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Using Italian Football Slang to Describe Roma, Part II

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Our second part of Italian football’s most used labels, including the ever-elusive meaning behind ‘cattiveria’.

Ac Fiorentina v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Welcome back. Just as a reminder, Part 1 to this feature can be found here. Thanks again to CdT member Zacathustra for the idea behind this feature.


Instancabile: Jordan Veretout

AS Roma v Wolfsberger AC - UEFA Europa League Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Closest English equivalent: Tireless. Or whenever a commentator can’t help but point out ‘look at the engine on this guy’.
Honourable mentions: Giada Greggi, Radja Nainggolan.

Most commonly used in context of being the motorino instancabile (‘tireless engine’) of the team, this label goes hand-in-hand with Jordan Veretout’s instancabilita’ today.

You can also be praised as l’Instancabile (‘the tireless one’) of the team, or the giocatore instancabile (‘tireless player’) but you’ll most commonly hear sport commentators break out into a cry of ‘motorino instacabile!’ when witnessing a player pull off a flawless slide tackle, change direction with the ball, drive it up the field 15 yards and complete a perfect long-range pass all seemingly in the same fluid action.

In the papers, you’ll often see a one-word review - Instancabile - next to a player’s name in the match ratings, and nothing else. That is effusive praise; meaning the performance had to be seen to be believed.

That is Veretout and Giada Greggi in today’s Roma sides. Without a doubt, this was a term once under the exclusive ownership of Radja Nainggolan on his day in the capital.

Imprevedibile: Lorenzo Pellegrini

Ac Fiorentina v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Closest English equivalent: ‘Creativity’ when used in a collective or general sense, ‘difference-maker’ when used to describe an individual.
Honourable mention: Javier Pastore.

Fuoriclasse (more literally ‘beyond classification’ but transliterally ‘world class’) is a term used surprisingly little in Italian football, compared to how often a player or action is labelled ‘world class’ as a way to draw a line in the sand and settle English football debates... or just keep those debates going on ad infinitum.

Why isn’t fuoriclasse used that much? I never got the impression Italian football is more discriminating about use of the word but, strangely, that the term simply doesn’t mean much. There’s no weight behind it when you do use it in Italian; it’s perfectly fine if you don’t, and no one’s going to get up-in-arms about it when you do.

In it’s place as the rightful equivalent in terms of magnitude, in the Italian football lexicon, stands imprevedibilita’ (I have to hope I spell that right each time).

Truthfully, you’ll commonly hear this as a collective quality of a team - if a side has that imprevedibilita’ to it, then it’s going to be hard to contain them and they’re the automatic favorites going into any game. Or it is commonly used on an individual level to describe a passage of play. But when individually used to describe a player, then him being imprevedibile within his team means he is the source of creativity. If you bring imprevedibilita’ with your football, then you are that extra something - the extra spice to the meal.

It also means an opposing defender found him ‘unplayable’ on that day. There was just no plan, no tactic and no premeditated strategy you could use to hold him down.

It’s almost always tied to the guy who plays the classic number 10 role within his side, and often gets used to describe Paulo Dybala at Juventus more than anyone else in calcio during the last few years. When Roma is spoken about, it’s Lorenzo Pellegrini today who gets tied to this word. And we’re not just talking about Roman press.

In the game away to Fiorentina, it was Beppe Bergomi - the same Inter legend - waxing lyrical over how imprevedibile Lorenzo Pellegrini was within Roma’s play. As a matter of fact, Sky Italia couldn’t stop going on about it for the rest of the first half, after witnessing Lorenzo Pellegrini’s second-man-assist for Roma’s opener on the way to a 4-1 victory on the night.

You had Sky Tech replays for the next half hour of the game, at every break of play, re-analyzing Pellegrini’s play. To be fair, Lorenzo beating four Fiorentina men and the Viola’s entire offside trap within the same move was really that impressive. But my point here is our coverage of Lorenzo Pellegrini is really moderate compared to how much coverage he gets within the Italian game media-wide across the entire landscape of calcio, not just in Rome.

Then came Pellegrini’s finish to get himself on the score-sheet in the second half. At that point Bergomi and lead commentator Ricky Buscaglia went right back to praising Lorenzo’s game. But Bergomi gave up any deep analysis and settled for: “It’s simple. Pellegrini is a player different from the rest. He is different from the rest.”

Say, Roma... any chance you could remove that 30 million release clause from his contract sometime soon?

