A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ORIUNDO

Mauro Camoranesi was a particularly easy target for critics because he never sang the Italian national anthem before matches, a complaint routinely rolled out during Italy's triumphant World Cup campaign six years ago.  In his defence, Camoranesi stated he simply did not know the lyrics.

According to a 2011 report by Fondazione Migrantes, an estimated 60-80 million people of Italian descent live abroad, making it one of the world's largest diasporas. The statistics speak for themselves; Brazil boasts an estimated 25 million people of Italian descent, the largest such population outside of Italy. The majority (at least 60%) of all Argentines have at least one Italian ancestor, while the United States can lay claim to possessing the most well-known Italian community abroad. Other countries that hold significant populations of 'hyphenated Italians' include Canada, Australia, Germany and Great Britain. It is only natural that some of these individuals descending from Italian émigrés would be talented enough footballers that they would go on and represent their ancestral home in international football.

The history of the oriundo can be traced back to the origins of the mass exodus of Italians from their homeland in the late 19th and early 20th century. As football became more and more of a worldwide game during the beginning of the last century, South America, or more specifically Argentina and Uruguay, emerged as the dominant force in the international game. It also just happens to be that both countries possessed large Italian populations. Owing to the influence of these Italians living in the Hispanophone world, the word oriundo itself is Spanish for 'native,' however this term did not come into parlance until the 1950s. Before then these individuals were known as rimpatriati, or 'repatriated' in Italian.

Incidentally, however, the first oriundo was not from Argentina or Uruguay, but from Switzerland. Ermanno Aebi earned the first of his two caps for the Azzurri on 18 January 1920 in a friendly against France in Milan. Aebi was born in Milan to a Swiss father and Italian mother; however, he spent his formidable years in the Swiss city of Neuchatel and moved back to Italy at 18 years of age to play for Inter, where he spent his entire career.       

As the Italian league grew and became increasingly professional in the 1920s under the new fascist government, club owners became intent on attracting the best players to join their respective squads. At this stage Serie A was literally decades  ahead of Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil in becoming professional, as the latter three countries' national leagues did not turn pro until the early 1930s. So began the exodus of South America's best players to the Old World, with Italy a particularly attractive destination since teams there paid their players better than most.

The Italian government's policy at the time allowed for anyone of Italian descent who returned to their ancestral home to be 'repatriated,' that is, they were able to automatically obtain dual citizenship without undergoing the long naturalization process. South American players with Italian ancestry could then, in theory, play for the Italian national team so long as they plied their trade in Italy. The Italian FA, naturally, took advantage of this rule in an attempt to improve their own national team's performances.

The phenomenon of the oriundo did not come to the fore until the late 1920s and early 1930s, when legends such as Raimundo Orsi, Luis Monti, and Enrique Guaita played professionally in their ancestral home; Orsi and Monti played for Juventus, while Guaita spent two years playing for AS Roma. Five oriundi played for Italy at the 1934 World Cup, the aforementioned three plus Argentine Atilio Demaria and Sao Paulo-born attacker Anfilogio Guarisi. Orsi and Monti were of particular importance as their performances helped Vittorio Pozzo's side win their first Jules Rimet trophy. Four years later in Italy's second World Cup triumph, Uruguayan native Miguel 'Michele' Andreolo was the sole oriundo in the squad.

The use of oriundi in the Italian national team would not come back into fashion until the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the likes of Omar Sivori, Humbtero Maschio, Jose Altafini, and Alcides Ghiggia graced the Azzurri lineup. Eddie Firmani, a name famous to South African and American football fans, amassed three caps for the Azzurri in the late 1950s as well. The practice generally fell out of fashion after the 1962 World Cup due to the fallout from the infamous 'Battle of Santiago' and restrictions on the number of foreigners per team in Serie A.

It has only been recently that oriundi have returned to the Azzurri with the most famous of these being Argentine-born Mauro Camoranesi, who boasts roots from a small town in Marche, a region in central Italy. The ex-Juventus winger is the most-capped oriundo representing his adopted country 55 times. More recent oriundi include American Giuseppe Rossi, Italo-Brazilian Thiago Motta, and the Argentine Pablo Osvaldo; Rossi's parents are from the Abruzzo region while Motta's and Osvaldo's ancestors are from Veneto and Marche respectively. At Euro 2012, Motta played a key role in Cesare Prandelli's 'rotating diamond' midfield with his defensive work and neat passing.

There has always been some form of resistance towards oriundi featuring for Italy, mostly coming from nationalist politicians and journalists who feel a native-born Italian should be given preference over an 'import.' Mauro Camoranesi's initial inclusion for the Azzurri in 2003 was met with a maelstrom of criticism, not least because he was the first oriundo to be called up in forty years. Camoranesi was a particularly easy target for critics because he never sang the Italian national anthem before matches, a complaint routinely rolled out during Italy's triumphant World Cup campaign six years ago; in his defense, Camoranesi stated he simply did not know the lyrics. He often mentioned that despite carrying an Italian passport and playing for the Azzurri, he felt first and foremost Argentine.

Upon winning the World Cup, the midfielder stated in an interview, "I feel Argentine but I have defended the colours of Italy, which is in my blood, with dignity. That is something nobody can take away." Camoranesi's declaration defines the entirety of the oriundo experience better than any goal or trophy ever could. 

IBWM is open to everyone to share their stories. If you'd like to submit an article on any topic, please contact us.