Italian game not in the clear yet

IT was 8pm when Judge Teresa Casoria finally delivered the verdict to a Naples courtroom crammed with reporters, TV crews, lawyers and policemen.

Embossed on the wall behind her, in letters two feet tall, was the slogan: “The Law Is Equal For All”.

A dramatic day in Italian politics had reached its climax just 10 minutes earlier with the announcement Silvio Berlusconi could no longer hang on to office, but the verdict everyone in Naples was awaiting concerned Italian football.

More than five years after the game was rocked by the biggest corruption case in history and after a trial that began in January 2009, 16 men were found guilty of fraud, five of them also convicted for conspiracy. Four men were sentenced at an earlier stage in proceedings, 15 in all were acquitted.

Prison terms totalling 38 years have been imposed. Among those found guilty are directors and former directors of Lazio, Fiorentina and Reggina as well as the club at the centre of the scandal, Juventus.

Eight former match officials have received prison terms, among them Massimo de Santis, who was to be Italy’s representative at the 2006 World Cup until the scandal broke.

Two former referee designators, Paolo Bergamo and Pierluigi Pairetto, trusted members of the FIFA and UEFA referees’ committees until their exposure in the media, have been found guilty of conspiracy. Bergamo received a sentence of three years and eight months and has been banned from holding public office for five years.

Banned for life, and sentenced to almost six years in jail, is the man at the centre of the scandal, former Juventus director Luciano Moggi. It was Moggi who systematically devised both the means and methods to ensure sympathetic officials were picked for matches, and it was Moggi who was primarily responsible for the corruption of Italian football over a period of years.

That at any rate is the conclusion of the Naples court, and it’s the conclusion the authorities and most of the media wanted. Even Juventus have reason to be pleased as the verdicts absolve the club of responsibility for Moggi’s actions, and thus potentially colossal claims for damages.

“We’ve cleaned up our act, let’s move on now,” was the verdict of the media last week, led by the Gazzetta dello Sport which has relentlessly campaigned against corruption in general and Moggi in particular ever since the story first broke. But to think the scandal known as Calciopoli can now finally be buried with a stake through its heart is a mistake.

To begin with the Italian legal process has a long way still to run. The judges have to produce the reasons for their verdict within 90 days. Then begins a process of appeal and most probably counter-appeal that will probably last for years.

Those sentenced are most unlikely to see the inside of a prison cell. Moggi himself is now 74 and his immediate response to the verdicts has been to renew the campaign to prove his innocence.

For their part Juventus intend to continue their own campaign to restore the two titles they were stripped of. There is also a separate campaign to indict the directors of Inter for involvement in corruption, based on evidence produced by the defence during the Moggi trial.

Meanwhile, the businessmen who were sucked into the scandal, notably the Fiorentina directors Andrea and Diego Della Valle, owners of the Tods luxury footwear company, will obviously also struggle to clear their names.

Underpinning it all is the sense that only limited justice has been done.

Others have used their influence to bend the rules and secure sympathetic match officials, and the Calciopoli investigations showed this practice extended beyond Italy to European competitions, above all the Champions League.

Neither the Italian authorities, nor indeed UEFA, have ever investigated this properly, although UEFA has discreetly reformed its referees’ committee and the selection process.

Moggi’s conspiracy also affected the transfer market via his son Alessandro, a football agent and director of the GEA agency, subsequently dissolved. But GEA’s international transfer dealing, involving players such as Adrian Mutu and Patrick Vieira, has never been examined, and Moggi Junior is back in business.

With FIFA planning to scrap its rules regulating players’ agents, football needs to look again at measures to curb the power of individuals who abuse their position within the game.

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