A Hall-ow Honor

On Monday, the Italian Football Hall of Fame, inaugurated in 2011, honored ten inductees. Headlining the class were Argentinian forward Diego Maradona, who really didn’t need an intro like that (active 1976-1997; with 1984-1991 spent at Napoli), defenseman Fabio Cannavaro (active 1992-2011, chiefly at Parma, along with 136 caps) and Carlo Ancelotti, current manager of Real Madrid (and owner of 26 caps as a midfielder). Also inducted were: forward Sandro Mazzola (active 1960-197, all with Inter Milan, along with 70 caps), Stefano Braschi (referee from 1992-2002), Giuseppe Marotta (current executive with Juventus, also known for a role at Sampdoria), forward Carolina Morace (active 1978-1998, with 150 caps), midfielder Giacomo Bulgarelli (active 1959-1975, nearly all at Bologna, with 29 caps), Ferruccio Novo (president of Torino from 1939-1953), and Carlo Carcano (managed from 1925-1949, most famously at Juventus, plus 5 caps as a midfielder).

All, I am sure, are deserving choices. Early-year selections to a sports Hall of Fame are typically spent inducting the no-brainers; the more contentious selections tend to come a little further down the line after the obvious names are already in. The problem is not with them.

The problem is with the hall itself, and the very idea of it.

To explain why, examine the North American halls of the four major domestic sports. As I’ve previously explained here, most principal North American sports leagues feature what is heavily and unmistakably the best talent the world of that sport has to offer. Their respective halls of fame reflect this.

*The Football Hall of Fame focuses exclusively on the American game. However, nobody sees this as a problem. There is nobody anyone could name that falls outside that spectrum that would be likely to even hold a job in the NFL, much less make the Hall of Fame. Underrepresenting certain eras and positions are the main stages of debate instead.

*The Baseball Hall of Fame also focuses exclusively on the American game. This causes a slightly larger problem, as there is also a Japanese league- with its own hall of fame, located inside the Tokyo Dome- which includes talent that could very plausibly sit amongst American-based Hall of Famers, but which sees any Japanese achievements automatically discounted even when they do make it to MLB. Thus, no Sadaharu Oh, for instance. However, the number of potentially affected players is small enough that this isn’t seen as enough of a problem to worry very much about. There are plenty of other debates going on without that needing to be brought up too.

*The Basketball Hall of Fame does permit itself to induct from outside the US, and has inducted a handful of people who were neither American nor ever wore an American uniform- Sergei Belov, Uljana Semjonova, Kresimir Cosic, Drazen Dalipagic, Dino Meneghin, Hortencia Marcari, Ubiratan Pereira Maciel, and Oscar Schmidt. A small number, but as the NBA is the unquestioned dominant league, minor representation seems about right. The big knock on the basketball hall is, rather, the opaqueness of the induction process itself.

*The Hockey Hall of Fame is really the most instructive here. The NHL is regarded as the best league. However, there is a significant amount of talent that never enters, nor seeks, the NHL, preferring to play in Europe instead. Far more than is reflected in the Hockey Hall of Fame’s induction class. While the Hall is ostensibly open to international players, barely anyone from outside the NHL has managed to get in, to the chagrin of no small number of hockey fans who will sometimes call the institution the ‘NHL Hall of Fame’ as an insult.

It’s a miniature analog of the problem of an Italian-specific soccer hall of fame. While honoring the best of your own country is fine in its own respect, a step up from an individual club’s hall of fame, the world’s just too big. The talent is too spread out for a serious soccer hall of fame to limit itself to one country, or one continent. In this sport, you have to go global or go home. And as it stands, no currently-existing Soccer Hall of Fame goes global. Wikipedia lists halls as existing in Italy, England, Scotland, the United States, Canada, Germany, Israel and Australia; off-list, it appears Brazil has one as well. There is also one covering Asia. But all of these halls stay within their own geographic zones. It’s rather ironic that the Asian hall is the one that comes closest to having the right idea, despite having one of the weakest collections of talent.

Let’s put it this way: if there were a truly global Soccer Hall of Fame, personally, I might think that a plausible ten-person inaugural class would look something like this: Pele (BRA), Diego Maradona (ARG), Franz Beckenbauer (GER), Johan Cruyff (NED), Lev Yashin (URS), Alfredo di Stefano (ARG/SPA), Bobby Moore (ENG), Ferenc Puskas (HUN), Rinus Michels (NED) as a manager pick, and then Jules Rimet (FRA) as an executive/pioneer/etc. pick. You can sub names in and out as you please, but I figure that class wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows.

The failing of each and every hall of fame currently in physical existence on the face of the Earth is that not a single one of them would consider all ten of these people as even eligible for inclusion. There are nine different countries represented just in that one class. Many of them would not be eligible for any of the halls in existence, and some of them only gain eligibility for a specific portion of their career… such as Maradona’s Italian induction. Had he never been transferred to Napoli, he never would have been inducted no matter how good he was. Pele and Beckenbauer are in the American hall, but only due to the time they spent as New York Cosmos, not their time at Santos and Bayern Munich. The Scottish, Canadian, Israeli, Australian and Asian halls wouldn’t induct any of them.

I turned up two places online that have made an attempt at a truly global hall. This place only inducted a single class of 25 and went inactive in 2000. This one, currently being updated, has some 300 names representing 40 countries; while it doesn’t include anyone in a non-playing role, that would resemble a more filled-out hall. The formatting of the site is, let’s be honest, awful, but that doesn’t stop it from being a better Soccer Hall of Fame than any existing Soccer Hall of Fame.

Honoring the greatest ever to take part in the game is an important function of any sport that takes itself seriously. In a sport as large as this, when it’s a task simply to get your full name recorded in the history books, when it’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the places where matters of importance are happening at once, it is doubly important for a place to exist where someone new to the sport, even a nation trying to build up its program, can get a centralized crash course on who and what has truly mattered most, and right now, it doesn’t.

It’s not like it’d be hard to create. People seem to love building these things.

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