TOPSY TURVY TIMES

Now I’m a journalist! This article is set to be published in upstart, sophisticated, english language Roman magazine called “The Roman Forum.” Thanks entirely to my friend Howard, who’s one of the editors. As a blog reader, you get to read it first, you lucky duck. If you don’t live in Rome, it’s your only chance.

“Lucky” Luciano Moggi, former Director General of Juventus, received a 5 year ban and 50,000 euro fine for his part in this summers calciopoli scandal.

TOPSY TURVY TIMES

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 only performing well, but winning the biggest trophy in sport. Shades of 1982! Italy went into that World Cup under the cloud of questions at home and emerged victorious, under the leadership of Paolo Rossi, who had just finished serving a two year ban in the betting scandal.

And 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. to add a fourth star to the Azzurri jersey. The summer here in Rome was full of World Cup enthusiasm, at no time more than July 9th and 10th. 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 years 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 engaged in three times before, and been three times disappointed made it that much sweeter. So it was 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 was not good, not for the fans, the clubs implicated, or Italian football in general. The scandal implicated 4 top Serie A squads, and handed down severe punishments. It also highlighted the widespread corruption in Italian football. The primary offences committed were phone calls between club representatives and officials attempting to influence referee appointments. The focus of the investigation, and the man who received the stiffest penalty, was former Juventus General Manager Luciano Moggi, who received a 5 year ban and 50,000 euro 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 most relevant. What did happen this summer to create this Dickensian “best of times, worst of times” scenario? The worst of times involved the drawn out investigations and sentencing, that during the World cup 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. In this case the systemic corruption being rooted out took on a very real and personal aspect. But despite the personal tragedy the “worst of times” were not as bad as they could’ve been; the sentences of the four originally targeted clubs were commuted, but, importantly, punishments were still meted out. In fact, the second round of sentencing, which saw a lightening of sentences for the original four teams also saw Serie A squad Reggina implicated and punished. This is how the punishments of the teams break down.

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 loss of their last two scudetti, or titles. The final punishment was relegation to Serie B, but with a 17 point penalty. The loss of their titles remains.
Fiorentina, who finished fourth this year, just ahead of AS Roma, found themselves not in the Champions League as the league results indicated, but relegated to Serie B with a 12 point deduction. In the end they remain in Serie A, but with a 19 point deduction.
Lazio was 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 penalised with a 15 point deduction for next year. In the end the punishment was lightened to 8 points.
And Reggina, which was not part of the first wave of sentencing, was given a 15 point deduction in the second round.

For the four clubs allowed to remain in Serie A, life will continue 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 Thurmam Gianluca Zambrotta, Emerson, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, all World Cup 2006 players, have all made permanent moves to other clubs. All were frequent starters for Juventus, but now the relegated Juventus will have to adapt to the loss of many key players.
In the end the corruption and match fixing rife in Serie A have been dealt with less than severely. The lessening of sentences can be seen as a weakening of resolve on the part of FIGC (the Italian football federation, however the fact that sentences stuck and punishments are being served is a credit to the investigations. As well, the eventual inclusion of Reggina in the punished category arguably makes up in breadth what the punishments now lack in depth. But quibbling over points penalized is a fools game. The real issue here is how will Italian football be impacted by this summers vicissitudes? We can now only hope that the fallout of these “worst of times” will be that the image of Serie A will be cleaned up and restored, on a national and international level. It is also expected that the execution of sentencing will have a “chilling” effect on managers who otherwise may have been tempted to petition for referees favourable to their squads. 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.

Ryan Millar,
(with copious reporting from Wikipedia)

2017-09-14T08:44:26+00:00 September 7 2006|