Francesco Angelini talks about… (interview)

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Francesco Angelini, you’re one of the most important sponsor of the Italian and World bridge: what’s going on today in the Italian bridge? Would you draw a sketch of what’s happening? The most meaningful thing recently happened in Italian bridge is an event that none of us had believed it could happen, or better none believed it could have been allowed, so much that it is thought to denounce it as not correct from either technical or procedural aspect. I’m clearly talking about the fact that six people have been registered in a team of Monaco: we’re talking about six people who certainly know how to play bridge but have nothing to do with Monaco.  Two of them come from Norway, one comes from France, two come from Italy, with a Swiss sponsor, Zimmermann, who sits at table only in the opening matches, when the opponents are of minor skill, and plays only two or three key matches.

You have to know that Monoaco is as wide as  the place where I’m living in Grottaferrata [a little town next to Roma. Ed note]. Now, it is a non sense that in an European championship would be built an “Harlequin” team competing with National teams as Germany, Poland, Italy, Holland, France, England, Russia, Ucraine… I ask myself how could to play a team which hasn’t the typical character to play an European championship. I have been reported that many in Dublin laughed when it has been sung the Monaco anthem.

You are saying that this team hasn’t the character to play an European Championship, but the European Bridge League (EBL) allowed Monaco’s participation.

And I say to you that there are many federations, ruling bodies, and bridge organisations that are absolutely against it, and that are complaining and are going to denounce what happened as absolutely unusual, and unfitting for an event of such a nature.

Why are these complains arising only now, why no statements of disapproval have been moved before the championship?

We’re talking about a very recent event that has been impossible early to oppose against; it lacked the time to built up a formal opposition.

You therefore assert that the new Monaco Team is the key element in the European and Italian modern bridge. Can you tell us how was born this idea, for what you know of it? I specifically would talk about the adhesion of the two Italian player to the Zimmermann’s plan.

I of course know this matter from a to zed. Claudio and Fulvio had been playing in my team since a lot of years. Let’s tell I practically took them from a bridge club of Ostia [a sea town next to Rome. Ed note] where they played with old ladies. That’s the beginning of Fantoni-Nunes. Soon they stopped to work and started to play professional bridge with me. It happened a day that Maria Teresa Lavazza decided to not call Fantoni and Nunes – and I agree with her – after an unpleasant episode happened at 2007 Shangai World Championships. As it is now well known, Italy lost the quarter-final of Bermuda Bowl against South Africa, and five minutes later the Fantunes entered the Zimmermann Team to play the Transnational Championship. That demeanour has been censured by all us. As you know, between Mrs Lavazza and me there had been rivalry in the past, but today it is not longer so, and I can assure you that we get along now. I think anyway that Mrs Lavazza were right then, and in the following European Championships, those of 2008, she didn’t summon Fantoni-Nunes, substituting them by me and Antonio Sementa, with whom I played since ten years, being a well acquainted pair. Think that we made the top of the points scored by a pair in an European championship.

I would talk later of Sementa. I think that the most stern exclusion has been the one from Ostende European Championships, because only after that that the Fantunes decided to leave Italy. You defended the Roman pair until to attack Mrs Lavazza for a clash of interests…

I want to point to that I didn’t absolutely know the plan of Fantunes. Being unaware of it, I was planning the tasks of my team, working on trials to Lille World Championships. I knew only at last minute that Fantoni and Nunes would leave my team to go to Monaco.

But they went to Monaco because the exclusion from Ostend’s European Championships…

It’s not compulsory to be included. Many others happened to be excluded, it isn’t a good reason to go to play for Monaco.

I remember that in that time you got “angry” at Mrs. Lavazza.

This is true, but the contrast came earlier, since the European Championships of Pau 2008. There was a misunderstanding between us, and Mrs. Lavazza let me know I wouldn’t have played against Denmark. That was a match to which I had got ready by a long way, and I should have played because the pair Angelini-Sementa had beat the Dane nine times out ten

Back to Ostende affair. The Fantunes were excluded from the Italian Team and since then in their mind ripened the idea to go to Monaco.

Yes, the idea ripened in their mind, but nor me nor the others of the squad knew it. Truthfully speaking, do you know how I got it? We all were at my home planning the team’s commitments. Then Fantoni arose saying : “Bear in mind that I’m not interested to play the trials in Italy, nor to modify the system, because together with Claudio Nunes I’m going to play for Monaco”

How did you get this, Dr. Angelini? I ask it because, besides the job relationship, I know that you and Fulvio were good friends. Fulvio got married in your estate in Toscana…

We have been close friends for many years. As I was telling before, I met Fulvio and Claudio when they still weren’t the “Fantunes” and played in a little club. That was the starting of a full friendship. And what happened later isn’t excusable. Let me say that this demeanour isn’t acceptable. To your sponsor, to whom that always has treated in outstanding way under every viewpoint, not only economic, you come to say “I’m not interested to play the trials on what you’re working because I’m going to play for Monaco”?!

Later you had to withdraw the team from Lille’s trials because you hadn’t enough players…

Right. They left without noticing, or better by a warning made five minutes before the Monaco project would become formal. As I said, we were right here, at my home. I was behaving as home host, I greeted them kindly and with fondness, as ever. But this doesn’t remove the fact that they made something absolutely unconceivable from my viewpoint. I had been upset mainly humanely. We are talking of people which whom I have been together day after day for years and I have been kept in the dark of all. I have been noticed by a stiff communication, without explanation. I have had to face the fait accompli.

