Vol. 28 No. 13 · 6 July 2006


John Foot on the Great Italian Football Scandal

1886 words

Fixing a football match is a risky business. Players can be bribed, but things can go wrong when thousands of fans are watching. The alternative is to offer the referee a backhander. A German referee was recently jailed for rigging games in the second division of the Bundesliga for a Croatian betting syndicate. In Italy, there had traditionally been little need to resort to such methods: ever since football became a mass sport in the 1930s, referees have tended to favour the powerful clubs. In the 1960s this came to be known as sudditanza psicologica (‘psychological slavery’). By the 1990s, as TV money poured into the game, the rich teams – especially Juventus, the richest of them all – were no longer content to rely on ‘psychological slavery’. The system they constructed put referees, linesmen, journalists, the transfer market and agents under their control; in this way success was assured. In May 2006, this system was laid bare.

Juventus are used to coming first. By 1994, they had won the Italian football championship – or scudetto – a record 22 times. Yet by their high standards they were in a slump. One scudetto in nine seasons was not enough to satisfy the team’s eleven million fans. Juventus, which was run by the Agnelli family, owners of the Fiat car company, decided to turn to a man whose methods were dubious, even in the dodgy world of Italian football. Luciano Moggi was a former deputy stationmaster from a small Tuscan town, who had made himself a football powerbroker. He was an unimpressive figure with no airs and graces (a bad fit with the aristocratic ‘Juventus style’), but the club needed to start winning again, and quickly.

Moggi had begun his wheeler-dealing football career in 1973 as a scout for Juve. He then worked for Roma (twice), Lazio, Napoli and Torino. He could certainly spot talent – he discovered Paolo Rossi and Gianfranco Zola – but that wasn’t his only appeal. After presiding over the scandal-packed Maradona years in Naples, he moved to Torino, where he organised ‘hostess’ entertainment for international referees before matches. The Agnelli family could have been under no illusions when they hired him. Over the years, Moggi had frequently been caught hobnobbing with referees, usually adopting the time-worn defence ‘we met by chance.’ He set up his son Alessandro as an agent, and formed relationships with other agents. He also had some useful political friends, especially in the Christian Democrat Party (which governed Italy from 1948 to 1992), and was close to many sports journalists.

In 1994 Moggi became the sporting director of Juventus (the most powerful position in Italian club football after the president), working alongside the chief executive and Fiat boss Antonio Giraudo and the former player Roberto Bettega. Together, they became known as the ‘triad’. Over the next 12 years, the triad led Juventus to a series of successes in keeping with their glorious history, including seven Italian championships and the Champions League trophy. In March 2006 Juventus praised the triad for having ‘fashioned a sober and above all a winning model of management’. La Stampa (controlled by Fiat) concluded that ‘in an era of financial disaster, the triad is a model of virtue.’ Less than six weeks later, the triad had resigned in disgrace, along with the whole Juventus board. The scandal focused on the club’s sporting director, and many of the epithets used to describe what happened used his name: Moggiopoli, Moggigate, Il sistema Moggi.

Soon a squalid system of corruption was revealed, built on ‘a cupola of power’, as the Neapolitan investigating magistrates put it, ‘marked by alliances between the managers of some big clubs, agents and referees’. At the head sat Moggi, who had ‘reached a position of absolute domination and control of the entire system of professional football’, thanks to ‘blackmail, intimidation and unholy alliances of all kinds’. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, ‘the championship was controlled step by step: from the transfer market to the goal disallowed at the last minute, from missed offsides to red cards given or not given according to the level of protection a player enjoyed.’

On 5 May, four referees were suspended. The following day, Moggi and his son were told they were being investigated as part of a criminal inquiry relating to the 2004-05 season. They were joined by nine referees, 11 linesmen and 21 others. It was suspected that more than twenty games had been ‘adjusted’. Franco Carraro, president of the Football Federation, resigned on 8 May. Two days later, Innocenzo Mazzini, his vice-president, also went, to be followed by Tullio Lanese, president of the referees’ association.

Despite the revelations, when Juventus clinched their 29th championship on 14 May everything seemed in place for the usual polished celebrations; the open-top bus was booked. Thousands of fans had made the trip down to Bari to cheer on their team. Juventus won easily, champagne corks popped in the dressing-room, and the players threw their shirts into the crowd. Yet the headline in La Gazzetta dello Sport that morning had been unusual: ‘They are playing, sort of,’ it ran, and the next day’s headline was ‘Juve win their 29th title . . . or not?’ In Piazza San Paolo in Turin only a few young and naive fans gathered to celebrate. The city was quiet. No horns were honked, few flags were waved and the open-top bus was cancelled. That same day a tearful Moggi told the press he was ‘leaving the world of football’. It had become clear that the club’s 29th scudetto, and perhaps their 28th (from the previous season), might well be taken away.

