10 June ~ As the Italian match-fixing scandal rumbles on, maybe it's time to analyse the possible motives of some of the players and ex-players allegedly involved. They can be broadly divided into three groups. The first, represented by Cristiano Doni, Beppe Signori and Stefano Bettarini, consists of players who've had successful careers and should have no money worries. If they are involved one can only assume that they're motivated by greed or an addiction to gambling that they obviously haven't addressed. They're also possibly extremely stupid.
In the second group there are players from the medium-sized Serie B club Ascoli. It's not hard to see what might have motivated them, as their club was docked six points during the season for failing to pay them. The third, and largest group, comes from the third- and fourth-level Lega Pro. With 85 theoretically full-time professional clubs, it makes Italy, with 127, the European country with the highest number of pro clubs. Only England comes near to this, but in England the fanbase is the envy of the world.
Many of these clubs play in front of crowds in the low hundreds that would shame the Ryman League. Two, Neapolis and Catanzaro, have just completed a season of home matches played behind closed doors because they can't even afford to pay for the stewards who are now obligatory from Lega Pro downwards. It's like actors playing in an empty theatre because it doesn't conform to fire regulations.
Paying a full-time playing staff of about 25 players on such gates is clearly a near-impossible task, and at many clubs payments stop two or three months into the season. At this point it is not difficult to imagine players, especially those with families to bring up and support, selling matches in return for payment from organised crime syndicates. It cannot be justified because they are still defrauding the fans, but it does have a certain rationale. If Italian football wants to recover, one of the many steps that need to be taken is a drastic pruning of the number of professional clubs. A club that attracts only 100 fans has no divine right to be professional. I'd go for Serie A and B with 18 clubs and two groups of 18 in Lega Pro for a total of 72.
We have learnt that it was only because Cremonese goalkeeper Marco Paoloni, whose involvement is due to his €160,000 (£142,000) gambling debts, threatened the health of his team-mates by spiking their tea that phonetapping was allowed. If he had merely been fixing matches the law would not have allowed phones to be tapped and we'd probably still be none the wiser. So the law needs to be changed, because it's doubtful that anybody will again be as stupid as him. And I have learnt that when a reporter describes a match as being senza emozion (without thrills) this is code for "I think it was fixed". Geoff Bradford