On the eve of another major tournament Italian football is once again mired deep in a scandal that threatens to rock the very fabric of the game.
Ahead of the 2006 World Cup finals it was Calciopoli where club officials – and in particular Juventus - used their influence to ensure that they had the edge over their rivals, and now with Euro 2012 just over a week away a major investigation into betting rings involving players throughout the professional league from the highest tier down is set to outdo the events of six years ago.
For Italy international Daniele De Rossi who was part of the World Cup side in 2006 these ever-changing developments are of even greater significance as they involve fellow professionals within a tightly-knit group who if they are not friends, will at least be on speaking terms.
The AS Roma midfielder hopes that the matter can be cleared up without a major culling of the professional ranks but considering the evidence which is appearing on a daily basis such optimism would seem to be wholly misplaced.
The country’s Prime Minister Mario Monti has even questioned if maybe football should be halted for two or three years, conveniently forgetting that it is Italy’s 12th biggest industry circulating something in the region of 12billion euros a year and generating taxes of around 1billion for the government.
The most recent arrests in the Last Bet operation now take overall total to 50 with a further 150 individuals under investigation but there are three separate investigations under way led by prosecutors in Cremona in the north, Bari in the south east and still to come, in Naples, so that figure is expected to increase considerably.
However, the consensus is that the depth and scope of the match fixing will make it unlikely that the courts will ever get to the bottom of the matter and unmask the real culprits. Cremona’s chief prosecutor Roberto Di Martino has admitted that he does not have the man power to deal with the mounting evidence of phone taps which on its own is not wholly conclusive as in many incidents those involved seemed to be speaking in code.
Roberto Di Martino has admitted that he does not have the man power to deal with the mounting evidence of phone taps
It was in the quiet backwater of Cremona around this time last year that the spectre of another scandal broke when a investigation into why a player from the town’s Serie B side Cremonese had traces of heavy-duty sleeping pills in his blood which had led to him crashing his car.
Incredibly it was a team-mate Marco Paolini who had spiked the team drinks in a desperate attempt to halt a run of victories when he had promised to fix the outcome of matches for a gambling ring which would become known as The Zingari (The Gypsies) due to nothing more than their Croatian origins.
It soon became clear that Paolini, who had run up a major gambling debt, was a mere small fry as big names such as Guiseppe Signori and Cristiano Doni were suddenly hauled in to answer a few pointed questions such as why the former had placed bets exceeding 50,000 euros.
Signori who had enjoyed something of a glittering career with Lazio and had played for Italy in the 1994 World Cup initially turned on the waterworks and broke down in tears during a press conference, pleading that how could anyone ever expect him of sullying the sport that had given so much was beyond him.
Doni was equally bullish in his defence and continued to prepare to captain Atalanta ahead of their return to the top flight until he like Signori was presented with the phone evidence that made it clear that he had fixed a number of matches not only for his own team but others in the same division.
What was set to be a final swansong for the club he seemingly played for with great destination turned into humiliation as he was cuffed and taken off to the cells. Signori also face charges of money laundering and received a five-year ban from football while Doni, now 38, will never play again after being handed a three-year suspension.
The judges were overwhelmed by the evidence before them; implicating betting rings in the Far East as well as Europe that they offered anyone willing to come forward and admit their quilt an amnesty.
Some did but many others stuck to the omertà of silence while previously unheralded players from lower divisions such as Simone Farina and Fabio Pisacane became overnight heroes when they claimed they had turned down as much as 50,000 euros in cash to throw a match.
Down in Bari, events were to take on an even more devastating turn which drew in the captain of the city’s club, Andrea Masiello, who obviously knew the game was up, coming clean that he had received 200,000 euros to help throw a vital relegation match against local and bitter rivals Lecce.
Masiello, who is currently under house arrest, even admitted to scoring an own goal to ensure that the outcome would never be in doubt
Masiello, who is currently under house arrest, even admitted to scoring an own goal to ensure that the outcome would never be in doubt and just when things could not get any more surreal, a number of Bari hardcore Ultras were also arrested, accused of trying to encourage the team to lose so that they could profit.
However, events had not reached rock-bottom, with prosecutors promising a lot more high-profile arrests which have now come to fruition: Lazio vice-captain Stefano Mauri and former Genoa midfielder Omar Milanetto were taken in for questioning over the outcome of a league match between the teams last season which finished 4-2 to Lazio after Genoa had been leading 2-0 at half-time.
Cesare Prandelli’s national side were not immune to the law and in dramatic fashion, police raided the squad’s training camp just after dawn to take away a laptop, an Ipad and mobile phones belonging to Azzurri full-back Domenico Crisctio who was served with a notice that he was under investigation.
Criscitio was immediately removed from the squad despite his protests of innocence as a series of photographs were published of the Zenit St. Petersburg player and then Genoa team-mate Giuseppe Sculli outside a restaurant seemingly deep in discussion with Genoa Ultras and individuals who have been implicated in the betting rings.
Another member of Prandelli’s squad, Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci remains en-route to Poland and Ukraine despite having his name linked with the enquiry during his time at Bari last season.
As the country began to reel from the latest arrests so Bonucci’s club were once again dragged into unsavoury headlines – this time by association - with Antonio Conte under investigation surrounding the outcome of matches when he was coach of Siena last season.
Police entered his home and took away various materials, leaving Conte and the newly-crowned Italian champions to call a hastily-arranged press conference to not only officially deny any wrongdoing but to question the methods used by the investigators in searching his house when he was not present.
Now, everyone inside Italian football is wondering if they have said something that could be used against them or if their name will crop up in a taped conversation
Conte’s name surfaced concerning two matches in Serie B which have been marked as “fixed” and officials are keen to know if he was aware of any shady business.
Now, everyone inside Italian football is wondering if they have said something that could be used against them or if their name will crop up in a taped conversation, such as Christian Vieri who was at centre of a “chat” between two individuals under investigation.
With Naples starting the wheels turning on their investigation there could be a few more rudely awakened mornings to come for some more figures in Italian football.
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