a) Azzurri, fading: on the crisis in Italian football

A month ago, when Holland failed to make it to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, there was none of the shocked despair that hangs over Italy’s non-qualification following its defeat to Sweden in the two-legged play-off. Football in the Netherlands is facing its worst crisis and its fans have perhaps become used to under-performance. Since 1982, the team has failed to make it to the quadrennial extravaganza on four different occasions. Dutch footballers were always expected to thrill but not necessarily to win. Even the legendary Johan Cruyff didn’t bag football’s most coveted prize. But Italy is different. The Azzurri have always found a way, regardless of the circumstances. Italy went into the 2006 World Cup with a match-fixing scandal raging back home; it ended up lifting the trophy. Another scandal erupted ahead of the 2012 European Championship, but Italy emerged a worthy runner-up to Spain. Four years later, Italy went in with arguably its weakest squad ever but still outwitted reigning champion Spain and lost to Germany in the quarter-finals only on penalties. This is what makes the four-time champion missing out on the World Cup, for the first time since 1958, astounding. It is true that the qualification process left very little margin for error, with only the group topper earning a direct entry. Clubbed alongside Spain, Italy was always expected to come second and be in the playoff. Once there, it was unlucky to draw Sweden, the toughest of opponents. But even so, its performances have been truly worrying. Italian football has been stagnant for quite a while. In recent times the national team has even registered draws against novices such as Haiti and Luxembourg. There have been no credible replacements in sight for the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero and Alessandro Nesta. Only manager Antonio Conte’s brilliance saved the country at the 2016 Euros. There is such a dearth of emerging talent that in the first leg against Sweden, seven of Italy’s starting 11 were older than 30. Supporters even sought comfort in the team’s unblemished record at the iconic San Siro stadium in Milan, causing Pirlo to remark, “I’ve never seen a goal scored from the stands.” There is much to be blamed on current manager Giampiero Ventura. He repeatedly ignored players who were adept and schooled in modern-day tactical methods. Midfielder Jorginho, who has been excellent for Napoli, was only handed his debut against Sweden while forward Lorenzo Insigne, the most creative of the lot, was an unused substitute because the formation that Ventura used didn’t suit his best player. But history suggests Italy isn’t alone. Both Germany and France underwent similar turbulence before emerging stronger with a complete overhaul of their footballing structures. What Italy needs is similar soul-searching.

b) An itinerary in search of a strategy: on Trump’s East Asia tour

Parsing Donald Trump’s statements and Twitter posts through his 12-day, five-nation tour of Asia — the longest for a U.S. President in 25 years — to decipher a new American strategy towards the region can be taxing unless the idea is to cherry-pick and substantiate pre-existing notions.

‘Terrific’ China

One can read resistance to China’s expansive ambitions in euphemisms such as ‘freedom of navigation’ and condemnation of ‘predatory’ economic practices, used along with America’s commitment to democracy, human rights, and free trade. When you read them alongside the U.S.-Philippines commitment to “share best practices” to prevent illegal drug use, which is a “problem afflicting both countries”, and Mr. Trump’s desire to be friends with the “short and fat” ruler of North Korea, the emerging picture could appear confusing, if not outlandish. In his interactions with reporters as he travelled back, Mr. Trump gave an overview of the “terrific” tour and the new friendships that he has developed, how he enjoyed the unprecedented reception in Beijing, conversations with the “terrific” President Xi Jinping and the special honour he received at the Forbidden City. What topped the list of achievements for him were the business deals — he put the figure at $300 billion and hoped that it would exceed $1 trillion in the coming months, though the actual numbers remain unclear. He said security partnerships with these Asian partners have also been enhanced. Ahead of his travel, the White House had said his speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO summit in Vietnam would elucidate his vision for the Indo-Pacific region, a term that the Trump administration has started using in a clear acknowledgment of India’s prominence. Administration officials had been emphatic that his speech would demonstrate the U.S.’s continuing commitment to the region. His speech did not live up to the build-up, and may have actually added to the nervousness among traditional U.S. partners. Recalling the U.S.’s historical ties to the region, Mr. Trump said it is time the terms of engagement between these countries and the U.S. changed. In his reckoning, the U.S. has been taken advantage of by all countries and global institutions, particularly the World Trade Organisation (WTO). But he would not blame other countries or their leaders for this situation; it was all the fault of the U.S. administrations that preceded him. “Those days are over,” he declared. He was there “to offer a renewed partnership with America,” the basis of which would be “bilateral trade agreements with any Indo-Pacific nation that wants to be our partner and that will abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade… I call it the Indo-Pacific dream.”

What does he mean?

