At one point in the Italy-Slovakia game today, Peter Drury, ITV's commentator in the UK, said of Kamil Kopunek, who'd just scored Slovakia's third goal, "he need never kick a football again; he will bore his grandchildren forever!" It was a funny comment, but immediately I wondered if, in fact, Drury was not only referring to the goalscorer who had finally put paid to Italy's attempts to defend their crown, but also to that heinous, 32-year old midfield attack dog, Italy's excerable Genaro Gattuso.
What a joy it will be to never see him in the World Cup ever again -- yes, please, go away and bore your grandchildren. Fortunately for us all, Gattuso has already announced that he will be done for Italy after this tournament, and though one's heart sighed for the end of Fabio Cannavaro's career -- the great center back even made time amidst his obvious agony at the end of the game to pick from the turf the inconsolable Fabio Quagliarella, weeping as he was like an underfed baby -- there wasn't a wet eye in the house when Gattuso was ignominiously substituted at half-time. If there's a fan in the world who enjoyed one second of him on a football pitch, ever, email me at pleasegetalife.org. Of all the defensive-minded, niggling and squealing, negative Italian soccer players in history (and they are legion), Gattuso is Il Duce.
Listen to this: Gattuso has played seventy times for Italy, 'notably' in the 2000 Summer Olympics, the 2002 World Cup, Euro 2004, the 2006 World Cup, Euro 2008, the 2009 Confederations Cup, and now in South Africa. (That's a lot of high-profile dross, right there.) And if you've never seen Gattuso 'play football,' let me fill you in on his mode d'emploi: it goes, foul, foul, sly foul, square pass, foul, slyer foul, shirt pull, two-footed tackle, foul. Should he slow down a bit and put his foot on the ball -- remembering for a second that it's "the beautiful game" (yeah, right) -- pity the player who tries to tackle him. Should any such fool go anywhere near him -- say, as close as on the same continental landmass -- Gattuso hurtles himself to the ground as though a sniper has pulled a trigger. As he's falling -- I said, AS HE'S FALLING -- he's doing that pleading, give-my-assailant-a-red-card gesture that was supposed to get people yellow cards all for their own selves (remember that rule? Whatever happened to it?). Gattuso eventually hits the deck, rolls around a bit still shouting that the other guy should be banned for life, arches his back in 'agony,' snarls from behind poorly considered facial hair, jumps right up, takes the free kick -- square, of course -- then starts it all over again: foul, foul, sly foul, slyer foul, two-footed tackle, fall to the ground, card card card.
He also has a reputation for all-too-often removing his shorts. Horribly, right after he helped Italy win the 2006 World Cup, Gattuso went shortless and ran around the Olimpiastadion in Berlin, celebrating . . . celebrating what? That Zidane had a rush of blood to the head and a subsequent rush of head to the sternum of Marco Matterazi? That 'boring boring Arsenal' is the way to play this great game? Laughably, the brain trust called 'FIFA's Technical Study Group' had already picked Gattuso as one of the top 23 players of the 2006 tournament, but then, they also picked John Terry, so not much technical studying going on there methinks.
My dream is that the end of Gattuso's career signals the end of the stopper, a player whose only reason of being is to clamp down on creativity -- and that includes the creativity of his own team as much as his opponent. If you're Andrea Pirlo, and you look up and there's Gattuso, do you really want to pass to him, only to watch him go sideways, or backwards, or draw a 'foul' and roll around in 'agony?' Pirlo's introduction today against Slovakia shows what a silky, classy player can add to a game: he changed the dynamic of what was a dreadful Italian side to the point where they started to play like the Italy we sometimes admire; they were fleet, and quick to pass and move, and looked like they could beat anyone -- and they were a terrible offside call away from drawing 3-3 and going through to the next round, lest we forget. Pirlo and the weepy Quagliarella were fantastic when they came on (Quagliarella's goal to make it 3-2 was, to my eye, by far the best this tournament has seen, a delicate chip from 25 yards that given the point in the game [regular time was all but up] was all the more swashbuckling and yet icy-calm). Italy was a much better team without Gattuso; as, we hope, they will be in four year's time. I gain no great joy from Italy going out; don't we want the very best teams to advance? We could have been looking forward to Holland-Italy next Monday morning; instead, it's probably Holland-Slovakia, which doesn't exactly make the blood pump quite as fast.
But at least we won't witness another minute of Il Douchebag. He can put his shorts on once and for all, gather round his grandnippers, and start: "Now children, story time. Remember when I got that player sent off? Would you like to hear that one again?'