‘Calcio’, as Italian football is referred to in its homeland, is the equivalent of football in Italy, like ‘soccer’ in USA, and ‘football’ in England. The Beautiful Game has a decorated history in this Southern European peninsula. Italy boasts of four World Cup titles and a European Championship. The Italian clubs have dominated the European Club competitions, providing European Cup finalists a record twenty-six times. But for all the achievements, Italian football does have a menacing two-faced characteristic. Match-fixing has been associated with Calcio on more than a single occasion.
And the game’s reputation in the country has spiraled to the darkest depths. Let’s take a look on the Italian football’s infamous involvements in maligned match-fixing:
On the International football scene, the Azzurri won plaudits for their positive showing in the EURO 2012 but back home, match-fixing had resurfaced after a six-year hiatus post Calcipoli. In fact, the news was out during the nation’s build up to the European Championship in Poland & Ukraine. Small tremors of the scandal had been making waves since 2011 but the year 2012 brought it out into full light. The illegal betting syndrome had struck trouble once again.
It was from a car crash in the summer of 2011 that the police got a sniff of the match-fixing scandal. A player from Serie B side Cremonese who survived the crash was tested and found drugged with sleeping pills. Other members of the team when tested were also found drugged with the same, and the police immediately smelled a conspiracy. The culprit was their Cremonese teammate Marco Paolini.
Paolini had incurred large amount of gambling debts and was finding it difficult to pay them back. Hence, he tried to fix the matches to the effect that Cremonese would lose a few games for his bookies. But the team’s victories foiled Paolini’s plans and he was forced into taking drastic and desperate measures. This was just a sneak peek into the matter. On further digging, the investigators unearthed more evidence of people involved who had tried to influence the results of the matches allegedly for a minimum of two international betting syndicates.
Ex-internationals like Atalanta’s Cristiano Doni and legendary Lazio and Italy striker Giuseppe Signori have been arrested and banned for three-and-a-half and five years respectively. 15 other players were handed bans ranging from one to five years for their roles in the scandal. More than 30 homes of players, trainers and administrators of clubs in Serie A, Serie B and other lower divisions were searched by the police in May.
Italian defender Domenico Criscito was approached by the police in the national team’s training camp a week before the Euros which led to him being dropped by the Italian FA. Another appalling revelation came out when Bari defender Andrea Masiello confessed to deliberately scoring an own goal for a hefty amount of cash in the game against their fierce rivals Lecce. The victory aided Lecce in avoiding relegation, and Masiello is now under police custody. Players like Leonardo Bonucci, Simone Pepe and Marco di Vaio were questioned, but acquitted of the charges against them.
Hordes of players, club officials, managers, team owners are facing bans and jail-time. In very recent developments, Juventus manager Antonio Conte has been sanctioned with a 10-month ban by the FIGC (Italian football federation). He has been accused of not reporting about match-fixing in a game between Siena and Novara in 2010-11 in spite of being aware of it. Antonio Conte was managing Siena at that time. Grosseto and Lecce have been thrown out of Serie B to Lega Pro (Italian third & fourth division). Lazio, Siena, and Genoa may be docked points in the upcoming season.
Italian football is in a shambolic state, with certain players even going on a hunger strike to plead innocence. It’s really sad to see footballers and football officials involved in criminal acts. Temptations of illegal betting and gambling seem to have gone too far. Interrogations of players have revealed that even the leaders of the club supporters are involved in fixing of matches and have offered money to them. Rather embarrassingly, the country is not new to match-fixing issues and one has to go all the way back to 1980 for the first instance of it.
Totonero (1980) & Totonero Bis (1986)
The year 1980 introduced Italy to the ill-effects of illegal betting. When two Rome-based businessmen, Massimo Cruciani and Alvaro Trinca, thought of increasing their business revenue by placing bets and then, manipulating results in order to win them, it looked all rosy to them. By the time they realized it was extremely complicated to fix a game due to multiple factors involved, they had already lost a lot of money.
Frustrated and angered at the increasing debts to the bookies and not getting any returns from the players they bribed, they thought of going to the court and charge them with fraud. They once again were left with a loophole, and knowing that they wouldn’t be able to prove themselves innocent, they tried to flee but were eventually caught by the police.
The two businessmen were smart enough to record all the illicit dealings made and the information was provided to the police. This led to massive arrests of top club officials and players. On March 23, around 33 players were arrested by the police on the field of play immediately after the league games got over.
Lazio and AC Milan were relegated to Serie B and sporting authorities came down heavily on the personnel involved. The famous Paolo Rossi was amongst the chief convicts and was sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment, which was reduced to enable him to play in the World Cup 1982. And that he did in style, leading Italy to glory and earning legendary stature in the right sense.
Four years down the line, 1986 saw Italy again in the shadows of match-fixing. The press claimed that Totonero part-II had arrived as it inherited the traits of its predecessor. Lazio reprised their role as culprits and were demoted to Serie B with a nine-point deduction. Bari and Naples’s Napoli, initially implicated, were acquitted of all the charges labeled against them. However, Udinese were not so lucky and succumbed to relegation owing to a nine-point penalty. The national side also was not aided by the scandal this time and exited the World Cup 1986 in the second round.
Everyone is expected to learn from their mistakes and become better, but for Calcio it carried no meaning. Rather, it seemed to engulf itself into a match-fixing scandal of greater magnitude each time without any shame whatsoever. With the scandalous 80’s a distant memory, Italian football should have been cleansed by the new millennium, but 2006 witnessed the biggest match-fixing scandal in football history.
