Pelé’s finest hour – captured by FIFA

IT IS good to see the official FIFA film of the 1970 World Cup is available to watch on the BBC’s archives at present, a cinematic treat that was very much of its time. Like other FIFA films, there is an air of naivety and cliché around the narrative, a glimpse into “FIFA Land” or at least how the governing body would like the world to look. It has the spirit of a scout jamboree about it.

In 1970, the script centres on a small boy who blags his way into key matches at the World Cup with his mother wondering where the hell her son has gone. This blond-haired, blue-eyed lad was certainly not a boy from Mexico City, but more likely he was plucked out of a drama school in Zurich or Munich. He leaves home in search of Pelé, Charlton, Riva and Beckenbauer, cadging a lift from a US journalist and his girlfriend.

The lack of reality in this story has been made more bizarre by time. The football-mad Martin’s mother would be in big trouble in today’s cynical world. Martin somehow works his way into stadiums, dressed as a cub scout, sitting among a crowd of Mexicans or suited and booted with a jaunty cravat around his neck. There’s simply no way he can be stopped, but meanwhile, his Mama has no idea where he might be, finally spotting him on TV in a stadium while she is nursing another of her children.

We see Brazil in their pomp, all improvisation and agility, as well as the formidable Italians, making their way to the final. England’s game with West Germany is featured with the Mexicans rejoicing and being “ever hostile to England” as the 1966 winners capitulate after being 2-0 ahead.

The legendary “game of the century” between Italy and West Germany gets substantial coverage, with the brave young Franz Beckenbauer taped-up after dislocating his shoulder. This was a riveting contest but the 4-3 win for Italy denied everyone the chance to see the second best side from Mexico ’70 in the final, the exciting West Germans and the competition’s leading scorer, Gerd Müller.

Certainly, you get the feeling the Germans would have made a better fist of the final against Pelé and his ball-juggling pals. It would seem unlikely that they would have lost 4-1 in the Azteca Stadium.

The film is a period piece with stadiums emblazoned with advertising of the time – Cinzano, Martini, Philips, Hertz, Zeiss of Jena and Marlborough. But there are similarities to the modern day in that Brazil – like Argentina 2022 – were the team everyone wanted to win. The reason was primarily to reward an icon of the game – in 2022 it was Lionel Messi, in 1970 it was Pelé, playing in his last World Cup.

It was so marvellously colourful, those Brazilian yellow shirts standing out against the most vivid of crowds in a bold stadium that was built to impress. Little wonder we remember Mexico 1970 and Pelé for leaving us with such wonderful and enduring memories.

A messy end to a golden era for Juventus

IT’S ALWAYS a mystery why seemingly intelligent people continue to flirt with financial malpractice in this age of intense technological scrutiny. Even the most cunning criminals and canny operators are invariably found out by governing bodies, the law or accountants. This leaves you wondering how professional people can either be so stupid or careless, not to mention occasionally dishonest.

Juventus are in the spotlight again for suspicions over their financial reporting. It’s not the first time the club has been in trouble, their current era of success came after the so-called Calciopoli scandal which involved the illegal selection of favourable referees, among other breaches. Juve were stripped of their 2005 title and were relegated to Serie B.

Juve enjoyed a run of spectacular success from 2011-12 to 2020-21 which included nine scudettos and five Coppa Italia victories. They also reached two UEFA Champions finals in 2015 and 2017 in which they lost to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. Juventus were, supposedly, the only Italian club that could seriously challenge the Spanish giants and Bayern Munich, but they were well beaten in their two finals.

Under president Andrea Agnelli, Juve not only won trophies, they also became a more modern, forward-looking club, moving to a new stadium which they owned, giving them a competitive edge over their domestic rivals. They also grasped the marketing bug and relaunched their brand, including a controversial new corporate logo. In 2018, they thought they were sending a signal of intent to European football by signing Cristiano Ronaldo, but in truth, his arrival marked a gradual decline in their fortunes. If CR7 was supposed to be the catalyst for UEFA Champions League success, it didn’t work and he left in 2021 with Juventus’s team clearly past its best.

Agnelli and the rest of the board have resigned amid concerns over the club’s financial practices. Among the questions being asked are the valuations of players in some transfers, such as exchange deals, and the arrangements over player wages during the height of the pandemic. But after investigations by the public prosecutor’s office in Turin and Italian market regulator Consob, Juventus have had to change the way in which they accounted for player payments for the financial years ending June 2020 and June 2021. Players had agreed to waive part of their salaries because of Covid-19 and later agreed “loyalty” bonuses. Consob believes the club has yet to show the logic behind the fair value ascribed to players in transfers with other clubs. Agnelli and 15 others at the club have been investigated but the saga is likely to run for a while as it’s still early days.  As they all resigned, the club continued to deny any wrongdoing, but Agnelli admitted there was a lack of unity which undermined the management of Juventus. The club has, apparently, agreed to amend its accounts for 2021-22.

The pandemic was tough for Italy’s top clubs and in the past two seasons, Juventus have made pre-tax losses of € 460 million and has generated a deficit of over € 600 million in the past five years. At the same time, their wage bill in 2021-22 absorbed 85% of income and their net debt now totals more than € 150 million, a substantial amount but over € 200 million less than the 2020-21 season. In 2021-22, the club had to raise € 400 million from its shareholders, taking the total of fresh equity raised since 2019 to over € 700 million. Investors and the market are not impressed, however, and the stock price fell on the news of the resignations. In 2022, the Juventus share price has dropped by almost 40% and the club’s market value is now around € 700 million.

What will the future hold for Agnelli, whose family’s listed vehicle, Exor, is the majority owner of Juventus? His ambitions have been battered by a series of setbacks, notably the ill-fated European Super League project, which meant he had to step away from the European Club Association and UEFA.  As for Juventus, the current season has been troubled, from a poor start to the campaign to an early exit in the UEFA Champions League. And this new scandal really highlights the danger of flying too close to the sun. Icarus may have been Greek, but he has been soaring over the city of Turin for some time. The question is, how long will it take for Juventus to repair its reputation once more?