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Corrupt and sad times in Italian football

Football, whether you love it or loathe it, is now a huge global business. It stands to reason, then, that the temptations on the part of some folk to bend the rules to make themselves rich are considerable. There are currently extremely serious allegations surrounding a number of big-name Italian clubs, including AC Milan and Juventus, to the effect that officials and others collaborated to fix games. And all this while the game’s main showcase, the World Cup, is going on.

And then there is this story today:

Juventus team manager and former defender Gianluca Pessotto has been seriously injured after falling from a building at the club’s headquarters.

“Gianluca suffered multiple fractures, but his life is not in danger,” said Juventus spokesman Marco Girotto. It is unclear where exactly the 35-year-old fell from – early reports suggested he had fallen out of a second-floor window, but now it seems he may have fallen from the roof of the building. Club officials said they were unable to give details and were looking into all possibilities.

Oh I bet they are. Consider the final paragraph of the story:

Juventus are currently facing charges relating to the massive match-fixing scandal rocking Italy. The scandal began last month with the publication of intecepted telephone conversations between former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi and Italian Football Federation officials discussing refereeing appointments.

Italian clubs are now a major part of the corporate structure of that country. Questions about the trustworthiness of Italian corporate leaders have already been stirred by the scandal of collapsed food group Parmalat, a scandal that was a European equivalent of Enron or the Fannie Mae debacles.

Football needs trust to survive. The antics of players who writhe in fake agony after being tackled in a bid to get an opposing player sent off, or who fall over in the penalty area to get a goal (Italy arguably did this in the match yesterday against Australia) are part of a cancer eating at the game. I can put up with the antics of footballers off the pitch and I do not get upset at their huge salaries – they operate in a market after all – but without trust, without a sense that the players concerned are giving their all to win, then the game is in grave danger. Similar scandals have besmirched cricket and remain a shadow over horse racing. I hope the Italian authorities prosecute any guilty folk severely. If found guilty, some of the clubs could be relegated from the top-flight league and forced to sell some of their star players, presumably at a loss (I wonder if Ipswich Town can afford any of them?).

What a mess.

26 comments to Corrupt and sad times in Italian football

  • permanent expat

    Who’s surprized?

  • RAB

    And they’re only in the next round through a blatent bit of diving. Ah Well

  • madne0

    At least in Italy they prosecute such things. In Portugal we have club presidents paying hookers to “service” referees, paying for trips to Brazil for referees and what do they get? A slap in the wrist.
    When Italy is an example of anti-corruption, you know you’re in a sad state of affairs.

  • It IS cricket season, you know…

  • We football lovers in America need FIFA and Serie A to clean up their act. After world cup officiating and this news from Italy, it’s becoming harder and harder to sell football as a great sport.

  • Julian Taylor

    Don’t rely on FIFA too hard to clean up football. Apart from the FIFA corruption scandals from the last World Cup the entire sordid business has reared its head again with the ISL investigation by Ernst & Young – yet again Sepp Blatter has had his house pulled apart by police investigating bungs in excess of SF1m.

  • John R

    One of the reasons why soccer will never take hold in Australia (and possibly in the USA, too) is that it is a game in which cheats prosper, both on and off the field. The manner of the loss to Italy (via a man faking a foul) is more damaging to Australian soccer than the fact of the loss and has undone all the good done by the team. That many of the Italian team are also under investigation for match-fixing makes the whole sport quite distasteful.

  • Dominic

    I find it hard to disagree with those who complain about cheating in football, but in this case I doubt the connection. Pessotto is a member of the new management team, brought in after the scandal broke, and has been suffering from depression. That’s not to say that the suicide attempt has nothing to do with the scandal, but it’s not as clear-cut as it looks at first sight.

    Also, the scandal of the moment is not nearly as simple as it looks. There are various political and economical connecitons, and the media have been participating actively rather than merely reporting. Reams of private conversations between people at two or three removes from the focus of the investigation have been published in national papers, ruining the reputations of people nobody has accused of anything. The same thing is happening with the currently unfolding situation with Prince Umberto of Savoy, heir to Italy’s deposed king.

  • There is too much foul play; perhaps a case for a third umpire?

  • The Last Toryboy

    I’m no footbal fan, despise the sport in fact, but from the few games I’ve watched, the way the players behave when tackled and the ref comes over is quite despicable. You see some 6’5″ Argentine rolling around on the floor clutching his leg like he’s been killed, the ref shows the red card, and then the aforementioned Argie gets up and starts running around again as right as rain.

