non-white people? LGBTQ+? What if we did not value one religion as a necessity to study at our schools (and this is still the case in many countries, including Italy, including the kindergartens (!!))?

So this is to say: the idea that women having more rights will hurt men, is laughable: not only will it not hurt men, but it’ll be actually beneficial. Working towards respecting other people no matter what, is more important than we realise.

Imagine the wonderful things we could do, if we could all study, and travel, and work, and do with our bodies as we please.

BTW, if you know the Italian language, or are learning it, Il Post is THE ONE AND ONLY online resource you should read: many mainstream newspapers are bog roll at best

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On award-winning awards, and award-organising companies awarding award-winning companies.

I have been in award-winning teams before, and having now been behind the scenes in another team that is, currently, in the shortlist for more European awards (these) is naturally a pleasure. It tickles one’s ego, of course, so on one hand I subjectively appreciate it; on the other, I want to be as unbiased and objective as a person can be. Hence, I want to publish these thoughts before knowing whether the team will actually win or not. Because if they do win, I’ll of course be happy and proud of them 😊

Thought number 1: marketers rubbing their own backs

So first of all, because this might not be clear to everybody: applications to awards cost money. Not all, admittedly: those that I know, therefore considering the Digital Marketing industry only – although I’m sure it’s the same across the board. So if your campaign is better than mine, but for whatever reason you do not submit it, (crucially including you want to, but have no money to apply), I will be awarded and you won’t. So if I am a big company, or a cheeky one, I’ll simply apply to hundreds of awards a year, and will end up winning a couple for mere statistical reasons. I am already a large, rich agency, and winning awards will make me larger and richer, and…you see, an upward spiral that looks very much pumped by who’s got more money to begin with: capitalism 101.

On top of that, there are A LOT of awards: each call themselves prestigious, and each are pushed by those who win it (the award that I won is the most prestigious!). So how prestigious is an award, really? I’ve had instances (won’t name names) in which you could at the same time run for the award, and sponsor it: how is this OK? Oh an how about those that are organised by companies that are somehow siblings to other companies that can take part to the race?

And we do like to comment how good we are, how our team is the best, how we love our clients. “What’s my Unique selling proposition (USP)? I’m not only an agency for my client, I’m more of a consultant! Dare I say it: a friend!”. Isn’t this the SP (not very U, at this point) of a thousand Digital Agencies out there?

Self promotion is important indeed: nevertheless I often find it extenuating, frustrating, is all. Especially when I know is false: a company I worked for in the past, a toxic environment where I was miserable and harrassed and all that, is co-ho-honstantly posting on Social Media about how good they are. It’s was hell, and the thing is, they most definitely knew. What you’ve got to do is, you always have to be true.

Thought number 2: an award is an effect

This is more boring, more personal, probably more relevant to me than the first one. It’s got to do with causality.

Generally speaking, I like to think about causes, not effects: if you modify the cause, it’ll trickle down to the effect too (teach a person how to fish, rather than giving them a fish). So if I play my best football, but still lose, I can still be happy, since victory was an effect.

Now, there’s several things that can intervene in obtaining a certain effect: on some one can work, improve, actively make better, and on others one cannot. You can train harder, but you cannot control your shoelaces breaking off minutes before the game. The stoic will say that one should only be concerned with those things that one can control. You just train as hard as you can, and vet the status of your equipment as best you can, and that’s it; if it breaks, it breaks.

An award is an effect, not a cause. The cause that you can control towards winning an award is, doing a high-quality job. And since quality is a relative concept, let’s simplify the idea: you just do your best, at all times. Is that enough to win an award? No, it’s not: there’s the whole thing I described in point 1, there’s chaos (or call it luck), there’s your competitor, a lot of stuff outside of your control. A judge is more likely to be benevolent with entries that they read after lunch, than before lunch (as they’ll be in a better mood): if that’s the level of variability one has to deal with, one cannot possibly think they can assess everything.

Hence, is it really how many awards your team brings home, that you should evaluate them for, or is it the effort that you witness day in, day out?

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