4 June ~ Officially Italy’s Serie B finished on May 29 with the following verdicts: Atalanta and Siena promoted after one season in B; Novara, Varese, Padova and Reggina to play off for the other promotion spot; Frosinone, Portogruaro and Triestina relegated; AlbinoLeffe and Piacenza to play off to see who stays in Serie B. But then on June 1 came a bombshell with the news of 16 arrests and about 30 other people under investigation in connection with match-fixing in Serie A, Serie B and Lega Pro. It all started on November 14 when the Cremonese goalkeeper spiked the half-time drinks of his team-mates in an attempt to make them play badly against Paganese. (It didn’t work as they won 2-0.)

This was discovered when one of them was routinely tested after a road accident on the evening of the match. We now know that following this, investigators from Cremona have been monitoring Italian football and these arrests are the result.

Among those arrested are Beppe Signori, capped 28 times by Italy and one of Serie A’s most prolific scorers in the 1990s. Also under investigation, though not yet arrested, are Atalanta captain Cristiano Doni and ex-Serie A player Stefano Bettarini, the fomer husband of Simona Ventura who presents a live football show on RAI on Sunday afternoons. It appears that Bettarini, Doni and Signori are all inveterate gamblers.

Eighteen games are currently under investigation, one from Serie A, five from Serie B and 12 from Lega Pro, with at least 15 others considered “suspect”. Of the games from Lega Pro, four, from October, November and January, involve Cremonese and four, from February and March, Benevento, whose current goalkeeper was playing for Cremonese until January. In Serie A the match between Inter and Lecce that finished 1-0 “should have had” at least three goals. In Serie B three games involve Atalanta (Piacenza at home and Ascoli and Padova away) and one Siena (Sassuolo at home).

Both Atalanta and Siena could see their promotions revoked and might even be relegated to Lega Pro. However, according to the evening sports show on RAI on June 1, for that to happen it will be necessary to prove that club directors knew or were involved in what was going on. If they didn’t, the players will pay with long suspensions. For life one hopes. If the allegations are proved, I’d expect a points deduction as the minimum punishment.

The investigators claim to have uncovered an organisation capable of fixing as many as five games on the same day which has profited to the tune of €4 million (£3.5m). I have long had my suspicions about the regularity of Serie B this season, not to mention Lega Pro. I wrote about Atalanta v Piacenza on March 24 and in WSC 288 I cast doubt on the honesty of AlbinoLeffe’s 3-3 draw with Piacenza at Christmas. (This game is apparently also under the microscope, though not yet in the official list.) It’s beginning to look as though the fears I expressed then about the way gambling is threatening to destroy professional sport as we know it were well founded.

As an Atalanta fan, I can only say that if Cristiano Doni is found to have been involved, it will be a betrayal of those who have admired him as possibly the greatest player ever to represent the Nerazzurri as well as being an act of unbelievable stupidity. But he was involved in another scam in 2000, a 1-1 draw with Pistoiese in the cup. He got away with it that time, though nobody believed that he was innocent. It would appear that he still hasn’t kicked the habit. As well as destroying his own reputation, he could also have destroyed the club he professes to love. And all for money that he surely doesn’t need. Geoff Bradford

Comments (4)
Comment by Jobi1 2011-06-04 08:38:48

I spent the first couple of months of the season in Siena so have following their progress since, and I know there is a lot of idignation down there about these claims. For the game of theirs that is under suspicion they claim the spotlight is (or should be) on Sassuolo, who arrived at that game with a bunch of injuries and suspensions to face a Siena team in rampant form, the suggestion being that they decided to cash in on a game they were likely to lose anyway. With Siena having the mighty Monte dei Paschi behind them as well, lauded patrons of many things in Italy, I think it's unlikely they will face much sanction unless it can be definitively proven that the club hierarchy were involved.

I desperately hope that this turns out to just be a few rougue players, who get the punishments their actions deserve. We shall see...

Comment by geobra 2011-06-06 15:00:55

'unless it can be definitely proven that the club hierarchy were involved'.

It is now being alleged that Siena (the club) paid several Sassuolo players before the game that finished 4-0. If this were true, it could lead to much harsher penalties than those that would be inflicted if only players were involved.

Siena also lost 5 games against relegation-threatened sides in 'strange' circumstances. In two they threw away 2-0 leads, in one they took the lead after 82 minutes and still lost, and in four the winning goal came on or after 90 minutes. Coincidence? Maybe, but they only lost two of their remaining 35 games.

As the days pass, it's becoming clear that this scandal could involve scores of clubs and has the potential to deal a devastating blow to Italian football. Goalkeeper Marco Paoloni, whose spiking of his teammates' half-time tea started it all off, is promising to 'reveal all' on Friday. There'll be a lot of people in football waiting anxiously to hear what he has to say.

The Italian federation has promised harsher penalties, and it was about time. But they could begin by punishing themselves for not seeing what was going on in front of their eyes. Or if they did see it, for doing nothing about it until the Cremona magistrates forced them to act.

Meanwhile, many fans must be thinking that last season was a waste of time, and asking themselves whether they can ever again be absolutely sure that a match they're watching is real and not faked. That's the real tragedy of all this.

Comment by MinkaBeaver 2011-06-06 23:17:02

"Meanwhile, many fans must be thinking that last season was a waste of time, and asking themselves whether they can ever again be absolutely sure that a match they're watching is real and not faked. That's the real tragedy of all this."

As was also the case in 2006, and 1986, and 1980...

Match fixing, illegal betting and the culture of providing 'favours' will always be present in Italian football.

Comment by geobra 2011-06-07 13:45:44

Even in Italy things can change. And they'll have to if 'il calcio' wants to regain some of its tattered credibility.

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