Kicko the ballo

Are British sportsmen and women finally waking up to the value of multilingual communication?

During his eleven years at Arsenal, Aaron Ramsay endeared himself to fans by scoring two FA Cup final winning goals. After his move to Juventus two years ago he had to start again, and he’s worked hard to fit in off the field as well as on it. In his first interview as a Juventus player, when asked about the importance of speaking Italian in his new surroundings, his answer was unequivocal:

“It’s important to speak their language and really commit to immersing yourself in their culture and understanding it”

Ramsey has been in Turin for two seasons, winning trophies in each. He isn’t a fluent Italian speaker yet, but he’s still trying. His approach has been refreshing. In the mid-1980s his fellow Welsh international, Ian Rush, also moved to Juventus. At the time Rush was rated among the best centre forwards in the world, but his Turin experience was a nightmare of homesickness and failure to integrate. When he returned to Liverpool after one miserable season away he hadn’t learned a word of Italian.

Overseas players coming to Britain haven’t always had the most constructive of welcomes. As a young fan I remember watching a training session at my home town club where a Spanish teenager was being introduced to his new team-mates and their playing style. The coach placed the ball at his feet and, in his best Mediterranean accent, urged the player to “kicko the ballo”.

Luckily this young man learned English quickly, and it’s striking how well most overseas players and managers have adapted to British football. When Jurgen Klinsmann moved to Tottenham in 1994 he spoke better English than most of his UK-born team mates. Two decades on, Jurgen Klopp’s eloquence and passion helped him build an immediate rapport with Liverpool fans that underpinned their subsequent success. This weekend, the 2021-22 Premier League season began with ten fixtures that featured players of 50 different nationalities. We were brought to our feet by goals from Said Benrahma of Algeria, Neil Maupay of France, Richarlison de Andrade of Brazil, Son Heung Min of South Korea and Bruno Fernandes of Portugal. And we were impressed by one overseas player and manager after another, articulate and insightful in English language post-match interviews. Learning the language and appreciating the culture of your hosts isn’t just polite; it’s a very smart career move. Ask any of the countless service providers whose prospects and profitability have been boosted by accurate, nuanced multilingual communication.

How do you want the world to see you?

Are you the person with the comical hand gestures, the foolish accent and the indecipherable website, or the person who’s speaking their language?

We’ve all made tougher decisions than this, haven’t we?