Moggiopoli dwarfs every other scandal in the scandalous history of Italian football. It involves not only Juventus but AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio. A whole system is on trial, including referees, those who chose the referees, journalists, slow-motion-replay experts, policemen, agents, tax police, carabinieri, members of the Agnelli family and even the manager of the national team, Marcello Lippi. How was such an extensive system brought down so quickly?

As with Italian politics in the early 1990s, all attempts at reform from the inside had failed. Only one body was powerful enough to take on Moggi and his chums: the judiciary. The investigations which unravelled Moggiopoli were intricate and geographically widespread. In 2004, an enquiry into the Neapolitan mafia, the camorra, uncovered an illegal betting ring involving players and referees, and investigating magistrates ordered phone taps on Moggi’s six or so mobile phones. For eight months, at least six transcribers typed out 100,000 conversations. In Turin, the inquiry into the doping of Juventus players in the 1990s (which had led to a sensational trial) involved phone taps which revealed other disturbing aspects of the Moggi system. Investigators in Parma and Udine unearthed evidence of a gambling scandal involving Serie A players. In Rome, meanwhile, magistrates were looking into GEA World, a firm of football agents staffed almost entirely by the sons and daughters of powerful people in the soccer world, including the son of the Italian team manager, as well as the children of important businessmen, politicians and bankers.

Guido Rossi, an expert on company law and a well-respected ‘super-manager’, was chosen as temporary president of the Football Federation and soon made a controversial appointment. On 23 May he asked 76-year-old Francesco Saverio Borrelli, a retired judge, to take over the investigative wing of the Football Federation. Borrelli is a former head of the ‘Clean Hands’ investigations in Milan which shook Italy in the early 1990s. The reaction to his appointment divided the country along political lines: Silvio Berlusconi claimed that ‘the left’ had ‘nominated its own referee’; left-wing opinion was solidly behind the judge. Moggiopoli had become part of the tussle between the Italian political and economic elites and the judiciary. Borrelli moved with great speed, interviewing all the protagonists except Moggi, who refused to turn up. A succession of referees, players, journalists, policemen and judges passed through his offices.

The scandal was a triumph for conspiracy theorists. Everything had been fixed: victories, defeats, relegation, bookings, even slow-motion replays had been doctored to show that referees had made the right decision. Four clubs (Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio), eight referees, one linesman and eight football administrators face charges at a special sports tribunal (criminal charges might well follow). Juventus will probably be relegated to Serie B for the first time in their history, and may be stripped of at least one league title. Other teams will lose points; it turned out, for example, that AC Milan (Berlusconi’s club) had employed a ‘referee attaché’: Leonardo Meani, an ex-Serie C official and restaurant-owner, who would phone up officials before and after matches, and appeared able to influence the selection of linesmen for games involving Milan.

Massimo De Santis, a referee, is another key figure in the affair. Opinion about him is divided. Massimo Cellino, the president of Cagliari, called him ‘one of the worst bastards in the world’. On the other hand, he had been asked to officiate in the World Cup (his name was quickly removed from the list after the scandal broke). De Santis was the referee at the centre of Moggi’s system. An elegant, authoritarian figure, he worked as a prison guard and had friends in the police force and the judiciary. His activities came as no surprise to most fans, players or club presidents: he had long been thought to favour Juventus. Phone-tap transcripts reveal that De Santis was happy in his work, crowing, for instance, about a game that Livorno lost 6-3, following his dismissal of their central defender after just 17 minutes. ‘Did you see?’ he said on the phone to Mazzini, the vice-president of the Football Federation, ‘Ready, go, one off.’

Not everyone bowed to the system but those who didn’t were punished for their impudence. Rebellious referees were prevented from officiating in big matches and saw their careers suffer. Gianluca Paparesta was locked in his dressing-room by Moggi after failing to award a penalty to Juventus in 2004. This episode was, rather absurdly, investigated as a case of kidnapping.

It is quite possible that there will be no long-term changes as a result of this affair. After the political scandals of the early 1990s, the counter-revolution was swift and brutal. Berlusconi took power, the judges were tamed and many investigations simply petered out. As recent scandals in the business world have shown – above all the collapse of the dairy company Parmalat in circumstances similar to the collapse of Enron – corrupt systems of clientelism and patronage remain untouched.

Too much is at stake for a real revolution to take place. Moggi’s system was not just about football. Power in Italy – as in many nations – allows you to procure favours, bypass rules, regulations and normal procedures and obtain undeserved help and services. Moggi could help his friends jump the queue in hospitals, or get state officials to look after his acquaintances on shopping trips. When the Juventus midfielder Emerson lost his son’s passport, Moggi simply phoned up his contacts at the airport to sort things out. The law meant nothing; every obstacle dissolved after a phone call. The phone taps (collected in two huge books running to some 700 pages) provide a fascinating insight into the way Italy works. The removal of one man won’t do away with the culture that created the system.

23 June

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