The U.S. has trade deficits with all the five countries that Mr. Trump visited and he told four of them that the U.S. would not tolerate this — putting China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam in the same basket on this count. In the case of the Philippines, which has a small surplus with the U.S., the relationship is less about trade, he said, but more for “military purposes… it’s called the most prime piece of real estate from a military standpoint.” What are the implications of Mr. Trump’s statement that “those days are over?” First, America offers these countries technology, capital and access to its market. Second, America offers a security guarantee and a predictable world order based on multilateral trade and security pacts. China has also been a beneficiary of this system, and the rise of China has added additional buoyancy for neighbouring countries. The friction between China and its neighbours heightened as Beijing’s ambitions grew after the 2008 financial crisis. Vietnam, Philippines, Japan, and South Korea started to gravitate more towards the U.S., which was itself alarmed by the assertiveness of China. The Obama administration announced the Pivot to Asia strategy in response. Kurt Campbell, an Obama official who is credited with drafting the policy, described it as “a multifaceted approach that will involve a strong security component, working with allies, working constructively with China, a commercial dynamic that is about not shipping U.S. [jobs], but U.S. exports and services to Asia; a commitment to building institutions to multilateralism; bringing other partners into Asia, like Europe, working closely with Europe.” Like Mr. Trump, Barack Obama also wanted to open the Asian markets for American companies, but there was a broader blue print at play. Mr. Trump has knocked it down to a one-point agenda: buy our goods and services. His statement that countries in the “region [should] be strong, independent, and prosperous, in control of their own destinies, and satellites to no one,” is a call for ending multilateralism. More than a newfound respect for the autonomy of these countries, it reflects American disinterest. Mr. Trump also told his Asian hosts that they were free to pursue their interests solo, as he would pursue his. He hinted that America is washing its hands of any leadership role, making it clear that it could cut a deal with China on its own, regardless of its potential impact on other countries. China is the biggest trading partner of South Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Speaking after Mr. Trump at APEC, Mr. Xi presented a case for multilateralism and open trade. China is also willing to offer technology, capital and market access, on its terms under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Security concerns

Now, what is America offering for the security of these Asian partners? Mr. Trump asked them all to join hands with the U.S. in stopping North Korea’s nuclear adventurism. But that apart, he told Japan, Vietnam and South Korea to buy “our weapons”. “We make the best,” he told them and cited how Saudi Arabia was using them effectively. In one Twitter post during the tour, he also gave a carte blanche to the Saudi Arabian regime to chart regional politics. Mr. Trump’s “Indo-Pacific dream” may not appear to be much of a dream for most countries in the region. In 2006, Mr. Trump had said he was waiting for a housing market crash, and boasted about his ability to profit from a falling market. Conflicts in Asia, in the west and the east, could appear to be good opportunities for profit from the realtor’s perspective. We may be looking for a strategy that does not exist, perhaps. American economist Lawrence Summers, now a Harvard professor, and a key player in the American-led globalisation over the last three decades, described the challenge before America: “…(we) confuse a strategy with a wish list. Our strategy is that it is very important that they open their markets, that it is very important that they cooperate with us on this security issue… Well, that is a good wish list… And I do not think we as yet have a strategy for thinking about the management of the global economic system that is appropriately respectful of the scale and achievements of the Chinese economy.”


1) Despair

Meaning: the complete loss or absence of hope.

Example: “a voice full of self-hatred and despair”

Synonyms: Desperation, Distress

Antonyms: Hope, Joy

2) Extravaganza

Meaning: An elaborate and spectacular entertainment or production.

Example: “an extravaganza of dance in many forms”

Synonyms: Spectacular, Display

3) Coveted

Meaning: Yearn to possess (something, especially something belonging to another).

Example: “I covet one of their smart bags”

Synonyms: Desire, Crave

4) Raging

Meaning: Continuing with great force or intensity.

Example: “the stream could become a raging torrent in wet weather”

Synonyms: Violent, Strong

Antonyms: Calm

5) Erupted

Meaning: Break out suddenly and dramatically.

Example: “fierce fighting erupted between the army and guerrillas”

Synonyms: Happen, Arise

6) Outwitted

Meaning: Deceive by greater ingenuity.

Example: “Ray had outwitted many an opponent”

Synonyms: Outplay, Outsmart

7) Reigning

Meaning: (of a quality or condition) be the dominant feature of a situation or place.

Example: “confusion reigned”

Synonyms: Prevail, Exist

8) Astounding

Meaning: Surprisingly impressive or notable.

Example: “the summit offers astounding views”

Synonyms: Amazing, Shocking

9) Clubbed

Meaning: Combine with others so as to collect a sum of money for a particular purpose.

Example: “friends and colleagues clubbed together to buy him a present”

Synonyms: Collaborate, Ally

10) Stagnant

Meaning: Showing no activity; dull and sluggish.

Example: “a stagnant economy”

Synonyms: Inactive, Slow

Antonyms: Active, Vibrant

11) Novices

Meaning: A person new to and inexperienced in a job or situation.

Example: “he was a complete novice in foreign affairs”

Synonyms: Beginner, Learner

Antonyms: Expert, Veteran

12) Dearth

Meaning: A scarcity or lack of something.

Example: “there is a dearth of evidence”

Synonyms: Lack, Scarcity

Antonyms: Abundance, Surfeit

13) Unblemished

Meaning: Not damaged or marked in any way.

Example: “her body was perfectly formed and unblemished”

Synonyms: Impeccable, Flawless

Antonyms: Flawed, Corrupt

14) Underwent -past of undergo

Meaning: Experience or be subjected to (something, typically something unpleasant or arduous).

