Outstanding at infamous Lazio, great-grandson Mussolini awaits debut

Outstanding at infamous Lazio, great-grandson Mussolini awaits debut
Romano Floriani does the warm-up during a 2022 Lazio cup match, but did not appear in action

NOS Soccer

Lazio, tonight AZ’s opponent in the Conference League eighth finals, has a following with a controversial reputation. Fascist, racist and anti-Semitic expressions are regularly seen and heard in the stands. And let a young right back with a striking surname knock on the door.

Romano Floriani Mussolini, 20, is the great-grandson of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, executed in 1945. He has yet to make his debut, but did sit on the bench for the first time in a European match last week at the playoff game with CFR Cluj.

Lazio’s hard core probably can’t wait for Mussolini to make his official debut. But a light blue shirt with Mussolini’s name on the back is not something the Irriducibili (“the Invincibles”) can get at the fan shop. The defender will come out for Lazio with his father’s last name: Floriani.

Mussolini as second surname

While his mother, the politician Alessandra Mussolini, still made so much effort to have Romano also bear the surname Mussolini. Alessandra, granddaughter of Mussolini, was a member of parliament in Italy for a neo-fascist party, among others, and currently sits in the European parliament on behalf of Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi’s party.

Alessandra specifically requested permission from the Italian authorities and the Catholic Church to give her son a second surname so as not to lose the fraught family name. Moreover, Romano’s second given name is Benito, completing the tribute to his controversial great-grandfather.

It is most likely Floriani’s fate: he wants to make it as a footballer, but it is mostly about his surname, especially at Lazio. “At the club I am judged only on how I play and not because my last name is Mussolini,” the right-back said himself about that.

On the bench

Floriani started playing soccer at arch-rival Roma and transferred to Lazio at the age of 13. There he went through youth training and two years ago signed his first professional contract.

Still, he plays his games for the time being in the Italian pledge league. In October 2021 he sat on the bench for the first time in a Serie A match against Lecce, and last week at the Conference League game with Cluj.

Romano Floriani on the bench at Lazio for the first time in 2021, as an 18-year-old

We are still waiting for his official debut – who knows, maybe tonight against AZ – but Mussolini is not a great talent on the right flank. Which makes it more about his surname than his performance on the field.

He says he has nothing to do with politics. But Italian media have also regularly mentioned how uncomfortable it is to have someone with the surname Mussolini under contract at a club with traditionally many neo-fascist supporters.

laundry list

Indeed, the well-known laundry list of far-right incidents surrounding Lazio supporters is long. Swastikas and other references to World War II are no rarity on the Curva Nord, the stand of the fanatic supporters. “Auschwitz is your city, the ovens are your homes,” read a banner during the derby against Roma in 1998.

Paolo Di Canio delivers a controversial salute during the 2005 derby against AS Roma

Paolo Di Canio, former Lazio captain who never concealed his admiration for Mussolini, made the fascist salute to fans in 2005 when he scored against Roma. And in 2017, Lazio ultras distributed stickers with an image of Anne Frank in a Roma shirt during a game with the city rival.

Lazio’s club management repeatedly distances itself in word and deed from the fascist and anti-Semitic expressions, but the ultras seem incorrigible. Floriani can hardly be blamed for his great-grandfather’s actions. But should he make his debut for Lazio, it is to be hoped that the fans will cheer him for his soccer skills and not for his – second – last name.

Kayleigh Williams