31 July ~ After nearly two months, charges have finally been laid in the latest Italian match-fixing scandal. They involve 18 clubs and 26 players and club officials. The teams include Atalanta and Chievo from Serie A, Ascoli, Sassuolo and newly-promoted Verona from Serie B, 11 from the third- and fourth- level Lega Pro (the most important being Piacenza, Cremonese, Benevento, Ravenna, Alessandria and Taranto), one from Serie D and one from the national five-a-side championship.
The clubs most at risk are Alessandria and Ravenna, because directors are accused of involvement. If found guilty they will probably be relegated, though Ravenna have already been refused admission to next season's tournament because of insolvency. Of the others, Atalanta, Ascoli, Cremonese and Benevento will probably get points deductions if it is proved that their players were involved in the fixing of matches but not the directors. In Ascoli's case, this could lead to relegation if the points are deducted from last season's tally, while Atalanta would probably start the coming season with a deduction. If that happened, Ascoli would probably get the same treatment, because it would be difficult to justify penalising one club last season and another one this season. But of course this is all hypothesis at the moment.
Among the players and officials who must answer a case are Cristiano Doni and Thomas Manfredini of Atalanta. Manfredini has form as he served a three-month suspension for betting in 2007. Also included are Marco Paoloni, the goalkeeper who started it all, and golden oldies Beppe Signori and Stefano Bettarini. The players risk a minimum three-year suspension, which would end the career of the 38-year-old Doni and possibly that of the 31-year-old Manfredini.
The hearings will start next week, probably on Wednesday. It is hoped that they and the subsequent appeals will be over by mid-August, in time for the start of the new season at the end of the month. This will make Italian sporting justice look like Achilles in comparison to the tortoise that is the standard judicial process, but it may lead to the odd miscarriage of justice. Some clubs are crowing because they are not among the accused. They should not be doing so. Cremona magistrates are continuing their investigations and the Italian FA's chief "prosecutor", Stefano Palazzi, has reserved the right to examine the activities of other clubs should more evidence be forthcoming, which it almost certainly will.
In fact the impression left is that we're still only at the beginning. The surprise at the moment is more for the individuals and matches not under investigation than it is for those named on July 26. There's no mention, for instance, of the now notorious AlbinoLeffe v Piacenza 3-3 draw at Christmas (as featured in WSC 288). One can only assume that this is because no incriminating phone calls regarding that match have come to light so far. This one is set to run for a long time, and it won't be pretty. Geoff Bradford