That veteran football writer, Brian Glanville, has made a career out of writing about Italian football scandals – scarcely a year goes by when he does not refer to the Solti-Lobo drama of 1973, when Juventus were accused of trying to bribe referee Francisco Lobo during their game against Brian Clough’s Derby County.
Today, we read of yet another scandal in Italian football, a recurring theme that goes back 40-odd years. Why is Italian football so susceptible to corruption? Thankfully, English football has had very little of this. But with so many people from Eastern Europe and Asia in Britain, it is only a matter of time before Russian or Chinese gangsters infiltrate our game.
What’s puzzling is that Italian footballers are, arguably, some of the best paid in Europe. Poverty and corruption go hand-in-hand in life, but these guys drive around in fast cars, have lavish lifestyles and have more than the majority of people who watch Serie A games.
The three clubs involved in this particular scandal are Atalanta, Siena and Novara, hardly among the names that roll off the tongue when you walk about Italian football. A total of 52 players have been charged and 33 games are now under scrutiny as they have been corrupted by a match-fixing ring run by the so-called “Balkan Gang”.
It’s not that long ago since the last break-out – Juventus, who have just won Serie A, were relegated in 2006 for their part in a scandal that included phone-tapping. And in 2005, Genoa were relegated in a bribery case. Furthermore, Milan and Lazio have both suffered relegation due to corruption.
The list goes on – Torino dabbled in prostitution, Roma fell foul of bribery and of course, there was the spectacular Paolo Rossi story.
Rossi was banned from football for two years in the build-up to the 1982 World Cup. He was the “golden boy” of Italian football and only returned to action a few days before the competition got underway. He went on to win Italy the World Cup, against all the odds. Another famous name, Enrico Albertosi, Italy’s goalkeeper in the famous 1970 final against Brazil, was also involved.
Italy has to clean-up its game – no other major league in Europe has had as much criminal behaviour attached to it. Perhaps it is time for FIFA or UEFA to penalise the Italian game for its misdemeanours, but it may be that both bodies cannot afford to expel one of the game’s giants from a major competition. English clubs were banned for five years from European competition in the 1980s due to the behaviour of its supporters. It’s time to set a punishment that fits the crime and ban Italy until it gets its act together. Will it happen? Of course not.