It has been another week where once again the reputation of Italian football has been bruised. On and off the field, the scriptwriters have had ample opportunity to feast on the misgivings of the sport on the peninsula. We’ve had terrace ugliness with Juventus fans disgustingly abusing Mario Balotelli, we’ve had yet more insipid displays in Europe, and now, more allegations of match-fixing and illegal betting are set to rock Calcio.
Potenza president Giuseppe Postiglione is one of nine people to be arrested in connection with ‘organised sporting fraud related to betting on matches from 2007 to 2009’. The main focus of enquiry is a 2nd division match between Ravenna and Lecce in 2008, in which Postiglione – dubbed the ‘boy president’ after acquiring the club in 2006 aged just 24 – won almost €90 000 betting on the outcome. Although Postiglione has yet to be charged with any offence, Prosecutor Giovanni Colangelo has confirmed the authorities have found ‘clear evidence which shows that threats and bribery took place in order to manipulate the results of games.’
The affair could eventually lead to the unravelling of a much bigger scale of corruption, with links to organised crime. It is understood ‘violence and intimidation’ was used to fix certain matches before associates placed bets on the affected games. Once the investigation gets into full swing, it will be interesting to see at what level and how deeply officials at other clubs became embroiled. Although this scandal will initially not cause as much of an issue as 2006’s Calciopoli, it is nonetheless a further embarrassment to the integrity of Calcio, desperately trying to rebuild its honour following those infamous court cases.
What is most wounding about this latest affair is that the perpetrators come from within the game, as Italian nationals. This is no foreign betting syndicate tarnishing a nation’s sport, there are people within Calcio trying to exploit the game for purely personal gain, using and abusing Italy’s clubs, leagues and pride. In a wider perspective, FIFA have already scheduled a meeting on December 2 to analyse around 200 cases of suspected match-fixing from Europe’s lower leagues, although no incidents have been identified from any of the continent’s major divisions, it shows that football can still be infiltrated – even more so with the money to be made with the advent of online gambling. Just how far will this go? And what widespread affect will it have on Calcio?
It is possible to argue that Italian football still hasn’t fully recovered from Calciopoli, and certainly this statement is given more credence as we reflect on the almost characteristic indifference of results achieved by Serie A’s Champions League contingent. Fiorentina find themselves exonerated after qualifying for the knock-out stages with a game spare in a tricky group. Elsewhere Inter, Juventus and Milan all face nervy final group matches to secure progress. All three sides are in pole position to qualify, but given the uncertainty and challenges they’ve faced so far, take nothing for granted.
It’s difficult to pinpoint just what goes awry once the Champions League theme tune dims. On paper, the playing resources are strong, the trio in trouble have a pedigree and experience of the competition yet there seems to be an inferiority complex, an inner doubt as to their own ability. It’s not like Serie A is discernibly weaker than Spain or England, yet these clubs consistently fail to take their domestic form abroad. Certainly Inter’s limp submission in Barcelona stank of a side well out of the comfort of their home domain. Similarly Juve were out-fought, out-thought and out-played by a useful but essentially limited Bordeaux side. True, with the likes of Liverpool struggling, the European Cup has its perils, but most worrying is that no Italian side carries the sort of belief or will to convince they can end up at the Bernabeu in May. A sad indictment.
Sad is the only printable word to describe the Juventus fans who have this week incurred their club an €18 000 fine for chants directed towards Nerazzurri ace Mario Balotelli. Sections of the Olimpico sang a distasteful ditty about the Azzurini forward during Sunday’s clash with Udinese, and although the words were not racist, the ‘insulting’ nature of the chant led to the fine. However, UEFA may now investigate actual racist chanting towards the same player by the Bianconeri fans in Bordeaux this week. Cries of ‘A negro cannot be Italian’ could be heard emanating from the Juve end of the Stade Chaban-Delmas on Wednesday. Racist behaviour of any sort cannot be condoned and needs to be stamped out of all forms of football and FIFA and UEFA put up a very public front about eradicating racism from the game. Their intentions seem to be strong, but what about the deterrents? For example, after last seasons Champions League semi-final defeat to Barcelona, Chelsea players confronted the referee after his inept performance led to them missing out on the Rome finale. Their punishment? An €85 000 fine. Loose change to Roman Abramovich, but relatively colossal compared to the paltry £10 000 penalty given to Real Madrid for their fans’ racist chants and Nazi salutes towards Bayer Leverkusen players. How about the £9 700 the Spanish FA were asked to cough up for the privilege of their fans making monkey noises towards England players in Seville? Not exactly hard-line draconian punishments? Come on Michel Platini, if you really want to rid our stadiums of racism, then let’s see if you mean it.
News from the Peninsula
Week 6-7 –
Milanese managerial mess – September 27 – October 3
Week 7-International week (Rep. of Ireland vs. Italy, Italy vs. Cyprus) –
Cannavaro stung by doping claims – October 4 – October 10
International week (Rep. of Ireland vs. Italy, Italy vs. Cyprus)-Week 8 –
Lippy Marcello blasts the tifosi – October 11 – October 17
Inter-spective look at Mourinho’s European Nerazzurri – October 18 – October 24
Life begins at the quarter – October 25 – October 31
Inter late show keeps the Euro fire burning – November 1 – November 7
Week 12-International week (Italy vs. Holland, Italy vs. Sweden)
The human side of the modern day footballer – November 8 – November 14
International week (Italy vs. Holland, Italy vs. Sweden)-Week 13
Giovanni Trap-ped as Thierry hands France a place in South Africa – November 15 – November 21
The bad, the bad and the ugly – November 22 – November 28