Farewell to Clerici, culture and irony: sport thanks its scribe

An international player, he made his debut at the Gazzetta with Brera. That double unbeatable with Tommasi on TV

Gianni one, Gianni the other. Close enough in age. It was no coincidence that Brera actually opened Clerici’s career, inviting him to write in the Gazzetta of the early 1950s, and shortly after taking him to the “Giorno”. The elder had understood that that twenty-year-old from a good family, soaked in tennis, was made of the same stuff as him. A mix of culture, love for sport, and in particular of his technique, cynicism, talent of storytellers. Those who have tried to imitate them have fallen into ridicule and pathetic. They were unique specimens, not reproducible: genes are admired, they do not teach. All the more in our days, those of the eagerness to devour news, without the patience to absorb the nectar of the gods of sport. These phenomena serve to mark the time and the epoch to which they belong.

Shaman

With Clerici we lose the shaman who enchants the uncultivated in front of the fire with his fascinating stories, or more simply who had the patience to tell us a story when we were old enough to listen to it. This is why we loved him, even before applauding him. And we could not wait to read how that day, wandering through the secondary fields of Paris or New York, he had come across the talent of the then unknown Sampras or Evert or Borg, revealing their existence to his brothers of the tennis sect. We took his word for it. His book production, largely dedicated to his beloved sport, is a treasure trove of knowledge, lovingly brought back to life. After all, Gianni loved the story and the story, much more than the news: but no one missed the result after reading an article by him.

Illuminated conservator

He was a bit snobbish, of course, especially for his marked detachment from any other sport, football in the first place, but he often seemed to play that part with class rather than being a slave to it. And he was a master in tickling the nostalgia of the good old days, those of white suits, of the silent public, of the service-and-volley, irremediably lost environments and gestures. After all, those born in the golden age cross the present with a hint of unease and see the future as a potential enemy. Therefore, from a technical point of view Clerici was an enlightened conservative (like Brera, after all, anchored to his beloved bolt). With his younger colleagues, among whom I was myself, he was nevertheless kind and patient in supporting their assaults on the new technical schools. I remember having challenged him because he had laughed at Becker, who discovered seventeen at the Milan tournament: “But how stupid can a boy be who pretends to beat McEnroe?”. And so it became a game for us to call each other every turn overtaken by the German, a few weeks later, first at Queen’s and then at Wimbledon. In reality, he knew how to confine his tastes in a bubble of personal feelings and was an unparalleled guide in describing the evolution of the game and interpreting the new champions, up to Sinner. Knowing that he was suffering, I was moved to read, a few months ago, that the South Tyrolean had given him “a beautiful day”. He was a sick ninety-year-old, but always thirsty for new rackets.

The television

And then television popularity, of course. With Rino Tommasi, Gianni Clerici formed the most popular commentator duo of all time. The interlocking between the chronicler-statistician Tommasi, implacable in his rigor, and the somewhat distracted and dreamy rambler, who knew how to lighten the long hours of games and sets, with half-lines, neologisms, found of all kinds, is insuperable. At some point it is plausible that viewers would sit in front of the TV more to hear them than to follow Edberg or Federer. Or at least that the two offers were on par. This too is unrepeatable. Tommasi had nicknamed his partner “Dr. Divago”, but in reality they both spoke the same language of profound knowledge of the sport they were talking about. The audience immediately understands the genuineness of the enthusiasm and competence of those on the other side of the microphone. We loved this elderly gentleman, who opened us, without pedantry, many windows on life even more than on sport: if we have not been able to seize the opportunities to satisfy our curiosities, it is only our fault. Thanks, Gianni.

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