**This article was written for Tiscali Europe on July 21st. Seeing how I’m writing a new calicopoli article, I thought i’d include this one for reference. Any inaccuracies result from subsequent backpedalling on the rulings. Apologies for the late posting, though really I answer to no one here.
For Italian football this year has truly been the best of times, and the worst of times. And the drama continues. The scandal and allegations of match fixing in Italy’s premier league, Serie A certainly qualify as the worst of times. In fact, those allegations and questions plagued the Italian team in the build-up to, and the early matches of, this year’s World Cup in Germany. Questions at early press conferences there focused on the sports tribunal taking place in Rome, relegating the onfield play in Germany to an afterthought. 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. And with Italy’s dramatic penalty shootout victory over France in the World Cup finals, the dream came true. What had hardly seemed imaginable leading up to the World Cup had manifest itself as Italy not just playing well, but winning the Jules Rimet trophy against rivals France, whom they lost to in the EURO 2000 final. The fact that it came to penalty kicks, which Italy had engaged in three times before, and been three times disappointed made it that much sweeter. So it is indeed ‘the best of times.’
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 is not good, not for the fans, the clubs implicated, or Italian football in general. Juventus, the club at the centre of the scandal, around whom rumours of cheating have swirled for years, was the hardest hit. Relegated to Serie B with a 30 point penalty as well as bans for former general manager Luciano Moggi and ex chief executive Antonio Giraudo of 5 years each, the maximum allowable. The exodus of top talent from the team has already begun, and will continue.
Fiorentina, who finished fourth this year, just ahead of AS Roma, will finds themselves not in the Champions League, but relegated to Serie B with a 12 point deduction and a 3.5 year and 4 year ban for their President and honorary president respectively.
Lazio has been relegated to Serie B with a 7 point deduction and a three year ban for their president.
AC Milan, the team of Silvio Berlusconi was not relegated, but penalised with a 15 point deduction for next year as well as a 1 year ban for their Vice President Adriano Galliani.
All of these sentences are provisional and pending appeal, but time is not on the side of the clubs, as FIGC, the Italian Football Federation must hand in the names of the clubs they are entering into the Champions League and the UEFA cup by July 25. All four clubs deny the allegations.
Already Barcelona has claimed defenders Zambrotta and Thuram from Juventus, who played each other in the World Cup Final. Wednesday saw Brazilian midfielder Emerson, and Italian national team captain Fabio Cannavaro reach agreements with Real Madrid. Thirteen of Italian’s World Cup Winners play for the four penalized teams and so far three are gone, and many more are expected to depart for other top flight teams. Media in England are slobbering at the chance to claim some of Italians champions for their sides.
In the end the corruption and match fixing rife in Serie A have been dealt with severely. The pleas for amnesty have fallen on deaf ears. We can now only hope that the fallout of these “worst of times” will be that the image and substance of Serie A will be cleaned up and restored. 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 in the world. Let’s hope that image is the lasting one. And the football this year in Serie A, and Serie B, is played with fairness, dignity and passion.