    Why is this tolerated? I honestly do not understand. But its not sport, whatever it is.

  • Adrian

    John R, I agree with you completely.

    I really got into this World Cup with Australia being in it, and their mongrel attitude brought something different. But if Italy’s performance is any guide of what it takes to win, I say – forget it. I wouldn’t want the Australian character to change so much – not worth it.

    John R, what do you think would have been the Australian reaction if we had won it by the same means? I reckon he would have been publicly disgraced a la Greg Chappell with the underarm ball, and Greg Dyer, a Test keeper circa late 80s who claimed a catch that had bounced, who was never seen again.

  • John R

    Adrian, I would like to think that we would have been affronted by such behaviour. I would further like to think that no Australian player would do such a thing as stage for a free; although I suspect that since most of the team plays in Europe, they, too, have been infected by the diving disease. We would, of course, take the win, but the criticism would be vociferous, in part because the cheating would further reinforce the negative image of soccer in Australia.

  • I gather that people are really getting fed up with Italian cheating in the World Cup. The fact they have prospered so long in the competition is just pathetic.

  • pete

    Who cares about football corruption in Italy? The English game is not corrupt and that’s all the average English fan wants to know when he pays for his season ticket.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    pete, I imagine that not all readers of this blog are English, and in any event, my article was trying to tease out the implications for sport and corporate ethics in general.

    And I would guard against any complacency in English sport. The ex-Liverpool FC goalkeeper, Bruce Grobbelar (remember him?) was involved in a rather nasty case a few years back, if memory serves. And don’t even mention horse racing in England. There have been suspicions about that sport for years.

  • Rob

    Mischa is right, the third umpire works well in Rugby Football, I see no reason why the same couldn’t be true in soccer. Another idea which could be imported from rugger is that of a sin bin where players found guilty of cheating could be ordered off the field for 10 minutes. Cheating should be punished, what better way than to exclude the player from the pitch. If he continues to cheat after he returns to the pitch, he should be sent off permanantly.

  • B's Freak

    This was the first thing I said to brother after Zidane’s goal yesterday,”See how he stayed onhis feet despite the bump in the box and finished off the play? That’s the opposite of what happened in the Italy- Australia game.” I will miss Zizou when he’s gone. Class acts seem to be rare breed these days and not just at the World Cup.

  • Matra

    Another idea which could be imported from rugger is that of a sin bin

    It comes from ice hockey. Rugby, particularly, Australian rugby league, has been borrowing from North American sports for years.

    The problem with complaining about diving and poor sportsmanship is that you’re assuming universal disapproval of it. I’ve known plenty of people from Croatia, Italy, and other places who don’t see anything wrong with diving and other forms of cheating.

    It’s the same with Russians and Czechs in ice hockey. Diving and feigning injury were considered beyond the pale when almost all the players were Canadian but when foreign players came along and got away with it the Canadians had little choice but to do the same thing or end up being disadvantaged. So the culture of the sport was changed by outsiders. It’s the same with immigration: the more people we import from, say, Mexico, the more like Mexico are own society will become no matter what laws are on the books.

    Anglo-Saxon values such as fair play and adherance to established rules are not universal. The same could be said for our historical belief in small goverment and liberty. Keep that in mind the next time you advocate open borders.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Anglo-Saxon values such as fair play and adherance to established rules are not universal. The same could be said for our historical belief in small goverment and liberty. Keep that in mind the next time you advocate open borders.

    Adhering to the rules is not a preserve of Anglo-Saxon culture either, so I’d be careful about making sweeping comments about immigrants from different cultures.

  • Pete_London

    Oh spare me the Aussie bleating! Look, Lucas Neil went to ground and gave Grosso the oppportunity not to jump over him. A player is not obliged to run out of another player’s way. Grosso was perfectly entitled make a defender pay for a rubbish piece of defending. And do remember, we’re talking about Lucas Neil here. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer dirty bastard. There would have been many a striker watching that and chuckling at the hapless fool while glancing down at the scars left on their legs by him.

    Implications for Italian football – in the long run, probably not many. I don’t see this so much as a football scandal, it’s more a case of yet another case of corruption in a society where corruption is endemic. The Parmalat business was viewed as a matter of corporate corruption, not as something limited only to the Italian food industry. The wealthy backers of Italian clubs may be corrupt in football business, but they’ll also be corrupt in their other businesses too.