Ironically, the participants in crime were bigger, famous, and of legendary stature. Turin giants Juventus, Milanese powerhouse AC Milan, Florence’s Fiorentina , and Rome’s Lazio were implicated in this mega scandal. The teams involved had tried to influence the referees and control referee appointments to manipulate the results of the game.
The scandal surfaced while prosecutors in Turin were investigating a doping scandal at Juventus. The club doctor Ricardo Agricola was found guilty of prescribing banned substances to players in the mid 90’s, and to grind out further evidence, the Turin prosecutors ordered for phone taps. What they found from those telephonic interceptions was incredulous.
The wiretaps of calls showcased several prominent Italian club officials conversing with referee organizations and officials to influence the appointment of referees in the league fixtures. Luciano Moggi , the ex-general manager of Juventus, and one of the most influential figures in Italian football, was found busy persuading referees to favour his side.
The transcripts of the intercepted calls were published in the Italian newspapers. Moggi is alleged to have intimidated, persuaded, and bribed the referees. The officials were even berated when his team lost. Investigations uncovered a shocking incident where a match official and his assistant were detained in the changing room by Moggi and Juventus ex-chief executive Antonio Giraudo, and rebuked as Juventus lost the game 2-1 to Reggina in 2004-05 season.
A transcript revealed that Luciano Moggi had even gone up to the higher echelons like UEFA referees’s commission vice-chairman, for appointment of officials who would be favourable to Juve. The Italian referees selected for the World Cup 2006 were put under screening. Massimo De Santis failed the test and was barred from officiating in the World Cup by the Italian FA. However, Roberto Rossetti, one of the more famous referees in Europe turned out to be clean, and represented his nation in the showpiece event.
Severe punishments were handed down to the teams involved. Initially, Juventus were relegated to Serie B with a 30-point deduction. Fiorentina and Lazio were demoted to Serie B without any point deduction and Milan were handed a 15-point penalty. After a series of appeals, eventually only Juventus suffered the ignominy of a demotion to Serie B. It will remain as one of the darkest days in the history of “old lady of Turin”. Rubbing salt into the wounds, Juventus were docked 9 points which seemed actually much better than the initial 30-point deduction. They were stripped of their 2005 & 2006 championships and disqualified from the Champions league.
Fiorentina and Lazio missed out on Europe, but retained their Serie A places, albeit with 15 and 3 point deductions respectively. AC Milan’s deduction was cut down to 8 points and the Rossoneri were allowed to participate in the Champions League of 2006-07, which they went on to win. As the investigation proceeded, Reggina were also implicated and docked 15 points. The uneven distribution of punishment left Juventus infuriated as the court justified its decision, saying Juventus’s participation in influencing the match results was more obvious than in the case of the others.
Luciano Moggi received a lifetime ban from football. Antonio Giraudo received a five-year football ban and three years’ imprisonment. The club presidents of Milan, Lazio, and Forentina also faced bans of several years. The repercussions are still being felt. Prosecutors across Italy are still investigating the matter. Players like Gigi Buffon, Enzo Maresca and Mark Luliano have been suspected for gambling in Serie A matches. Surprisingly, Italy went on to win the 2006 World Cup amid another match-fixing backdrop.
Juventus have gradually risen from the darkness, clinching the 2012 Scudetto in style, and Calcio has to do the same and resurrect its image. They require time, stringent rules, and plenty of will power.
Italy may be deep down in the trenches of match-fixing but there have been others who have had match-fixing cases, although of smaller magnitude.
The German Case:
The inmates of the jail would have been surprised to find a football referee amongst them. Referee Robert Hoyzer was the odd one out to serve jail time as he confessed to have fixed matches in the German second and third division, and also the German Cup. He came into the spotlight after Paderborn, a modest regional side, beat Hamburg 4-2 in a German Cup match in 2004.
Hoyzer had awarded two controversial penalties to Paderborn and sent off a Hamburg player. Investigations brought forward the involvement of a Croatian betting syndicate in the match-fixing scandal. The affected matches in the second and third divison were replayed and Hamburg were awarded a compensation. The good thing for Germany was that none of the Bundesliga sides were implicated.
Tension in Brazil:
Brazilan referees Edilson Pereira de Carvalho and Paulo José Danelon were sentenced to life-time bans from football after the duo were found to have influenced the results of number of matches in the Brazilian championship. The referees conceded that they had tried to align the match-results to that of illegal betting sites .
Investigations even brought light to the fact that the referees were bribed by certain investors. Eleven key matches deemed to have been fixed were replayed. This helped Corinthians to win the title at the expense of Internacional who would have won had the previous results stood.
Fixing in England and France:
A certain Bruce Grobbelaar is alleged to have taken quite a large fee to ensure that Liverpool lost 3-0 to Newcastle in 1993. Grobbelaar was dragged to court twice but each time the verdict seemed elusive for the jury.
Marseille, the French heavyweights, were mired in scandals after their European Cup victory in 1993. Their president had supposedly bought them their title. As a result, they were stripped of their league championship and cast down to the French second division. Marseille again faced fixing allegations in 1996. Incidentally, they have failed to win a trophy since the scandal of 1993.
The teams, players, and the officials involved should take a hard look at themselves. Football authorities should make stringent laws to protect the integrity of the game. To win fair is the sweetest victory. Scandals can bring only defeat, and football has the ability to teach greater values than that.