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

As an international player, he made his debut on the Gazzetta with Brera. The double invincible with Tommasi on TV

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


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. For this we loved him, even before we patted him. And we could not wait to read how that day, as he wandered through the secondary fields of Paris or New York, he had encountered the talent of the then unknown Sampras or Evert or Borg, and revealed their existence to his brothers from 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 to life again. After all, Gianni loved the story and the story, much more than the news: but no one missed the result after reading one of his articles.

Illuminated conservator

He was obviously a bit snobby, especially because of his marked detachment from any other sport, football at first, but he often seemed to play that role with class instead of being a slave to it. And he was a master at sourcing the good old days of nostalgia, white suits, the silent public, service-and-salve, irreparably lost environments and gestures. Those born in the golden age, after all, cross the present with a hint of unrest and see the future as a potential enemy. Therefore, from a technical point of view, Clerici was an enlightened conservative (whom Brera, after all, anchored in his beloved bolt). Together with his younger colleagues, among whom I myself was, he was nonetheless kind and patient in supporting their assault on the new technical schools. I remember I had challenged him because he had mocked Becker, who discovered seventeen at the Milan tournament: “But how stupid can a boy be who pretends to beat McEnroe?”. And then it became a breeze for us to call each other every turn that was overtaken by the German, a few weeks later, first at Queen’s and then at Wimbledon. In fact, he knew how to limit his taste in a bubble of personal emotion and was an unsurpassed guide to describing the game’s development and interpreting the new masters, up to Sinner. When I knew 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 90-year-old, but always thirsty for new snowshoes.

The television

And then the TV popularity, of course. With Rino Tommasi, Gianni Clerici formed the most popular commentator duo of the time. The pairing between chronicler-statistician Tommasi, unforgiving in his rigor, and the somewhat distracted and dreamy wanderer who knew how to ease the long hours of games and sets, with half-lines, neologisms, found of all kinds, is unsurpassed. At some point, it is likely 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 cannot be repeated. Tommasi had nicknamed his partner “Dr. Divago”, but in reality they both spoke the same language with deep knowledge of the sport they were talking about. The audience immediately understands the genuineness of enthusiasm and competence of those on the other side of the microphone. We loved this elderly gentleman, who opened to 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 curiosity, it is only our fault. Thank you, Gianni.

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