“The oriundi are the new Italians,” commented Nazionale coach Cesare Prandelli on the eve of last Wednesday’s 1-0 friendly defeat to Spain, a match in which his side lined up with three such players (South American-born Italian nationals) in the starting XI.
Yet their presence in calcio is nothing new, some of their predecessors having made compelling contributions to Italian football’s greatest achievements.
The word oriundo (or oriundi to give it its plural form) is applied to immigrants who are of Italian descent but were born outside the country. It is a contraction of the Latin word oriri (meaning “to be born”) and “Orient”, which is of relevance in that Italy lies to the east of South America, the place most oriundi call home.
In a strictly sporting sense, the term is now used to refer to South American players of Italian descent who have returned to the mother country to pursue their careers. In order to be considered an oriundo and thereby obtain an Italian passport, these players must prove that either their parents or grandparents are or were from Italy.
In the last 94 years some 63 oriundi have returned to the land of their forefathers to play football, with 42 of them going on to wear the blue of Italy. Half of those internationals hailed from Argentina, though the very first of all the oriundi, Ermanno Aebi, who made two appearances up front for La Squadra Azzurra in 1920, hailed from neighbouring Switzerland.
Proof of the importance of such players to Italian football is the fact that no fewer than seven of them have won the FIFA World Cup™ with the national team. The Brazilian-born Anfilogino Guarisi and the Argentinian-born quartet of Attilio Demaria, Enrique Guaita, Luis Monti and Raimundo Orsi led the way in 1934; followed by Miguel Andreolo, who hailed from Uruguay, in 1938; and Mauro Camoranesi, who was born in Argentina, in 2006.
The most famous of them all is the Buenos Aires born-and-bred Monti, whose family came from the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna.
Monti had the distinction of playing in two World Cup Finals for different countries. He represented runners-up Argentina at Uruguay 1930, making 16 appearances for La Albiceleste in all and scoring five goals for them, including their very first World Cup goal in a 1-0 defeat of France.
Monti signed for Juventus the following year, spending seven seasons with the Turin giants. Pledging his allegiance to Italy in the meantime, he played a decisive role in their 2-1 defeat of Czechoslovakia in the 1934 Final, a game in which two other oriundi also played: the outstanding left winger Raimundo Orsi, who scored his side’s equaliser, and Enrique Guaita, who holds the Italian scoring record for a 16-team league championship, with 28 goals in the 1934-35 season.
Far from being mercenaries who went to Italy in search of fame and fortune, most of these world champions put down very solid roots in the land of their ancestors. Such was true of Andreolo, four times an Italian league winner with Bologna; Guarisi, who played 137 times for Lazio and scored 43 goals in the process; and Demaria, the scorer of 76 goals in 268 appearances for Inter Milan and who later went into coaching.
For his part, Guaita made a speedy return to Argentina on being called up by the Italian Army during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.
The World Cup proved a slightly less happy hunting ground for other oriundi such as Juan Alberto Schiaffino. Though a world champion with Uruguay at Brazil 1950, where he scored in the deciding match against the hosts, he was unable to help Italy go all the way at Sweden 1958.
On the scoresheet nine times in 19 appearances for Argentina, and eight times in nine games with Italy, Omar Sivori failed to lift the Trophy with either nation but remains an idol on both sides of the Atlantic.
A World Cup winner with Brazil in 1958, Jose Altafini then spent 19 years in Serie A, though he would play only six times (scoring five goals) for La Nazionale, with two of those appearances coming at Chile 1962.
Camoranesi revives the tradition
Following the national team’s elimination in the group phase in Chile, Italian coaches largely resisted the urge to pick non-native born players, and after Angelo Sormani made his final appearance in October 1963, nearly 40 years would elapse before another oriundo stepped out for Italy.
The player in question was Mauro Camoranesi. Born in the Argentinian province of Tandil, the former Juventus midfielder was overlooked by La Albiceleste and was eligible to play for Italy through his grandparents, who came from Marche. After making his debut on 12 February 2003, he would pull on the famous blue shirt another 54 times, making him the most-capped oriundi of all time.
Prandelli has kept the tradition going since taking over, calling up Cristian Ledesma and Amauri to begin with and then drafting in Thiago Motta, Pablo Osvaldo and, most recently of all, the 28-year-old Gabriel Paletta. The most Calabrian of Argentinians, Paletta is a veteran of the Albiceleste side that won the FIFA U-20 World Cup Netherlands 2005, one that featured the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.
“I grew up in Argentina and that’s where all my family live,” said Paletta, who owes his place in Prandelli’s plans to his outstanding recent form with Parma. “But when I think about my grandfather’s dream of his sons returning to Calabria one day with a little bit of money to show that they had made it, that’s when I feel Italian. The way I see it, being called up to the national side has allowed me to fulfil his dream.”
Sentimental reasons aside, the fact is that Paletta and his South American-born brethren have become something of a necessity for Prandelli, who explained their selection in the squad for the Spain game by saying: “Only 38 per cent of players in last weekend’s Serie A matches were Italian.”