It was Italian football’s darkest hour. The world looked on as a great nation’s history blew up in flames as we witnessed what some thought would be the death of the Italian game. But the cracks were papered over, new rules enforced, the system changed – for the better. Now we look back to that dark summer in 2006 and ask – did it actually change anything?
“It would be the dream of my life to win a Scudetto at Roma, but I know I’ll never be able to do it. This is the same way I lost it last season”, moaned Danielle De Rossi at the San Siro on Sunday night. The deputizing skipper was aggrieved at the penalty awarded against him. A decision that proved instrumental in the league leader’s comeback to 3-3 in Sunday’s match. De Rossi, just to make sure we got the point, continued: “If I said it was just an issue against Roma then that would be wrong, as it’s in favour of Inter”. It begs the question – will it ever be possible to be seen as legitimate winners in Italy?
Soul mates may be a little strong, kindred spirits perhaps, but you would think Inter and Roma could at least be friends on Facebook. Maybe, at one time they were. Back in August 2006, these two clubs were the “honest” clubs of Italian football. Big city teams that shared a desire to win but also seemed to play it straight. The summer tsunami known as “Calciopoli” had hit only two months earlier and while Milan were smarting from a significant point reduction and Juventus gearing up for a season in Serie B, here were the Nerazzurri and the Giallorossi meeting for the Supercoppa – the curtain raiser for the 2006/2007 season. It was a great game, it had seven goals, was liberating, even touching. Like a fun first date between two people that had recently been cheated on, while the evil exes sat home alone.
But things have changed, or the villains have, and as De Rossi says it is not just about a Roma problem with Inter, it is becoming everyone’s problem with il Biscione. Siena, Genoa, Milan have all cast themselves recent victims of officiating against the Benemata this year, just as Parma, Palermo, Empoli last year suffered the same – “If you look at the 2008 season, there were industrial refereeing distractions that favoured them”. Okay, so that last quote came from Luciano Moggi, which is akin to Charles Manson having reservations about the unruly family who have just moved in next door, but is there really anything sinister here? Don’t we see a Balotelli-style dive every week that results in a penalty? Didn’t Adriano recently get banned for three games by virtue of television evidence?
When it comes to Italian football it can easily get confusing, the irrationality has rationality attached. Moggi’s explanation for his actions at Juve? – “I was protecting Juventus” Sin against the sinners. With Milan owner, Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister of the country and Vice President, Adriano Galliani as President of Lega Calcio, perhaps “Lucky Luciano” had cause. When you think you have it straight in your head, the next you don’t. Jose Mourinho, in a recent home game versus Sampdoria yelled at the referee, Domenico Celi, “What are you afraid of?” The Special One was sent to the stands but does Mourinho think his team is getting rough treatment also? Was the referee really afraid? Trying to disguise his obvious bias for one team by showing it to another? It would be easier if Mourinho just kept this a one sided argument and remained silent, smug or in denial, and not throw a spanner into the works of clear cut conspiracy. It would be better if Moggi just said “I wanted to be certain of winning so I cheated, I’m sorry”. That would be too easy and what is clear is that Serie A is world of mud slinging, and if everyone is throwing some, nobody is going to come out squeaky clean.
However, there have been so many good things to occur since the Neapolitan magistrates uncovered the scandal in the summer of Italy’s world cup triumph. The disassembling of GEA World, for one – which has changed the face of the league. The firm of football agents ran by Luciano’s son, Alessandro Moggi, owned 12.3% of the entire football market in Italy. The dissolution of this cartel has seen a transfer system with more transparency now, team’s rosters are stable, less frivolous player movement and clubs have more independence on players they choose to bring in. The positive effect from this can be seen in the progress and strength of the second tier teams. Some of the best football this year has been played by Fiorentina, Napoli, Palermo, Lazio and Genoa. The league is more competitive and there’s added interest in a weekend’s round of fixtures than there has for a while. The ability to operate freely – gone are the days where teams of this ilk are made up of players ambiguously owned by the others. It shows on the pitch, and it shows on the bench, as Cesare Prandelli, Edoardo Reja, Delio Rossi and Gian Piero Gasperini are all in their third successive seasons at least. Whether, anyone cares to admit it, there has surely been some faith restored, some hope for the future, or why stay? So while this continues and with a new collective TV rights deal on its way, which would resemble more the English Premier League’s allocation of money, there’s a real chance that a “Seven Sisters” could emerge once more and attract the best players in the world, just like the bygone days where Italian football was king.
But will it ever be seen as fair on the pitch? Perhaps, Italy will never trust a referee, suspicion may always be rife and the achievement of one, will be seen as sullied by the other, earned not by sporting superiority but by the machinations in the corridors of power. Doubt will be cast on each championship, on its protagonists and the perceived help they receive. In England there is no time for it. When Rafael Benitez accuses Manchester United of controlling the system, from fixtures to influencing referees, the Spaniard is laughed at. Paranoid, crazy or the latest gull of Sir Alex and his “mind games”, but in the Peninsula this kind of talk breathes. Italians are their own worst enemy when it comes to PR. Perhaps Serie A will never be the “brand or “franchise” that the English Premier League has become, perhaps we should thank our lucky stars that it won’t. One thing is for certain, if it is the aim of Lega Calcio to win the hearts of minds of lovers of fairness and football, it will not be hiring Danielle De Rossi as spokesperson.