It’s very hard to believe such a behaviour. As far as I know Fulvio and Claudio, they do not seem to me such a people. But you that better know them, please, tell us: what kind of people are them?

Your question puts me in a quandary. I’m not used to speak about people with whom I shared years long friendship. I can only say that I am saddened. The only answer I can give to your question is the following: Claudio and Fulvio changed a lot for personal reasons and I will not comment on personal matters, because these are well known things in the bridge environment. At one point they started to change behaviour, to rebel at all, to mistreat many people that were friendly to them.

Sorry, but neither I  nor many of my readers know these “personal reasons” you are speaking about. Would you mind explain better?

Of course, in a competitive environment there is an high level of stress. Let me give an example: I can not stand the fact that one is considered stronger than me for so long time whereas I’ve become the number one. Who became the number one is clearly Fulvio Fantoni, but he should remember this result was obtained thanks to a team that dragged him until he became number one. I refer to my team in which many aces play such as Lauria, Versace, and for a long time even Antonio Sementa. When I talk about “personal reasons” I mean exactly that: the desire to prove that you are the number one, and you achieved this success all by yourself without help from others, and the others took advantage from your skill and not viceversa.

This created bad mood among the team-mates…

You are quite optimistic saying “bad mood”. Lorenzo Lauria who was the senior member and the strongest Italian player of the past 30 years could not stand such behaviour. Fulvio wanted to be the number one: After the painful defeat of Italy in Shanghai Bermuda Bowl, he did not hesitate to play Transnationals in order to grab the points that would allow him to climb the world ranking. The facts speak for themselves.

Let’s change topic. I would like to discuss with you other issues. The first one is the role of sponsors. You have mentioned yourself Zimmermann: You have said the he plays only a few insignificant matches. But you a are a playing sponsor too: You and Mrs Lavazza are the biggest Italian sponsors.

I’d like to explain the difference between Mrs Lavazza and me. Mrs. Lavazza has been playing bridge for a lifetime and she is also a good player. As for me, for a fairly log time I have been a professional player. I have always played with my team using an absolutely equal turnover mechanism. Thus, I have always played the same number of match as Lauria, Versace and others. The perfect turn-over was easily applicable as the technical contents were close enough between the various players.

You above recalled your partnership with Antonio Sementa. It is now time to talk about him. Maria Teresa Lavazza once told me: “It is not easy to play with Sementa”. Then, which player is Sementa according to you? How do you evaluate his ‘new’ partnership with Giorgino Duboin?

The pair-Duboin Sementa was the less brilliant in Dublin. I am not alone in thinking that today between Duboin and Sementa there is some disparity of strength: Antonio is still young, he is little over the forties and is definitely already a bridge star.

So why Sementa, who for you is a close friend and a bridge star, is now playing in the Lavazza’s team and no longer in the Angelini ‘s team?

It was a time when relations between me and Mrs. Lavazza were not as good as now and Mrs. Lavazza wanted Sementa at all costs. She gave him an interesting offer unbeknownst to me… But this is normal market: Antony is a professional player. We were stile close friends, and we often meet because I am also godfather of his son.

Let’s talk about sponsors and transfer-market. At a certain point Zaleski emerged as the third biggest sponsor of the Italian bridge snatching Laura and Versace for a brief period. Both aces are now “back home”. What role Zaleski is playing in the Italian bridge?

Zaleski wanted to lead his team to play the most important levels. Even here there was a major economic offer. But the entry of Zaleski was not very decisive in the bridge mechanism. Unlike Zimmermann, who is a very unusual phenomenon in the present framework.

About the sponsors and the transfer-market: At the past Italian Spring Championships you hired the Duch pair Brink-Drijver. They are the Bermuda Bowl winners and in their country many people consider them the best Duch pair. True to tell, their performance was not very bright here in Italy…

Sioert Brink and Bas Drijver are two exquisite guys: They have great kindness and affability and obviously we are talking about a strong pair. When they played for my team unbelievable bridge things happened… But these guys are young and good, certainly they become champions. Regardless the performance, my experience with them has been positive because for me is very important the personal quality of people.

The Duch bridge’s prospective seems to be optimistic. I’m wondering where Italian bridge is going on. Will you talk about Italian situation? Well, one year ago (July 2011) the Italian federation has been put under a commissioner for administrative failures and this week-end the elections for a new President will be held*; Mrs. Lavazza resigned as open team’s coach; we lost perhaps the two best players (Fantunes); in Dublin the team did not shone… in short, which future does await us?

It’s hard to define this moment, but it is not all bad. After the elections we will build a new Federation and there are many ideas absolutely positive. I hope we will come out in a pretty brilliant way. But when you tell me that we lost the best players, I absolutely do not agree: Fantoni and Nunes are absolutely not the best Italian players.

And how do you see the future of the Blue Team after the bronze in Dublin?

Today the situation is not brilliant, but is not a total mess. In sports, it happens that good times alternate with bad ones. Now I do not know who will be the next coach of the national team, but we now have six players that are considered among the best players in the world. Maybe we can say that four of these six are absolutely the best in the world.

As you consider Lauria and Versace two of the best player all over the world, I think the other pair you are referring to is Bocchi-Madala…

Norberto Bocchi and Agustin Madala played the best bridge in the recent European Championship in Dublin. Thus, I really do not think that the situation of Italian bridge is in a mess.

Last question is an hypothesis: If you were called to play with the Italian Open Team for next Bermuda Bowl in Bali, what’s your answer?

Other players deserve to play in Open Team before me, but obviously if I had the honour of being called I would say yes!


Laura Camponeschi

July 9, 2012

* The interview has been live recorded July 3, 2012

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