The beautiful game should not be known for divisiveness, but instead for passion, joy and togetherness.
Moise Kean has had one phenomenal year for Juventus. The 19 year old has enjoyed a successful campaign, scoring seven goals in only 12 matches, which includes the UEFA Champions League and The Coppa Italia, Italy’s most prestigious in-season tournament.
Internationally, even though he has only made two appearances with the Italian National team, he has scored a goal in both matches.
With all this productivity, one would think some Italians would be more receptive of their young prodigy. But that is not the case.
Over the course of this Serie A campaign, Kean, along with other world class players such as Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Blaise Matuidi (Juventus), and just this past week AC Milan’s Tiemoue Bakayoko, have been on the receiving end of monkey chats, hurled bananas and racist comments during fixtures.
This past month, Kean was subjected to racial abuse in a 2-0 Serie A victory at Cagliari. After scoring the second goal of the match, money chats could be heard from the stands. Leonardo Bianucci, who is currently his teammate at Juventus, spoke out against Kean and the way he celebrated his goals.
Following the match, Bonucci said he thought the blame for the racist abuse aimed at Kean was “50-50.”
“You celebrate goals with your teammates,” Bonucci said. “He could have done it differently… I think the blame is 50-50. Moise should not have done that and the Curva should not have reacted in that way.”
Caligari’s president Tomasso Giulini blamed Kean for agitating the opposing fans.
According to ESPN FC, Giulini stated, “I heard mostly boos, if they started making animal noises then we were in the wrong. What happened at the end was because of a celebration which was wrong, and it would have happened with any other player.”
Both faced heavy criticism from the media for their comments and reactions.
Kean’s style of play is unique for Serie A. It’s a league that is known for their defensive prowess which is being countered by a 19 year old whose pace and strength seems to be too much for the opposing teams.
His flashiness and cleverness on the pitch is praised by some and damned by others, more so by his own countrymen.
This dynamic seems too familiar in Serie A, just look at 28-year-old black Italian and Marseille Striker Mario Balotelli.
Balotelli and Kean’s families immigrated from Africa to Italy. Kean was born in Vercelli and Balotelli in Palermo. Kean’s parents hail from Ivory Coast and Balotelli’s from Ghana. Their style of play is also as similar as their upbringing.
Agile, quick, creative and powerful, Balotelli is known for pace, flair, physical strength, and having an eye for goal, similar traits to Kean.
His height, elevation and physique allow him to excel in the air, and he is capable of scoring with his head or with either foot, from both inside and outside the penalty area.
Balotelli, during three seasons (2007-2013) with Inter Milan and his one season (2013-2014) with AC Milan, was in a class of his own, scoring 46 goals combined for two of Italy’s most popular clubs.
He was the first black player ever selected to appear for the Italian national team in a major tournament at the UEFA Euros in 2012. With three goals, he finished as the tournament’s top scorer along with five other players.
Balotelli was subjected to racial abuse during The Euros in 2012 and throughout his time in Serie A.
Mixed with many off the field incidents, he was regarded by teammates and the media as a “promising but undisciplined player.” There was an air pistol shooting in Milan’s Piazza della Repubblica town square and pictures of him with popular Milan mob bosses that helped contribute to limited time in Serie A and with the Italian National Team.
It left many with the thought of “what could have been”.
Later in his career, Balotelli was once asked how the incessant racist abuse and criticism made him feel. He replied, “A little bit alone.”
Today, he plays his football for Marseille in France. This year’s performance has been uneven and his time at club is in review for next season.
Kean is still a teenager with time to develop, but off the field distractions can prove to be dire, regardless of talent, that includes the racism. He is regarded as the future of Juventus and the Italian National Team, same as Mario was for Inter Milan in his prime.
If he can learn to channel out the distractions, racism and the fame of being a professional footballer in Europe, the sky is the limit for the young star. With Kean breaking Balotelli’s Serie A goal scoring record in his first season, his potential is obvious.
Italy can learn from their past mistakes. The beautiful game is known for unity, not division. Regardless of skin pigmentation, no one should ever feel alone in their home country. Balotelli’s career spiraled out of control and Kean should proceed with caution.
Kean’s career is starting to take shape. Regardless of whether the Italians like it or not, he is the future face of Italian football, internationally and domestically. If given the right guidance and tools for handling success and distractions on and off the pitch, along with the support of his fellow countrymen, he can lead a new wave of young players and Italian football back to prominence.
The league known for constant racism and financial corruption could use a fresh start.
Italy’s disappointment in the 2012 Euros and not qualifying for the 2016 World Cup are still embedded in Italians’ minds. Kean will be the focal point of the country’s hopeful resurgence to greatness in the years to come if not sooner.
Racism is a dark cloud that lingers heavily over European football. The beautiful game should not be known to others for divisiveness, but instead for passion, joy and togetherness.
Serie A has some of the most passionate people and fans, its sights and sounds are one of a kind, from derby day at the San Siro, to the black and white army in Turin for Juventus, it is a visual spectacle. If all fans, not only Italians, can stop the racism, the game will become more enjoyable again, especially for our black players and fans worldwide.
If Kean can stay locked and focused on football and drown out the distraction of professional football offers and racism, the Ivorian-Italian striker from Vercelli can change the way we all view the beautiful game and Italian football.
He may not be a household name yet, but the scales will be tipping in his favor for years to come.