An Italian “Legionary” in Cuban Soccer

By Guillermo Nova

Pietro Resta with his Havana uniform.

HAVANA TIMES (dpa) — Pietro Resta is a fan of Milan’s Inter soccer club, but he has still a long way to go before he can play on the team of his dreams. After giving his all in Italy’s Fiorentina and Siena teams, the Italian soccer player is now trying his luck in the Caribbean for Cuba’s Ciudad de la Habana club.

Resta is something of an oddity: the one foreigner playing on a Cuban amateur soccer team. The 21-year-old Italian arrived at the island – a giant when it comes to baseball but more modest in terms of its achievements in soccer – to recover from an operation.

In 2009, a traffic accident forced him to quit the game. Following a femur fracture that put him out of circulation for four years, Resta chose to travel to Cuba, where his father works at an international firm, to fully recover from his injury.

“What surprises me the most about Cuban soccer is the technical proficiency of players,” Resta told DPA. “I hadn’t expected that. Here, people also play to have fun; soccer is still experienced as a game, with joy. In Italy, it’s more like a war,” he said.

His debut with the Siena in the A Series did not yield many results. Instead, Resta took to the field as a member of the Ciudad de la Habana team. Playing with the Havana team, currently number one in the Cuban league, has made Resta recover his hope of getting back in the game.

“I’m Italian and I would like to play in my country, but, if they called me to represent Cuba’s selection, I would step forward,” he says proudly, despite the fact that Cuba does not grant nationality to practically anyone.

Following a month in the field, the Italian player has already injured himself once (he has a sprained ankle).

“The playing field isn’t in very good condition. It’s very hard. They told me I could go back to training in a week,” Resta insists, his leg in a cast and over a pillow, in the living room of his seaside house.

After the tournament is over, Resta intends to return to Italy to see his family and friends. In the meantime, he will enjoy Cuba’s beaches. “Italy is seeing sub-zero temperatures right now,” he says, invoking the European winter.

“My greatest dream is to be able to play in the Italian A Series. I’m aware, however, that it’s going to be very difficult at this point. For the time being, I just want to play and have fun, that’s the most important thing for me right now,” he concludes.

In the 30s, it was not unusual to see foreign “legionaries” (particularly Spaniards) in Cuba’s soccer scene. Following the triumph of the revolution in 1959, however, only a handful of foreign students have taken part in matches as invitees.

The island did away with professional soccer at the beginning of the 60s. Though the island has become a force to be reckoned with in amateur boxing, athletics and wrestling, soccer still remains unfinished business.