Roman Nicknames: Il Corsaro Nero and Jack Sparrow

Roman Nicknames operates within a cohesive theme today, as we look into the genesis of two nicknames with piratic tendencies. Although DDR's facial hair would now make him a prime candidate to be an extra in any pirate film, this isn't about him. This is about two three fictional pirates and two very real Roma players, separated by three quarters of a century and re-connected by a host of nexuses.

Enrique Guaita came, saw, conquered and then he disappeared. His is not a story of legendary football heroics, his is not the usual success story. Guaita's story is rather one of endless potential, the sky being his only limit, and him reaching much too short to touch it. Having spent the latter days of his teens and the beginning of his twenties making noise in Argentina's Estudiantes, Guaita moved to Rome and Roma in 1933, still only 23 years old. After Volk had left Roma that same summer Guaita quickly worked to fill the void his predecessor had left, immediately becoming the club's best scorer. As good Argentineans were wont to in those days, he was thrown into the Italian national team and became a World champion for his adopted country less than a year upon arrival. During his second year he improved on the first, ending up with 28 goals in 29 games. On the eve of his third season, Mussolini declared war in Africa. Guaita, who had begun playing for the Italian national team, was eligible for being drafted into the war. Enrique Guaita, lethal with a football at his feet was soon to become a completely different kind of lethal with a rifle in his hands in Ethiopia. Seeking the counsel of the Argentinean consulate mere minutes after learning of his draft into Mussolini's army, he was never to be heard of again. The next day an eye witness called the club to inform them that Guaita and his wife (along with the club's two other Argentineans Scopelli and Stagnaro and their wifes) was seen climbing into a car carrying them out of town. Following the trace eventually led to a train station in Liguria, where they had boarded a train crossing the Alps for France. From there they embarked on a ship carrying them back to South America, and so ends the success and story of Guaita. He left Roma in arrested development, resigned to passively wonder "what if?" as Roma without its virtually sole attacking outlet finished a mere point behind scudetto winners Bologna. Guaita's career effectively died that day, less than a week after agreeing to a new contract making him the league's best paid player.

Enough tragic life story, you came for the etymology of nicknames, so nicknames I shall deliver: Guaita was nicknamed Il Corsaro Nero (The Black Pirate), a character from the literature of one Emilio Salgari. The greatness of this nickname lies in how it invites you to imagine your own stories. Did he wear an ear ring (unlikely), was he known for making daring dribbling raids which struck at the heart of the opponent (plausibe), swashbuckling (we can't rule it out) was he plotting the revenge for his three murdered brothers as in Salgari's novel (extremely unlikely)? This flirt with fantasy and adventure is why Il Corsaro Nero is my personal favorite of all Roman nicknames so far: it is decidedly fantastic. The not as fun truth is that he was given the nickname because of the largely forgotten fact that Guaita's two years in Roma overlapped perfectly with a time when the club played in black shirts.


Another of Emilio Salgari's characters is Sandokan, a pirate fighting against British colonialism in Malesia. The novels of his adventures were adapted into a very popular tv-series in Italy in the 1970's, which probably inspired the appropriation of that name by a very different kind of pirate: for years Francesco Schiavone, known always as Sandokan, was the most powerful figure of the Neapolitan camorra, the very powerful and very brutal criminal organization controlling much of the construction in Italy and shipping and trade in Europe. A legend in the city (the name Sandokan was ostensibly chosen due to a likeness in facial hair, but its connotations penetrate much further and evoke a sense of a people's champion fighting against state oppression, i.e. the British Empire:the Italian state), he was likely well known to Marco Borriello as he grew up in that same city, in what is claimed by some sources as one of the most crime infested neighborhoods of Naples. Having that distinction in a city plagued with crime means that it was with all certainty rough. When he was only eleven years old, his father was murdered by the camorra. When he returned to play Napoli with Roma previously this month, the people in his old neighborhood seemed more proud and loyal to him than to the hometown club. If that love-hate relationship to your roots is not confusing to a boy growing up, I don't know what is.

Connecting the nexuses of this indulgence in nickname etymology, Mussolini's African campaign, and piratic adventures, is Carlo Zampa. After Borriello scored against Genoa, he cried out with appropriate giddiness that Jack Sparrow had scored. We can surmise that he was given the nickname after the 21st Century's most beloved pirate (having been unable to pay attention during the third film due to its general awfulness, I am unclear on whether Keira Knightley becomes a pirate in the end. Because she'd be my favorite pirate, in that case). Unless there are previously undisclosed extracurricular activities that Borriello is fond of, such as the commandeering of ships in the Mediterranean, we have to guess that it's owed to a sort of physical resemblance to the character. I think it's kind of a stretch myself, it's not the most natural nickname I've ever heard. When you look at Borriello to try to catch the clues as to why he's been re-named Jack Sparrow, you can't try too hard. Force it, and it will escape you. Instead I think you need to ease into it. And squint, definitely squint.


I have since hearing Zampa's cries of joy and pubertal screaming of Jack Sparrow learned that it is a nickname that has moved with him from Milan. That explains why it's so meh.