HE made a lot of money. He bought the local team. He spent...

Salmagundi

March 25, 1994

HE made a lot of money. He bought the local team. He spent millions of dollars signing star players. And he parlayed that high profile into a chance for high electoral office.

Peter Angelos? Not yet. But Silvio Berlusconi, owner of AC Milan, the finest soccer team in the world's finest soccer league, leads the party favored in Italy's elections this weekend.

Beyond the sports connection, Mr. Berlusconi may have more in common with Ross Perot than with Peter Angelos, the Oriole owner who is reported to be considering a run for governor of Maryland. He has formed a new political party and, in the wake of an enormous national corruption scandal, is pushing the idea that a businessman can do a better job than traditional politicians. (At a campaign rally, the Wall Street Journal reported, he said his party stands for "an Italy that produces, not an Italy that chatters.")

The campaign has produced a dilemma for soccer fans, at least for those loyal to Italy's national team (now preparing to compete in the World Cup in the United States in June and July) but not comfortable with Mr. Berlusconi's right-wing politics.

The traditional cheer for the national team is "Forza Italia" (roughly, "Go, Italy"), but that's also the name of Mr. Berlusconi's party. Azeglio Ciampi, the incumbent prime minister and a political opponent of Mr. Berlusconi, suggested before a match with France last month that fans chant, "Italia, Italia," reported Soccer America.

Whether the resulting confusion among the fans was a factor or not, Italy suffered an embarrassing 1-0 loss in the home match to a French team which had failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Is there a lesson here for Mr. Angelos?

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