Federico Alba is one of many classic television figures. He was the tennis coach who wore a sweater with a flat cap, learned to love football, and got unlucky on the tennis court. His first appearance was on an episode of NBC’s Over the Top and also played the stepmother in the Greek epic. Alba was not your typical American sports coach: Later in his life, he was a lover of sports, politics, and art. And finally, he was a huge celebrity in Sicilian politics, television, and film.
The TV career coincided with Sicily’s post-Communist transition from dictatorship to democracy, which also coincided with its democracy – especially in television and cinema. Alba, who later became governor of Sicily from 2004 to 2007, was not only a successful sport man; he also was a successful businessman who was among Sicily’s top earners. According to a 2007 Daily Mail report, he was a “seriously rich power broker who was also skilled at making political friends.” That was part of his charisma, especially in televised speeches, which often did not go over well in his country, where TV broadcasters are a distinct minority.
Born to a Sicilian mother and an Italian father, Alba had initially played football and track, but switched to tennis in his teens. According to a report in 2005 in La Stampa newspaper, he could play three games of tennis in the same hour, including seven one-hitters. To appear on the NBC sitcom Over the Top in 1983, he famously wore a sweater with a flat cap, listening to its roars in the background like some from space. After decades as a tennis coach, he became, among other things, a voice on TV.
When he was in the spotlight, he made the most of it. In a 1987 interview with NBC News, he casually mentioned the use of drugs by Italian athletes. A parliamentary investigation later revealed Alba had spoken out against the ban in Greece.
Alba helped Sicilian politicians, including Enrico Preziosi, who in 1993 was found to have received $3 million from the mafia, and Angelo Sabella, who was mentioned in a secret government dossier as having taken kickbacks from armed groups in 1989. (Sabella denies ever doing so.) Some of the scandals did not work out well for Alba: Giancarlo De Benedetti, who headed Italy’s nuclear industry until 1996, accused him of taking bribes. Alba’s critics also criticized him for being born into an oligarchy in Sicily and of pulling strings for his family when he served as governor of the island. Despite his regular appearances on TV, he had kept a low profile after his political career ended. But now he has decided to open up about his lifetime of work, in Italian tabloid Il Resto del Carlino. “I took part in people’s lives, and I have no regrets,” he told the paper.
Alba has not revealed his family or social life, but he is not a stranger to acting on screen. He featured in five films (five!) as a street hustler, and the latest one, No Fixed Address, a Sicilian drama, is in cinemas now.