My Calciopoli article for the Roman Forum is finally online!
For Italian football 2006 has truly been the best of times and the worst of times. It’s hard to get better than victory in the World Cup final in Berlin, a triumph made all the more special as, for once, the Italian public’s expectations before the tournament were anything but raised. The ‘calciopoli’ scandal that had broken in May with its allegations of match fixing in Italy’s Serie A, which certainly qualify as the worst of times, was threatening to spoil the party. The allegations plagued the Italian team in the build-up to and the early matches of the World Cup in Germany. Questions at early press conferences focused on the sports tribunal taking place in Rome, almost relegating the onfield play in Germany to a side-show. Of course, as Italy recovered from an early stutter against Team USA to show a remarkable cohesiveness, focus, and will to win, the onfield play became the story again.
The Old Lady’s fall from grace
The negative attention was, however, unsurprising. Juventus, Italy’s most successful football club and the team at the centre of the scandal, provided five key members of the Azzurri squad, including captain Fabio Cannavaro and the world’s number one goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, himself under investigation for allegedly gambling on the outcome of matches in which he was playing. The national coach Marcello Lippi had enjoyed huge success at Juventus prior to taking charge of the Azzurri and was still at the helm during the period in 2004 when the match-fixing allegedly took place. Overall ten Juventus players were involved at the finals and eight out of the starting 22 in the final between Italy and France played for ‘la Vecchia Signora’.
The scandal centred on taped telephone conversations made by the club’s general manager Luciano Moggi who until his calciopoli-induced downfall was considered one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes figures in Italian club football. Naples prosecutors had made the recordings as part of a wider investigation into football corruption and the scandal broke when transcripts were published in the national press. Moggi repeatedly appears to attempt to influence the appointment of match officials in the conversations seemingly confirming the suspicions of millions of Italian football fans that matches against Juventus in recent years seemed rigged in the Turin club’s favour. As the extent of Moggi’s dealings emerged, several other Serie A clubs became implicated in the scandal at times merely by association than as a result of hard facts.
Shades of 1982
Italy also went into the 1982 World Cup under a cloud of questions at home and emerged victorious, under the leadership of Paolo Rossi, who had just finished serving a two year ban in a betting scandal. Interestingly, an amazing seven of Italy’s 1982 World Cup final side in Spain were also Juventus players, including Rossi and captain Dino Zoff besides Antonio Cabrini, Franco Causio, Claudio Gentile, Gaetano Scirea and Marco Tardelli (not to mention Michel Platini whose fancied France side went out in the semi-finals).
Now Italy has won the World Cup again under remarkably similar conditions: the team went into the World Cup with low expectations, and was dogged by scandal right up until the scepticism was replaced with incredulity and excitement.
The summer here in Rome was full of World Cup enthusiasm, at no time more than 9 and 10 July. The former, the day Italy won the world Cup, Circo Massimo was packed to the brim with tifosi. When the team returned home the next day they were given a heroes’ welcome in that same circus by over a million fans. It’s a wonder they all fit.
And to make this year’s World Cup victory just that much sweeter Italy beat rivals France in the finals, to avenge their Euro 2000 loss. The fact that it came to penalty kicks, which Italy had taken part in three times before, losing out each time, made it all the sweeter. So it was indeed ‘the best of times’.
From penalty shoot out…
However, as the heady excitement of the World Cup glory ebbed, the decisions of the sports tribunal were announced; in fact it came just 120 hours after Grosso stroked home the winning penalty kick. The news was not good, not for the fans, the clubs implicated, or Italian football in general.
The scandal implicated four top Serie A squads to varying degrees and handed down severe punishments. The focus of the investigation, and the man who received the stiffest penalty, was Luciano Moggi, who received a five year ban and €50,000 fine. He resigned from his post as did the President of the Italian Football Federation and the head of the Italian Referees Association.
Nearly 20 individuals in all were hit with a range of sanctions. For the football fan, or the casual viewer, the sentences received by the teams are the most relevant. What did happen this summer to create this Dickensian ‘best of times, worst of times’ scenario?
… to penalty points
The worst of times involved the drawn out investigations and sentencing of the Sports Tribunal that during the World Cup and saw former national footballer and Juventus player-cum-team manager Gianluca Pessotto fall from a fourth story window at Juventus headquarters in an apparent suicide. The scandal had taken on a very real and personal dimension.
But despite the personal tragedy things were not as bad as they could have been. The sentences of the four clubs originally implicated were commuted on appeal, though punishments were still meted out and a fifth team (Reggina) was probed and punished. At the time of writing and pending the final appeals, the so-called ‘arbitrate’ of the sports tribunal, this is how the team punishments break down:
– Juventus: relegated to Serie B with a 30 point penalty as well as loss of their last two scudetti, or titles. This was commuted to relegation to Serie B, but a reduced 17 point penalty. It was also stripped of its 2004-5 and 2005-6 championship titles.
– Fiorentina, who finished fourth last season found themselves excluded from the Champions League and relegated to Serie B with a 12 point deduction. In the end they remain in Serie A, but carry a 19 point deduction.
– Lazio was first relegated to Serie B with a 7 point deduction. In the end they were allowed to remain in Serie A, but with an 11 point deduction.
AC Milan, the team of media magnate and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was not relegated, but initially hit with a 15 point deduction for this season. In the end the punishment was lightened to 8 points.
– Reggina, which was not part of the first wave of sentencing, was given a 15 point deduction in the second round.
Apart from Juventus, whose role in the scandal seems irrefutable, as of mid-October the case against Milan looked on the verge of collapse and the owners of Fiorentina and Lazio were promising to take the matter as far as necessary in an effort to clear themselves and their clubs. Besides the sports tribunal Italy’s civil courts, whose investigations can take years, are sifting the evidence and may eventually absolve the rest of the clubs from any wrongdoing whatever the sports tribunal concludes.
For the four clubs allowed to remain in Serie A, life goes on as usual, though the teams will look different behind the scenes. The sentences include in all cases bans for team officials implicated in the scandal. For Juventus though, the club will look different not just behind the scenes but on the pitch as well.
The exodus of top talent from the team has been significant. Fabio Cannavaro, Patrick Vieira, Lilian Thuram, Gianluca Zambrotta, Emerson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – all World Cup 2006 players – have made permanent moves to other clubs. All were first team starters for Juventus but now the relegated Juventus will have to adapt to the loss of many key players. Indeed, in their first match in Serie B the fallen champions only managed a 1-1 draw against 10-man Rimini.
Ultimately the extent of corruption and match-fixing in Serie A has yet to emerge. The lightening of sentences might be seen as a weakening of resolve on the part of the FIGC (the Italian football federation) but the fact that sentences stuck and punishments are being served is a credit to the investigators. It could equally imply that the evidence used against several teams was too flimsy in the first place.
But quibbling over points penalized is a fool’s game. The real issue here is how will Italian football be impacted by this summer’s ups and downs? The fallout of this ‘worst of times’ should be that the image of Serie A is cleaned up and restored, on a national and international level. The fate of Juventus should also have a ‘chilling’ effect on clubs that may otherwise be tempted to ‘seek’ favourable referees. But there’s no question that it will take a long while for Italy’s football reputation to be rebuilt on the national stage. Except… wait, these are also ‘the best of times’ and Italy as World Cup winners can take comfort in the fact that their football has shown itself the best, as well as the most beautiful, in the world. Let’s hope that image is the lasting one.