Thursday, July 20, 2006

Italian football's tangled web

Italian sport journalist Giancarlo Galavotti tries to unravel the tangled web which has shaken Italian football...

Some of the biggest clubs and individuals in Italian football have found themselves at the centre of match-fixing allegations. The scandal revolves around transcripts of phone taps which appear to show key figures in Italian football putting pressure on referees to favour certain clubs.

The allegations were uncovered as prosecutors investigated doping allegations at Juventus, Italy's most popular and successful club. That probe, which resulted in club doctor Riccardo Agricola being found guilty of administering drugs to players in the mid-90s, resulted in phone taps being ordered by Turin prosecutors.

As a result, Juventus - winners of their 29th Serie A title on 14 May - were implicated alongside AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio.

Juventus' general manager Luciano Moggi, who resigned after Juve secured the title, was at the centre of the scandal although he protested his innocence. Italian Football Federation (FIGC) President Franco Carraro and vice-President Innocenzo Mazzini also resigned and the pair, along with Juventus director Antonio Giraudo, were among those under formal investigation.

Galavotti, who writes for Italian daily sport newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, said: "Our sales rocketed by about 50,000 copies a day since this happened. Even old women going to the market in the morning want to read about this. It is astonishing."

Prosecutors investigated Moggi and Giraudo for allegedly detaining referee Gianluca Paparesta and his two assistants in a changing room after Juve's 2-1 loss at Reggina in November 2004. They were alleged to have berated the officials for not favouring Juve during the game.

In another transcript published by the Italian media, Moggi spoke to Pierluiggi Pairetto, the vice-chairman of UEFA's referees' commission, to put pressure on him to appoint a referee who would be favourable to Juve.

Italian newspapers printed wiretaps of calls Moggi made to government minister Giuseppe Pisanu. The Juve boss is alleged to have tried to persuade Pisanu to give the go-ahead to games despite the imminent death of Pope John Paul II - Juventus were scheduled to play against Fiorentina, who had two players suspended and two injured.

The game was cancelled when the Pope died and Pisanu, who is alleged to have asked for help for a lower-division team in his local area in return, has angrily denied any wrong-doing.

The troubles for Moggi did not stop there - he was under separate investigations with prosecutors in Naples and Rome looking into illegal gambling and the operation of a management company (GEA World) owned by his son Alessandro.

Meanwhile, Italy and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, still the world's most expensive 'keeper, was probed over allegations he gambled on matches - strictly forbidden in Italy.

Moggi has been with Juventus for 12 years and is one of Italian football's most powerful men.

Galavotti said Moggi has a formidable reputation. "He has been considered as a sort of godfather of Italian football. When he joined Juventus 12 years ago, he was very sought after," he said. "Until very recently Inter Milan were hoping to secure his services. The power of Moggi was already legendary 12 years ago, although not because of an ability to manipulate referees - that would have been too much. But he was considered to be ruler of the transfer market. It was commonly felt there wouldn't be a transfer in Italy without Moggi's consent."

These events have proven even more serious than the events of 1980 when Milan and Lazio were demoted to Serie B following an investigation into match-fixing.

Juventus, who are owned by the powerful Agnelli family that also control car manufacturers Fiat, Milan and Fiorentina all qualified for next season's UEFA Champions League, while Lazio were scheduled to play in the UEFA Cup. But all four clubs have been thrown out of Europe next season.

AC Milan remain in Serie A but will start next season with a 15-point deduction. Lazio, Fiorentina and Juventus were demoted to Serie B and were also deducted points.

Juve - the most successful team in Italian football history - will start next season 30 points behind their rivals and also had their last two league titles taken from them.

Needless to say, fans, media and even those who do not normally follow football have been stunned.

Galavotti said: "I would compare it to the fall of the fascist regime in Italy. When it fell, everybody was more or less compromised, because it could not have stood in power for 20 years by itself. People would not admit to being fascist, but they were concealing or pretending that they never were, switching sides with alarming ease. There are plenty who are saying that nothing has been proven and nobody has been indicted of anything yet. Moggi and Giraudo said they were victims and that things will be clarified to show just how innocent they are. But the gut feeling among the vast majority of Italians is that this is scandal the likes of which there hasn't been before, at least in European football."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting blogging page. It's good to see that you have done your research and detailed past scandals as this isn't a sudden problem in Italy. I was wondering if you have any contact details for Giancarlo Galavotti as I'm writing an article about corruption in sport and I think he'll be a useful to talk to. If you do can you e.mail me at Cheers. Keep up the good work.

1:57 p.m.  

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