Un crack: Cengiz Ünder

Football Europa League Roma-Wolfsberger

Closest English equivalent: The closest English-usage equivalent would be ‘a coup’ even if not an English word. But also a thunderbolt.
Honourable mention: Edin Dzeko’s signing, Patrik Schick’s signing, any Mr. X signing.

Here we get onto English words used with a unique Italian inflexion. You can say something was a crack when you want to underline the statement of intent behind that action.

It’s most commonly used to describe an Ünder left-foot strike. Or an inspired piece of play from any player than completely changed the course of the game.

In a more general sense, it often underlines the importance of an incoming transfer move as either a coup or statement of ambition - regardless of how that transfer later turns out in real terms.

Edin Dzeko was a player at physical peak age when he signed for Roma from Manchester City for a cut-price transfer fee. Both at the time of signing and in the five years of Dzeko performances since, what a crack on the market that signing turned out to be. And yet Patrik Schick’s signing can also - even still today (though you’d be reaching) - be described as something that was a crack at the time, since Roma muscled in on signing after a Juventus failed medical.

It’s still understood as a crack today because you’re referring to Roma’s intent behind the signing, much like Juan Iturbe’s arrival proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Antonio Conte’s reign at Juventus. If you force a manager to call quits on a rival club, who wouldn’t argue that you performed a crack on the league?

Figlio d’arte: Justin Kluivert

AS Roma v Brescia Fc - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Closest English equivalent: Second-generation athlete, or third-generation, and so on. A player born into the sport through family heritage.
Honourable mention: Nicolò Zaniolo.

A figlio d’arte is a straightforward term for a second (or third)-generation footballer, who is carrying on the family business by picking up with their parent left off.

The figli d’arte are given quite a lot of relevance in Italian football. It’s not that those players are seen as a cut above the rest, but just something calcio likes to fanatically keep track of. Anyone who knows Italian stereotype knows it’s a country that loves to spin a story into a family affair.

Seriously, you’ll find entire pages dedicated to the category of figli d’arte in football among Italian writers. Even on the biggest English-language sports and media sites, whenever you get to their Italian sub-domains, there will be articles on this topic. We’re even guilty of doing out of feature on this at the Chiesa here.

In today’s Roma, the most high profile figlio d’arte is Justin Kluivert. But your father doesn’t have to have been a top-level player for you to immediately get branded with the term. Nicolò Zaniolo is just as regularly written of as a figlio d’arte, thanks to father Igor having played professionaly football for several years in the Italian football league.

Bomber: Edin Dzeko

AS Roma v Wolfsberger AC - UEFA Europa League Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Closest English equivalent: Goal-getter, goalscorer.
Honourable mention: Any player ever who’s made themselves synonymous with the #9 shirt.

Another English word that means so much more when used as an Italian term. You’re rarely “a” bomber so much as you are the bomber of your team.

Being recognized as the Bomber (yes. often capital B) is very high praise and admiration. You’d better think carefully before outright hailing a player as ‘Bomber’ because, once you do, you can’t take that back. There’s only one bomber in every side.

Look at any social media between professional players today, and ‘Ciao Bomber’ is a public recognition from one teammate to the other that the guy truly merits the number 9 shirt. He’s trusted by his team to be the tip of the spear leading the attack into every game. Most commonly it’s used as show of implicit, mutual trust between a trequartista and his partner just ahead of him. I’ll serve you the ammo, and you unload the bullets.

The man most affectionately known as ‘Bomber’ in Italian football is Christian Vieiri. He was even given license to self-reference himself as such, as the title of his own autobiography. But in Rome, the undisputed bomber is Edin Dzeko.

The guy who previously went around carrying this moniker in a Roma shirt was Roberto Pruzzo, owing to both his regularity of first-team appearances and goal-scoring.

Just to give you an example usages of the term, you can find feature articles that carry headlines like “Silvio Piolo, il più bomber di tutti” (‘the most bomber of all’) and “Bomber in attivita’” (‘bomber players active today’).

It’s absolutely a term to set a player apart for his role on the team, and comes with its own share of prestige.

