In a country where pork barrelling has consistently affected the outcome of elections, football, Italians’ most loved sport, could not escape from such dynamics. Silvio Berlusconi is allegedly portrayed as the man who epitomises the relationship between politics and calcio: he became the Prime Minister for the first time in 1994, alluring the majority of electors using a simple but influential register full of footballing metaphors and exploiting his image of triumphant AC Milan chairman.
Once again, his chance to win the elections might be strictly connected with the destinies of the Rossoneri. Perhaps having learnt a few lessons from the past, many newspapers drawed a direct line between the signing of erratic striker Mario Balotelli from Manchester City and the opportunity for Berlusconi to increase his political consensus. The three-time Prime Minister has already made a smart use of his renowned football club for propaganda purposes, beginning from his announcement to “enter the field” in 1994.
Rumours of Brazilian star Kaká leaving AC Milan for Manchester City hit the headlines in late January 2009 and as a consequence many fans were struggling. Berlusconi made a phone call to a popular football tv show, “Il processo del lunedì”, and publicly reassured his club’s supporters that the Brazilian international would stay in Milan. Ardent Rossoneri fan and sports journalist Tiziano Crudeli, who is also the Ladbrokes testimonial in England, thanked him among tears and emotion and many others emulated him, perhaps ignoring that Kaká would move to Real Madrid just a few months later.
One year later, Berlusconi and AC Milan CEO Adriano Galliani were vibrantly criticised by many fans when the new season started. The supporters were unhappy with the club’s policy and a few journalists even labelled as “moving” his attempt to introduce the signing of Marco Amelia, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Mario Yepes as a way to build a very competitive squad. On the political side, relationships with his Government ally Gianfranco Fini were all but peaceful. Berlusconi’s golden age appeared to be close to an end, but in the last days of the transfer market window he suddenly hired Brazilian striker Robinho and, especially, Swedish crackerjack Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Banners insulting Berlusconi were immediately replaced by songs cheering the Rossoneri board, for they just hired a star who played for crosscity rivals Inter Milan. Thanks to these two moves, AC Milan subsequently won the national title.
History may repeat itself right now. AC Milan had a terrible opening of the season and not surprisingly fans were disappointed with the board, who justified the low-profil transfer market as a consequence of the lack of money availability. Italian clubs cannot provide the highest salaries in Europe as it used to be in past decades and a number of top-players escaped abroad. Notwithstanding, Berlusconi based his January transfer window on optimism and trust in a bright future. After being criticised as he broke the deal for a potential return to Milan by Kaká, he gained fresh popularity as he signed Balotelli, another ex-Inter Milan player. This naturally excited the Rossoneri fans, who are now dreaming of an explosive attacking duo with the 22-year-old former City striker and 20-year-old rising star Stephan El Shaarawy.
Balotelli, who admitted to support AC Milan since his childhood when he was still playing for their archrivals, immediately made his debut in the home match against Udinese last Sunday. He deflected into the net a cross by El Shaarawy in the first half and, above all, converted a highly debated penalty kick in second half’s injury time, this enabling AC Milan to win 2-1. Local fans felt just thrilled and many pundits thought this may coincide with a rise of Berlusconi’s consensus at the elections, in which he will run for the Parliament for the 6th time.
As the President of Lombardy Region Roberto Formigoni posted on Twitter, “tonight we regained 3 points to Inter Milan and 3 points to the Partito Democratico“, referring to the gap between the centre-left party, which should win the elections according to many opinion polls, and Berlusconi’s Popolo delle Libertà. Football and politics could not be closer to each other. Or, to put it simply, they cannot be separated.