“Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose”, were the words of the famous French novelist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. The English translation; the more things change the more they stay the same.
This sentiment is highly appropriate when reflecting on the events of the past week in Italian football. Another major football tournament, another major scandal; we have seen it all before.
It is almost six years to the day since the scandal of 2006 broke out on the eve of the World Cup. In the end, Juventus were demoted, numerous clubs were docked points and various penalties were handed out, to both clubs and individuals alike. But, not before Fabio Cannavaro hoisted the world cup trophy high into the Berlin night sky after the Azzurri defeated France in the final. Another major football tournament, another major trophy for Italy. But, we had seen this all before, too.
It was 1982. Italy headed into the world cup finals in Spain following two troublesome years caused by a betting scandal. A number of players and officials were implicated and none more famous than Paolo Rossi. For his part he was handed a three-year ban from football. Conveniently, it was reduced to two which allowed him to participate in the finals. He participated with some distinction, too, guiding Italy to their third world title.
It was just four years later before it all happened again. The repercussions of which were not so far reaching. It came to be known as Totanero II, in reference to the first episode four years prior. This time, however, it did little to help Italy on to glory as they bowed out in the second round.
It is now 2012, the European championships are upon us and yet Italian football finds itself in a familiar position; immersed in web of its own corruption, fraud and deceit, again seemingly bent on bringing about its own destruction. How things have not changed.
But, this could be the biggest one yet according to Daniele De Rossi who warned earlier this week: “This time it's worse….it’s more shocking this time, with the police coming into Coverciano (Italy's training ground) and people I know being arrested”, like Domenico Criscito.
The Zenit St. Petersburg player was withdrawn from Italy’s squad after the police raid at Coverciano. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has since insisted that it was a necessary measure to take because the player would have felt “pressure that no human being can deal with”. Giancarlo Abete, head of the FIGC, echoed similar sentiments claiming that the “psychological problem” suffered by the player as a result would make his presence troublesome within the Italy camp. And, they (Abete and Prandelli) would know better than anyone else, it seems.
But, one has to feel for the player. He will now miss a major international tournament, one that he was set to play a big role in and one that he “worked a lifetime to get to”. The player, understandably, has been left irate by the whole affair following the initial shock. He feels that he been “made out to be a scapegoat”, and, he has a point too. Question marks will also be raised given his latest claims that, “I would have agreed that I would appear in court when I got back. Even the prosecutor said that there wasn't anything to stop me going to the European Championship.”
Criscito is one of 52 players along with 22 clubs and 33 matches – mostly played in Serie B – being investigated in the trail that stretches across the globe to the Middle East and as far away as Singapore. And more could yet become embroiled in the ordeal including two more players set to travel to Ukraine and Poland.
Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci has been put under investigation but no formal notification has been issued hence Prandelli’s decision to stick with him. Gianluigi Buffon, the Juventus goalkeeper who a few days ago made this curious comment in a television interview: “better two wounded than one dead”, could also be called into the trial. Judging by his words, he seems to know something.
While these players sweat over keeping their place in the Italy squad – in addition to keeping their reputations intact, whatever is left of them – reports have emerged that the Azzurri could be withdrawn from the tournament altogether. Prandelli has already said: “the Italian team is ready to withdraw from the European Championship, if it is for the good of football.”
An even more drastic measure was mooted by Italy’s Prime Minister, Mario Monti, who suggested that Italian football take a two to three year holiday to sort itself out. While this is certainly not the answer, one has to be mindful that he said this from the perspective of a football fan and not as PM.
The academic, Simon Martin, believes that such corruption could be dealt with better if punishments were more severe and that those found guilty were forced to serve the full length of their sentence, rather than have them too easily reduced on appeal, as has happened often in the past.
"No-one pays for these crimes….and if crimes don't have to be paid for, then in some ways you can understand why a footballer might want to take that potentially life-changing opportunity because, at the worst, he's going to get a two-year ban, which he can appeal," he said.
This is not a problem solely associated with Italy’s national game. It is a problem that permeates throughout Italian society, in general. Trials tend to go on for years in a country where, after a certain amount of time, trials can elapse, meaning they end before a conclusion is reached. Hence, there is a culture of appeal, of stretching out the process as long as possible to delay possible charges in the hope that no charges will, ultimately, be made at all. This perhaps explains why the criminal process triggered by the 2006 scandal is still on-going today. Italian football has still yet to close the chapter on Calciopoli, yet, it now faces another scandal which will, undoubtedly, continue long into the future also.
That is, of course, unless radical changes are made in order to enable the system to deal with such issues promptly and move on. This, however, would require monumental political will and in a country that is teetering on economic collapse, even if such will is found there are graver issues at hand.
Rocked by this new scandal, shackled by financial difficulties and having ‘officially’ lost its status as one of Europe’s ‘top three’ leagues last season when it dropped to fourth in UEFA’s coefficient rankings system, the future of Italian football, six years from Calciopoli, remains the same; glum.
While six years ago calcio fans were still given something to cheer about amidst the chaos and despair – just as it happened in 1982 – this time around it seems unlikely that they will have anything to be cheerful about. Those that witnessed Italy’s 3-0 reverse to Russia will understand why. So poor were Prandelli’s side that pundit Susy Campanale went as far to say: “anything short of total disaster is to be considered a bonus.” And, she is right.
You can read more from Frank at ACMilanblog.net