Cattiveria: Gabriel Batistuta

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Group C - Roma v RC Genk Photo by John Walton/EMPICS via Getty Images

Closest English equivalent: A myriad term referring to anywhere between ‘antagonism’ and ‘will to win’, ‘will to hurt your opponent’ depending on what position on the field you’re talking about
Honourable mentions: Zan Celar, Daniele De Rossi or Gianluca Mancini (both the latter in the non-goalscoring sense of the term)

Let’s call this the bonus round. Sure, you’ll find cattiveria defined as a kind of wickedness, but that just doesn’t do it justice. And to be frank, nobody in the current Roma team has it. At least not in the goal-scoring sense. You can rightly call that a huge contradiction, considering we just got done spelling out how Dzeko is the bomber of the team, but there’s a world of difference between a player who’s molded himself into a scorer of goals and a natural-born goalscorer.

Cattiveria is actually applied differently all over the pitch, but most often used to describe a striker’s ability to put the ball in the back of the net. A guy who lives goal-scoring in his bones, and probably spent the pre-match buildup picturing how he’d slot the ball underneath the arms of his own grandmother in goal if given the opportunity. Gabriel Batistuta remains Roma’s modern symbol of an antagonistic striker who’ll score no matter the circumstance, at any cost. Even if he had to play through the last remains of knee cartilage to strike the ball. In the meantime, Dzeko can can comfort himself with the fact that he’s better in every other area of the game than Batistuta had been.

And yet that just goes to show you how much cattiveria is valued, not just in Italy but world football. You’re either born with it or you’re not. If you do have it, you can carve yourself a career in football’s top echelon long past your retirement date. You’ll have people throwing dollar signs your way for the entire duration of your stay in the game.

Case in point, Batistuta recently revealed that Roma not only offered Vincenzo Montella’s number 9 shirt to get him to sign on in Rome, but Francesco Totti’s captain armband too. It has to be said that Batistuta is the only guy to have told this story, unverified by anyone else, and claims it was offered in the locker room between senior Roma players (including Aldair) without Totti present. Either choose to believe Bati’s story or not, because no one else is telling a different side either way.

If true, then luckily Gabi declined both offers and signed on to deliver Roma’s 2001 title anyway.

AS Roma striker Argentinian Gabriel Batistuta (C) Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images

Look at your favorite striker today: Is he simply a guy who scores more chances than he misses? Or is he someone who gives off the impression he would absolutely bury the ball in the back of the net when given even a sniff of goal? The latter is a guy described as cattivo.

Anytime a guy cranes his neck to be first to a tap-in or headed goal when the defender was actually favourite to win the ball (to be fair to Dzeko, he did this away to Bologna two seasons ago), or anytime a striker gets a moment of space in a deadlocked 0-0 match and buries the ball into the net with minimal backlift on his shot to deliver the 1-0 cagey victory that day. That is cattiveria.

There’s no moment more iconic of this spirit than Batistuta, likeable guy that he was, probably having a bit of verbal banter on the pitch with his former Fiorentina teammates, in his first game against them back in 2000.

Suddenly, the ball breaks to Batigol nearly 30 yards out in the middle match that has 0-0 written all over it. His opponents took their eye off the game for a split second, probably reminiscing over the last time they went out to dinner with Bati and the family back in Florence, but that was all the time needed for Batistuta to put the ball in the back of the net as Fiorentina switched off for just a split second.

Roma walked way 1-0 winners on the day. And hey man, it’s nothing personal... says the scorpion to the frog. Batistuta was just born cattivo. You put a ball and some space in front of him, and he’s going to put it in the back of the net every time.

In modern Roma teams, arguably only Zan Celar has personnified cattiveria up front for Roma Primavera in the last two seasons prior to this one. Marco Tumminello also put in on full display at senior level in the summer of 2017 against Spurs. But after two major knee surgeries and a permanent move away, it’s doubtful Tumminello will be back in a Roma shirt anytime soon, if ever.

AS Roma v Parma Calcio - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Cattiveria can also be used to describe the will to win in other areas of the pitch, completely separate from a striker’s will to score. When applied in a more global sense to players around the park, being cattivo is just bending the rules to the absolute limit without breaking them. A straightforward example is the willingness to commit a tactical foul and keep your team on top of the game.

For that, you’d have to look at Daniele De Rossi as the guy, even though he’s sometimes pushed it too far and outright been caught breaking the rules. When that happens, you are not called cattivo. You are just known as ‘sent off’.

Today, Gianluca Mancini is an up-and-coming contender in this category. He’s just got that niggley side to him where he’ll leave a foot in a split second earlier or later than necessary. Just enough to make sure his opponent is in line to have a bad day, while the referee passively accepts Mancini bullying his opponent into oblivion.


Have you read/heard any calcio terms that you feel we overlooked? Disagree with the usage of the terms listed above? Have your say below.