    Football will recover in Italy too, whatever the outcome. This is the country who have had star name players banned and even large, powerful clubs relegated in the past. But this is Italy, they always find another way of doing business.

  • Dominic

    Thanks Pete_London – I was going to rip into the Ozzies, but decided to take the moral high ground. Also I want to make the more important point that everybody jumps to conclusions about Italy, in no small part because the Italian media loves to “wash dirty linen in public” and foreign media always follow along. For a somewhat football-related example, take Berlusconi-hysteria: the left-wing press in Italy made him out as being worse than Mussolini, despite the fact that his opponent Prodi’s reputation was more than somewhat tarnished after his stay at the EU…

  • I don’t know what the Australians are complaining about. Every SINGLE FIFA world cup game is fixed, one way or another, by either arranging groups and venues, to create psychological advantages, or by appointing referees known to prefer certain styles of play, or just by plain paying off FIFA referees to come to the ‘right’ decisions (e.g. South Korea reaching the semi-final in the last world cup or Italy winning in the last minute, to keep the European television revenues up).

    If anyone in England actually thinks the ball the crossed the line in 1966, or Argentina won fair and square in 1978, or Germany in 1974, or France in 1998, or any of the other seven winners, six of whom won at home, they really ought to ask themselves why governments are prepared to spend so many billions of taxpayers money on hosting the tournament, in the first place, or why this uncanny coincidence of host nations winning, keeps continuing. Psychological advantage? FIFA will take it if it’s coming, but if it isn’t, who controls the referees? If it had been a Germany vs. England final, the English fans would have dominated the stadium nullifying any ‘psychological’ advantage, which is perhaps why England had to have their best player sent off to help Portugal. Yes, I may be going over the top, and England truly were atrocious, but when you’re mixing up so many tens of billions of pounds with governments and quasi-governmental organisations like FIFA, all of them composed of robbers, liars, cheats, criminals, and other fraudulent sycophants, don’t be surprised at anything that happens under the covers.

    If Germany don’t win this time, it won’t be for a lack of effort on FIFA’s part. Just how DO you keep governments queueing up wanting to spend billions on hosting the tournament, so you can keep creaming hundreds of millions off the top, if you’re FIFA?

    Just make sure the host either wins, or comes damn close, to give the hosting government a big patriotic ‘nation-building’ or ‘feel-good’ feeling, to justify the outlay, and to encourage les autres to also get involved in the bidding process.

    It’s not for nothing that England only win the world cup under a Labour government. The only way they’ll win it again will be if FIFA allow it to be re-held in England. And just how many bribes will THAT take to happen?

    Let’s hope Thierry Henry spoils Blatter’s party next Sunday, and scores a winning goal even a Russian FIFA linesman with a Cayman islands account wouldn’t be able to rule out for offside. Though I’m not holding my breath.

    I wish I was a betting man. I’d put every penny on FIFA helping Germany win. World Cup football is about as clean as an investment in Airbus.

  • Everybody for years has known itlian football is corrupt. Even Brian Clough accused the ref in the european cup final of being corrupt, he got punished by fifa but was latter found out to be right.
    I hope all the clubs get relegated.

  • James

    Has anybody googled the words “football corruption”? The hits come back endlessly. Czech, Italy, The Balkans (too many scandals to mention individually), germany etc, etc… most of which since 2000. It pains me to see a game in which I have come to adour so much be riddled with the cancer of corruption.

    Lets just put out a wild hypothetical hear… what if FIFA put an honest man in charge and he wished to clean up the game (crazy, I know!).
    Where would he start???

    *Agents corruption?
    *FIFA being indepentantly audited?
    *G14 teams anti-competative financial practices?
    *Refs and officials corruption?
    *Match fixing (all levels)?
    *Possible immagration corruption/player smuggling?
    (importing poor/cheap players from outside the EU eg Africa into France/Germany, to get EU passports)
    *Cheating (Diving and provocation of players)
    *Poor sportsmanship (treatment of refs, calling for cards, spitting etc, etc)
    *Team world ranking system (America in top 10…get real!)

    And that my fellow bloggers is the tip of the iceberg!

    By the way, if you see Clark Kent… tell him to send in his CV!

  • sajid ch

    I agree with you, that is from the above analysis but though i have a different view that Italian football will the same points hence the difference will decide who progresses, thanks.