Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Leaked report begins to bug Italian fans

The wire-tapping revelations that have put Serie A in a spin. Gabriele Marcotti reports...

When it comes to football, Italy is a naturally cynical and suspicious place and most Italians have no trouble suspecting that corruption, influence peddling and intimidation are rife. Last week, however, many found their worst suspicions vindicated.

During a 48-day period in 2004, Italian authorities bugged the phones of a number of leading figures in Serie A, including Luciano Moggi, the general manager of Juventus, Pierluigi Pairetto, the joint head of the Italian referees’ association and vice-chairman of UEFA’s referees’ commission, and Innocenzo Mazzini, the deputy chief executive of the Italian FA.

The investigators found no legal basis to proceed against anyone on criminal grounds since no law was broken, but in their report they urged the Italian FA to conduct its own inquiry because their findings revealed that Moggi was “able to arrange to have the officials of his choice” take charge of Juventus’s matches, a fact that they said was “real, precise and indisputably proven” .

But what rocked Serie A to its foundations was the fact that the contents of the bugged conversations were leaked to the press, opening a window on a world that many feared existed but few believed could be so vivid and explicit in its machinations.

There are countless revelations in the wire-taps. Some of them relate to Moggi’s opinion of others, such as Marcello Lippi, the former Juventus coach who is now in charge of the national team, whom Moggi harshly criticises, or various journalists, whom he insults.

Others offer a glimpse of how some transfers are conducted. Moggi rings Antonio Giraudo, the club’s chief executive, to tell him that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a transfer target at the time, scored a hat-trick for Ajax. “What the hell! But I specifically told him to play badly!” an angry Giraudo says. “I told him! We had agreed that he would play badly, go see the manager after the game, tell him that he would never play for them again and demand that he be sold to us!” But the most disturbing calls are to Pairetto, whose job it was to assign referees to Serie A matches and, in his UEFA role, influence the assignments for the Champions League.

After Herbert Fandel, the German referee, disallowed a goal in the first leg of Juventus’s Champions League qualifying tie against Djurgardens, Moggi can be heard complaining: “What the fuck kind of referee did you send us?” He then says of Fandel: “He can go fuck himself, trust me. But now I’m counting on you (for the return leg) in Stockholm.” Moggi discovers that the referee for the return leg is not the one of his choosing — Lucilo Cardozo Cortez, of Portugal — but Graham Poll, from England, so he again rings Pairetto to ask for an explanation (and, in the process, manages to get Poll’s name wrong, calling him Paul Green instead).

Pairetto seems all too solicitous in his response, saying that it was supposed to be Cardozo Cortez, suggesting that “something must have happened” and volunteering to get to the bottom of it “straight away”.

An even more shocking conversation takes place between Pairetto and Paolo Dondarini, the referee whom he had selected to officiate Juventus’s Serie A match against Sampdoria. “You know what you have to do,” Pairetto says. “Make sure you see everything. Even that which isn’t there.”

Moggi’s defence is that the leak is a gross violation of privacy (which it is) and that, in any case, the inquiry found no wrongdoing. But that was the criminal investigation. The sporting investigation — which the Italian FA has promised will be swift, thorough and severe — has just been opened.

As if that were not enough, Moggi and his son, Alessandro, are being investigated in a separate criminal inquiry in Naples. Alessandro, who runs GEA World, a football agency that controls about 200 professional footballers and managers, is suspected of “racketeering and aggravated intimidation”.

Meanwhile, UEFA has reprimanded Pairetto and Juventus are reportedly looking to distance themselves from Moggi and Giraudo. It has been reported that the Agnelli family are embarrassed by the revelations. It may be a case of “too little, too late”.

For most of its history, the “Old Lady of Turin” saw itself as the epitome of style, class and probity, thanks to the guiding hand of the Agnelli family’s patriarch, the aristocratic and dashing Gianni, who died in January 2003. But that image was tarnished years ago by the abrasive, wheeler-dealer approach of Moggi, along with the rise of his son and his agency.

Leaving aside the recent revelations, the fact that the younger Moggi, at only 32, is the most powerful agent in the Italian game while his father runs Italy’s biggest club, raises obvious questions about a potential conflict of interest.

The problem with those is that they lead to an appearance of impropriety. When Juventus played Siena two weeks ago, seven of the 14 Siena players who appeared in the match were GEA clients, as were Gigi De Canio, the Siena manager and Giorgio Perinetti, the director of football. Juventus, who had not won in seven matches and had allowed AC Milan to close to within three points, went 3-0 up inside the first seven minutes.

Obviously, conditions such as these do nothing but fuel the worst suspicions. And, sadly, many Italians have had their suspicions vindicated by the contents of the wire-taps.


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