Example: “he underwent a life-saving brain operation”

Synonyms: Experience, Undertake

15) Turbulence

Meaning: A state of conflict or confusion.

Example: “political turbulence”

Synonyms: Turmoil, Conflict

Antonyms: Peace, Calmness

16) Overhaul

Meaning: Overtake (someone), especially in a sporting event.

Example: “Jodami overhauled his chief rival”

Synonyms: Overtake, Outstrip

17) Decipher

Meaning: Succeed in understanding, interpreting, or identifying (something).

Example: “visual signals help us decipher what is being communicated”

Synonyms: Discern, Perceive

18) Cherry-pick

Meaning: Selectively choose (the most beneficial or profitable items, opportunities, etc.) from what is available.

Example: “the company should buy the whole airline and not just cherry-pick its best assets”

Synonyms: Choose

19) Substantiate

Meaning: Provide evidence to support or prove the truth of.

Example: “they had found nothing to substantiate the allegations”

Synonyms: Prove, Vindicate

Antonyms: Disprove, Refute

20) Euphemisms

Meaning: A mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.

Example: “the jargon has given us ‘downsizing’ as a euphemism for cuts”

Synonyms: Substitute, Understatement

Antonyms: Dysphemism

21) Condemnation

Meaning: The expression of very strong disapproval; censure.

Example: “there was strong international condemnation of the attack”

Synonyms: Censure, Criticism

Antonyms: Praise, Plaudits

22) Afflicting

Meaning: (of a problem or illness) cause pain or trouble to; affect adversely.

Example: “his younger child was afflicted with a skin disease”

Synonyms: Trouble, Bother

Antonyms: Comfort

23) Outlandish

Meaning: Foreign or alien.

Example: “three wise, outlandish kings”

Synonyms: Weird, Strange

Antonyms: Ordinary, Commonplace

24) Unprecedented

Meaning: Never done or known before.

Example: “the government took the unprecedented step of releasing confidential correspondence”

Synonyms: Unmatched, Unrivalled

Antonyms: Normal, Common

25) Forbidden

Meaning: Not allowed; banned.

Example: “a list of forbidden books”

Synonyms: Prohibited, Unauthorized

Antonyms: Legal

26) Enhanced

Meaning: Intensify, increase, or further improve the quality, value, or extent of.

Example: “his refusal does nothing to enhance his reputation”

Synonyms: Increase, Intensify

Antonyms: Diminish, Mar

27) Elucidate

Meaning: Make (something) clear; explain.

Example: “work such as theirs will help to elucidate this matter”

Synonyms: Explain, Clarify

Antonyms: Confuse, Obscure

28) Emphatic

Meaning: Expressing something forcibly and clearly.

Example: “the children were emphatic that they would like to repeat the experience”

Synonyms: Vehement, Firm

Antonyms: Hesitant, Tentative

29) Demonstrate

Meaning: Clearly show the existence or truth of (something) by giving proof or evidence.

Example: “their shameful silence demonstrates their ineptitude”

Synonyms: Reveal, Indicate

Antonyms: Hide

30) Reckoning

Meaning: A person’s opinion or judgment.

Example: “by ancient reckoning, bacteria are plants”

Synonyms: Opinion, Evaluation

31) Implications

Meaning: The conclusion that can be drawn from something although it is not explicitly stated.

Example: “the implication is that no one person at the bank is responsible”

Synonyms: Suggestion, Inference

32) Buoyancy

Meaning: A cheerful and optimistic attitude or disposition; a high level of activity in an economy or stock market.

Example: “there is renewed buoyancy in the demand for steel”

Synonyms: Happiness, Strength

Antonyms: Depression, Pessimism

33) Friction

Meaning: Conflict or animosity caused by a clash of wills, temperaments, or opinions.

Example: A considerable amount of friction between father and son”

Synonyms: Discord, Disunity

Antonyms: Harmony

34) Gravitate

Meaning: Move towards or be attracted to a person or thing.

Example: “young western Europeans will gravitate to Berlin”

Synonyms: Move, Head

35) Assertiveness

Meaning: Confident and forceful behaviour.

Example: “she has difficulty standing up for herself, even when assertiveness may be warranted”

Synonyms: Resolution, Confident

36) Multifaceted

Meaning: Having many different aspects or features.

Example: “his extraordinary and multifaceted career”

Synonyms: Versatile, Various

Antonyms: Same, Similar

37) Multilateralism

Meaning: The principle of participation by three or more parties, especially by the governments of different countries.

Example: “the president affirmed his commitment to multilateralism”

38) Destinies

Meaning: The hidden power believed to control future events; fate.

Example: “he believed in destiny”

Synonyms: Future, Fortune

39) Adventurism

Meaning: The willingness to take risks in business or politics; actions or attitudes regarded as reckless or potentially hazardous.

40) Carte blanche

Meaning: Complete freedom to do something.

Example: The landlord has given her carte blanche to redecorate the living room.

Synonyms: Autonomy, free hand.

To Read the Other THE HINDU EDITORIALS of this month :

  THE HINDU EDITORIAL – Click here to view