With their former player Andrea Masiello in prison following his arrest on suspicion of rigging Serie A matches, Bari are the latest in a long, long line of Italian clubs to be rocked by allegations of match fixing. Adam Digby takes time to explain that, while there are many similarities, things are very different this time and tells us many fans have finally had enough of cheating and greed spoiling ‘their’ game.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but once again this month we see a raft of ‘match-fixing scandal hits Italian football’ headlines, drawing the inevitable condemnation and distain for the game on the peninsula. Still slowly rebuilding its reputation after fallout of Calciopoli in 2006 – which saw many of the country’s biggest clubs implicated – Serie A took another blow this summer when a betting scandal which centered on Atalanta and their one-time hero Cristian Doni was uncovered.
Despite the Bergamo side shrugging off their six point penalty and enjoying a superb return to the top division, there is a very real sense that this latest unsavoury episode is very different for a number of key reasons. Firstly, the misconception Calciopoli was a match-fixing case is wholly unfounded as the circumstances surrounding the relegation of Juventus to Serie B concerned Luciano Moggi being found guilty of using (or indeed abusing) his position of power within football to ensure favourable conditions for his club. Both this new case – and indeed the one which saw Doni thrown in prison – concern payments made directly to players to secure specific results, a far more worrying situation which is reflected in the treatment of those concerned.
Echoing the way many fans of Turin’s Old Lady still blindly support Moggi – a wholly understandable reaction given the incredible success enjoyed during the tenure of one of the greatest Sporting Directors the game has ever seen – Atalanta supporters began the summer by marching through the city of Bergamo (where the club is based) keen to defend the reputation of both their club and former Captain. They backed Doni with banners proclaiming ‘Get your hands off Atalanta’ and even the town’s Mayor Franco Tentorio defending the player to La Repubblica, telling them the evidence was received “third hand, between a friend and the friend of a friend.”
It didn’t take long for them to change their stance however, their adoration turning to disbelief and then bitter anger as Doni confessed to being paid by various betting syndicates to fix games. The message from the stands changed to one of hatred and resentment with the Roman born Doni – who was made an honorary citizen of Bergamo in 2008 – being called Judas, told there would be ‘No Mercy for Those Who Betray’ and ‘For us, Doni is finished’. This about-face came shortly after the players arrest when he went from denying any involvement to telling La Gazzetta dello Sport;
"I was an imbecile and there is no excuse for that. The mistakes I made were designed to help Atalanta win promotion to Serie A. It was an obsession, I would have done anything to make that happen and that's exactly what I did. I betrayed my sport."
Now, just a few short months on from seeing the 39 year old Doni’s career effectively ended courtesy of a three and a half year ban, Bari are now in the eye of the storm as Andrea Masiello also admitted to ‘selling’ results of their games last season. Ironically moving to Atalanta after the Southern sides’ relegation last May, the defender cannot even claim to have been acting in the clubs best interest as he, was paid to see the already relegated Biancorossi drop points.
In what is perhaps the biggest betrayal of honour, he confessed to purposely scoring an own goal in the hate-filled local derby with Lecce, a deed sure to draw a similar reaction to that eventually directed at Doni. As was the case with Juventus and Moggi, the club moved immediately to distance themselves from the actions of an employee, obviously as a way of attempting to avoid the most severe of punishments. They issued an official statement which read; “Our club is mortified to discover illicit and amoral behaviour by one of its own. With great bitterness, it is nonetheless our strong desire to defend our history and that of football in our land in every context and all institutions.”
Much like his former team-mate, Masiello began telling Police and investigators everything almost immediately after being arrested, much of which can be attributed to the culture shock of going from the glamorous life of a modern footballer to being treated as a common criminal. Indeed the authorities were forced to detain Masiello in the prison hospital in Bari to avoid inmates exacting their own idea of justice, while Doni told La Repubblica just how bad his experience of prison was;
"It helps you understand your errors. But it's worse than in the films. I was cold, I couldn't sleep. I thought a lot about what I did, about my daughter, my wife and about Atalanta. I couldn't wait to stand in front of the judge and tell him everything."
Nevertheless, Masiello’s confession is now also in the public domain as he spoke to local newspaper Corriere del Mezzogiorno about that derby match. He said “I want to put on record that when the score was 1-0, I took advantage of an opportunity to cement the final outcome,” as well as admitting to receiving 300,000 Euro’s for doing so, plus a further €80,000 for a similar result against Palermo that same season.
While many fans have condemned Masiello, former Bari goalkeeper Jean-François Gillet has spoken of a number of the clubs Ultra threatening the players if they didn’t lose certain games. The Belgian stopper said he was told “We’re already down, now let us make some money” which is, in many ways, an even more saddening revelation than the actual fixing of the games by players. In the same Gazzetta dello Sport interview cited earlier, Doni spoke of the mess the sport is in – particularly at lower levels – and lamented what he called a ‘rotten’ silence that prevents an end to the problems;
"There are too many people who are prepared to betray their sport. It is much more common in Serie B more than A because, apart from three or four clubs, the pay there is very low. Some are on an annual salary of 20,000 euros so they are far more corruptible but we must have the courage to say how rotten football is. The root of the problem is our culture and it's not just about footballers. There's also the referees, who see everything and do nothing, Federation observers, journalists and top management."
The investigation continues with a number of other matches viewed as suspect and many players, including a large portion of Bari’s squad from last season, being questioned by the authorities. For now the last word goes to the Chief Prosecutor of the Bari trials Roberto Di Martino, who summed the situation up perfectly when he told La Stampa; “This is not the end, just a starting point. Let's hope it marks a turning point in cleaning up the beautiful game that is football."
Adam is a regular contributor to IBWM, and can be found on Twitter @Adz77.