Monday, May 08, 2006

Juve's 'Lucky' runs out

Juventus may have managed to stay one step ahead of Milan in Serie A, but police finally caught up with their controversial director Luciano Moggi. James Richardson reports...

For many in Italy, 'Lucky' Luciano Moggi is a living embodiment of Serie A sleaze.

A former railway stationmaster from Tuscany, his fine nose for a player, and ever burgeoning network of allies, has seen him rise over four decades from humble scout to the most influential man and inventive in the game.

In Naples, it was Moggi who, according to the then Napoli owner Corrado Ferlaino, supplied Maradona with his prosthetic dummy penis to bypass post-game urine tests. At Torino, it was Moggi who allegedly provided female escorts for referees ahead of the club's UEFA Cup fixtures.

For the last 12 years, he has been running Juventus by fair means and, popular wisdom has it, foul - it is widely believed that their incredible record is largely thanks to Moggi's unholy grip on the referees. Amazingly, until now none of these accusations have ever dented Lucky's position in the game.

Last week that all changed with the publication of transcripts from police in Turin of Moggi's phone calls with, among others, Antonio Giraudo (the Juve director recently acquitted of doping charges) and Pierluigi Pairetto, the Italian FA's head of refereeing selection.

This material was vague if compromising - particularly Pairetto's instructions to a referee selected for a Juve game that "a good ref will see every that happens there ... and even what doesn't ..." - but it was soon overshadowed by the news that two more Italian police forces are also running investigations on Moggi.

One of these is in connection with an illegal gambling and match-fixing ring in southern Italy. The other concerns the activities of Moggi's son, Alessandro, who through his management agency GEA World handles the affairs of over 200 Serie A footballers and managers.

As noted following Juve's spectacular win at Siena last week, the potential for a conflict of interest when these players and managers face Moggi senior's side is immense.

A charge of illegal competition through threats and violence now awaits Moggis junior and senior, and other GEA directors. Moggi senior also faces a criminal conspiracy charge from the gambling ring inquiry. Since investigators in Naples have yet to make public a year's worth of Moggi phone taps from the gambling case, it is clear that we are merely looking at the tip of an iceberg.

So far, five referees and an Italian FA vice-President have been unofficially suspended, while Pairetto has been removed from the UEFA referee's committee. More names will surely follow, but for Italian fans the one that really counts is Moggi.

For over a decade he has occupied a unique role in contemporary Italian myth; the Mr Big behind everything and everyone, denying other clubs their just rewards. Now that this theory is apparently being borne out by hard evidence, many fans are delighted to finally witness his downfall.

One banner this Sunday at Ascoli summed things up nicely: "Ascoli in Serie A, Moggi in jail = God Exists!" A jail term is hard to imagine for a man with as many friends as he has, and nothing - certainly not match-fixing - has yet been proved against Lucky Luciano.

Still, at the very least his future in football looks irrevocably compromised. On Sunday, he took his usual seat at the Stadio delle' Alpi alongside Giraudo and the other member of Juve's management trinity, former Italy star Roberto Bettaga.

Come the final whistle, while Bettega burst into floods of tears, Moggi sped off without comment in a Fiat Multipla (with a disabled sticker in the back for easy parking, naturally). It was subsequently made clear by the Agnelli family, the club's traditional backers, that both he and Giraudo will be removed from Juve's line-up as the club tries to distance itself from the scandal.

None of which will come as much consolation to Juve's players. Already long accustomed to jeers of "cheats" and "thieves" wherever they play, they now face seeing their latest campaign besmirched by the Moggi scandal.

And - allegations aside - it has been a remarkable campaign. Their recent slump and European collapse may have dimmed the memories, but this is a club that began the year in form unmatched anywhere in the history of the Italian league. The irony is that if any club didn't need underhand help, it was this one.


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