After the 2006 ‘Calciopoli’ scandal, many – perhaps naively – felt that the Italian game was now clean and that those involved had been implicated in the trials and subsequent sentences that rocked the Italian game to its core. But this summer, another investigation was concluded after suspicious betting patterns emerged during games throughout the 2010/2011 season, which were then followed up by intercepted phone calls clearly alluding to games being fixed across three divisions and involving a host of people including current players and even former Italy striker and Lazio legend, Giuseppe Signori.
The impact of the investigations and convictions have been felt throughout Calcio, with Atalanta in Serie A being the most famous club punished, with a six point deduction before the Serie A season started and have had star player and club icon Cristiano Doni banned for three and a half years. But perhaps the biggest ‘victims’ are clubs in Lega Pro where numerous clubs have been relegated, fined and had points deducted before the season started. Here I briefly look at the investigation that took place, those punished and the impact it has had on the game in the lower leagues.
Suspicion was first aroused after a Lega Pro (Serie C) game between Cremonese-SPAL game that finished 4-1 to the visitors after large bets were (correctly) placed on the final score. Guido Salvini (a prosecutor in Cremona) and the FIGC (Italian FA) opened a case and started investigating and CalcioScommese 2011 was born.
However, the game that formally started a full blown criminal investigation again involved Cremonese, this time hosting Paganese. According to a published police report, players were ‘foggy’ on the field and couldn’t make movements they would normally be able to. It was later found some players had taken a drug closely linked to one given for help with anxiety and sleep disorders. One player was so drugged he lost control of his car after the game.
After this event many games were looked at after suspicious betting patterns emerged on a range of games, starting with the one’s involving Cremonese. During the investigation it emerged that goalkeeper Marco Paoloni (on loan at fellow Lega Pro club Benevento from Cremonese) was the ‘ringleader’ and was placed in prison while further investigations took place. The most high-profile name involved in the scandal was former Nazionale star Giuseppe Signori, who was placed under house arrest. As a player Signori was idolised by fans of the clubs he played at, most of all Lazio (where Ultras once protested when former President Sergio Cragnotti tried to sell him) and Bologna where he enjoyed an Indian summer, later in his career.
By the end of the investigation, 26 people were forced to answer questions in a Cremona courtroom, including players, former players, Presidents and directors. Although many were released without charge (Signori included, who in a later interview said that despite the not guilty verdict, the reputation he had worked 30 years for was ruined) there were many severe punishments dealt out by the FIGC having studied Guido Salvini’s report, including points deductions in Serie A for newly promoted Atalanta (-6) and bans for two of their players, talisman and captain Cristiano Doni (three and a half years, which all but ends the 38 year olds career) and Thomas Manfredini (Three years). Fellow Serie A club Chievo were also implicated but issued a plea bargain and escaped with an (80,000 Euro fine).
In Serie B, Ascoli (who suffered numerous point deductions last year for financial problems) were hit with a six point penalty whilst Livorno and Padova received fines for their parts in the scandal.
In Lega Pro (where the majority of ‘fixed’ matches took place) the verdicts were more damning. Alessandria were relegated from C1 to C2 (with a two point deduction), whilst Ravenna were kicked out of the professional leagues altogether into Serie D. There were many point deductions, and after initial verdicts and appeals, the decisions were that Benevento (six points), Cremonese (six), Piacenza (four), Reggiana (two) and Taranto (one) would the season with deductions.
Despite all of the fines and point deductions, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the CalcioScommese 2011 trials is the damage done yet again to the reputation of Calcio, particularly in the lower divisions. After the huge exposure of Calciopoli ensured Italian football’s reputation would take years to recover, the evidence in Cremona appear to be a huge setback as the ‘cleaning up’ of the Italian game was seemingly in full swing. Mention the Italian game to anyone on English shores and you’ll receive the ‘boring defensive’ lecture or the ‘all the games are fixed’ story. Due to this new scandal, it’s again difficult to argue with the second assumption.
Lower league Italian football appears to be an ideal choice for anyone who wants to attempt to alter results in games. The exposure is much less than that of Serie A, where every kick, tackle and gesture are gone over almost nightly on a whole host of programmes that last up to four hours. Crowds are often sparse so there are less eyes to spot any irregularity that may be happening on the field. Players also earn less so the temptation to take a large ‘bonus’ is certainly there, particularly for older players heading towards retirement.
Other point deductions for financial misdemeanours mean reading a Lega Pro table can be very difficult as so many clubs have started the season on a negative points tally. For example, Cremonese are 9th but would be 2nd without their deductions, whilst Piacenza are in the relegation play-out places but would be in the promotion play-offs with the four points they lost.
After all the hard work done by the FIGC and the clubs and players themselves, the illegal activities of a select few now mean the reputation of Italian football has take steps back on the leaps forward it had made. Hopefully the swift action of one judge in Cremona will be a deterrent for any future activities of this nature.
Follow Charles Ducksbury on twitter (@cducksbury).