The Juventus ace has been subjected to horrific racial abuse in the land of his birth but he will lead the Azzurrini’s attack in the Under-21 Euros
As the racial abuse rained down on him from the Curva Nord at Cagliari’s Sardegna Arena, Moise Kean remained silent.
He simply stood still, arms outstretched, his gaze fixed firmly upon those who had spent the previous 85 minutes subjecting him to monkey chants, boos and whistles.
In doing so, he showed them the face of a new group of Italians: young, black and defiant. And it only made the ultras angrier.
The backlash wasn’t confined to the stands, though.
Cagliari president Tommaso Giulini incredibly accused Kean of inciting the racial hatred to which he was subjected.
Even his own team-mate, Leonardo Bonucci, embarrassed himself by claiming that the forward had to accept half of the blame, arguing that players have a duty as professionals “not to provoke anyone”.
Kean, though, was unrepentant. His silent protest was, as he put it himself, “the best response to racism”.
It was a clear, powerful message to the imbeciles who populate not only the stadia of Italy, but also its bars, restaurants and government: he and every other person of colour in the country will neither waver nor be intimidated by ignorance.
They are Italian. This is their home too; they are not going anywhere.
“I’m sorry but we’re all in the same country and if we live here, we must be treated as Italians,” Kean declared after netting his first senior international goal, against Finland in March.
The shameful scenes in Sardegna followed just 10 days later, underlining the scale, stubbornness and nonsensical nature of Italy’s problem with racism.
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‘Fans’ who would have cheered Kean’s historic strike against Finland subjected him to vile insults just over a week later.
Furthermore, the fact that the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) ultimately decided against imposing any further sanctions upon Cagliari only further dispirited those terrified by the recent and rapid rise in popularity of Matteo Salvini’s far-right, anti-immigration Lega party across the peninsula.
Football, of course, is merely a reflection of the society in which it is played. As such, it cannot be expected to cure all its ills.
It would also be desperately unfair to ask a 19-year-old to both restore the Azzurri to its former glory, while at the same time leading the fight against racism.
As Italy coach Roberto Mancini said recently, “You [the media] shouldn’t put too much pressure on Kean; he can’t solve all our problems by himself.”
Yet he can serve as a source of hope. His is a story of perseverance.
The son of Ivorian parents who divorced when Kean was only four, nothing came easy.
He and his brother Giovanni were raised in Asti by their mother, Isabelle, who made ends meet by regularly working night shifts at a treatment facility.
Kean came up with his own way of doubling what little money he had.
Every week, he would cobble together the €10 euro required to partake in a game of six-a-side on an asphalt pitch behind the local church.
The winners would walk away with all the cash, meaning the matches were as rough as the ground on which they were played.
Kean, thus, believes that his talent comes not just from God, but the streets. It is evident in the way in which he plays the game: hard, fast and with ingenuity.
It was those qualities which convinced Juventus to prise him away from city rivals Torino when he was just 10.
Just six years later, after scoring freely at under-age level for the Bianconeri, he became Juve’s youngest ever debutant when he replaced Mario Mandzukic in a Serie A clash with Pescara in Turin.
Securing regular game time at Juve was never going to be straightforward, though. He developed during a loan spell at Verona in 2017-18 but his frustration was mounting by the turn of the year.
When he made his Italy debut last November, he had yet to see even a minute of game time for Juve. A January transfer seemed inevitable. There was even talk of a loan move to Bologna.
Instead, he has arrived in ‘the red city’ this week as the star attraction in one of the strongest Under-21 squads Italy has ever assembled.
Gianluca Mancini, Nicolo Barella, Nicolo Zaniolo, Federico Chiesa and Patrick Cutrone have already been capped at senior level, while Alex Meret and Sandro Tonali have both previously been a part of Azzurri training camps.
Kean, though, is the big draw ahead of Sunday’s mouth-watering Group A clash with Spain and the fans are coming out in force to see him and his fellow Azzurrini.
The Renato Dall’Ara is sold out. One of the grand old grounds of Italy will be filled with 28,000 people hoping to catch a glimpse of a brighter future.
Kean can provide it.
As Juventus team-mate Giorgio Chiellini said in Sardegna, “Moise is a good face for Italy, a symbol of the rebirth of our movement.”
In that regard, Mancini’s senior squad have already gone some way towards soothing the pain of the Azzurri’s embarrassing failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup with a perfect start to their Euro 2020 campaign, while the Under-17s and Under-20s have done their part with podium placings at the European Championship in Ireland and World Cup in Poland, respectively.
Even more encouragingly, Italy’s women are capturing the imagination of the public like never before with their exploits in France thanks to long overdue national media coverage.
Now, it’s the turn of the Under-21s, a talented and determined group, but one with an infectious sense of humour, as best illustrated by the silly social media antics of Kean and his good friend Zaniolo.
Their posts may be frivolous but they offer a snapshot of what an increasingly polarised Italy could, and should, be: diverse yet united.
They provide further evidence of a people embracing change, as underlined by the success of singer Mahmood, a former X Factor winner of mixed race who triumphed at this year’s San Remo Music Festival with his smash-hit song ‘Soldi’.
Despite sadly predictable complaints, the son of a Sardinian mother and an Egyptian father went on to represent Italy at the Eurovision, and secure the nation’s best finish (second) in eight years.
Azzurre captain Sara Gama, the daughter of an Italian mother and a Congolese father, has already led her country through to the knockout stage of the Women’s World Cup, all the while dealing with both racism and sexism in her homeland.
Meanwhile, Kean, a proud Italian of Ivorian extraction, will carry the hopes of the nation at the Under-21 Euros.
Three new success stories: all young, black and defiant. There really is no better response to racism.