8 April ~ The centre of the Italian match-fixing scandal has moved, temporarily at least, from Cremona in the north to Bari in the south. There were three new arrests on April 2, two gamblers and their friend, the former Bari defender Andrea Masiello, now with Atalanta. As well as the arrests, it was announced that about 20 more people are under investigation, including many players from the Bari team that finished bottom of Serie A last season. The investigating magistrate also hinted at a press conference that there is a lot more to come. The announcements were greeted with little surprise by a war-weary public because it had been rumoured for some time that new developments were imminent.

These arrests did not monopolise the TV news programmes as had happened in June and December. But they have added other pieces to an increasingly intricate jigsaw as, presumably, will the revelations of two East Europeans who arrived on a ferry from Croatia last week and gave themselves up in Ancona.

Masiello had already come forward with spontaneous admissions, and as a result has not been selected to play by Atalanta since the 2-0 away defeat to Lazio on January 15. He probably thought that this would earn him some kind of amnesty, but from the start the investigators hinted that he was not being entirely frank and that he was more concerned with looking after himself than in lifting the lid on what had been going on at Bari and his pivotal role in it.

One of the reasons for this was Masiello’s denial that he had helped fix Bari’s 2-0 home defeat by bitter local rivals Lecce on May 15 last year, despite the fact that it was his absurd own goal with 10 minutes to go that settled the game. He has now admitted that it was deliberate, and that he did it for the money, reportedly about 40,000 euros. This result ensured that Lecce would stay up, but given the rivalry between the clubs, it was the equivalent of a player from one of the Old Firm clubs deliberately scoring against his own team in a derby to ensure that his opponents clinched the title.

Evidence is mounting that once their relegation was assured, long before the end of the season, a number of Bari players set about selling most of their remaining matches to the highest bidder. There are at least five games involved but it could be as many as nine. It is also being alleged that in some matches they were "ordered" to lose by their own ultràs. It looks, too, as though Lecce may have ‘bought’ the game that ensured their safety. If this turns out to be true, it will mean that they are directly responsible for the fraud, which could lead to relegation rather than a points penalty. And if they go down anyway, they could find themselves further demoted into the third level Lega Pro.

At the moment it looks as if the authorities are determined to adopt a hard line, borne out by Atalanta losing their final appeal for a reduction in their six-point penalty. The club were not happy but looked at objectively, it is a good sign provided that it is followed up. The only way to deter players is with severe and exemplary penalties. Most would say with life suspensions from any involvement in the game, on or off the field. To show weakness now, or to offer some kind of amnesty, would be fatal.

The scandal is becoming so complex and wide-ranging that one wonders how it can be resolved with justice both done and seen to be done before the start of next season at the end of August. It also has huge implications for the summer transfer market. Meanwhile, despite the fact that Doni and Masiello have confessed at least some of their guilt, Atalanta are obliged to continue paying them until the sporting judicial process has run its course. If what they have admitted is not just cause for summary dismissal, one wonders what is. Geoff Bradford

Comments (6)
Comment by Jobi1 2012-04-08 11:02:39

Careful with that decimal point - I've read the alleged amount for the fixed derby was 400,000, not 40,000!

The ultras angle is interesting, although the capo allegedly responsible was in the papers the other day categorically denying everything (funnily enough), and even claiming that he'd never laid a bet in his entire life.

While one eye is definitely on the south, there are also now extremely strong suspicions over Sampdoria's involvement (the club themselves, not just rogue individual players), and also a few faces at Juventus, including the manager Antonio Conte. Expect these lines to develop over the next few weeks...

Comment by geobra 2012-04-08 13:01:33

The 40,000 (maybe it should be 50,000) euros referred only to Masiello's 'cut'. His two partners in crime appear to have received far more.

On the Serie A highlights programme last night RAI journalist Jacopo Volpi pointed out that in the current climate every mistake that results in a goal can lead to suspicion. For instance, two bad errors by Pescara defender Capuano that led to Varese's goals in their 2-1 win in Serie B on Thursday. Probably nothing in it, but...

An ex Serie C player who lives near me told me yesterday that he had heard that the investigators have suspicions about as many as 400 players in Serie A and B and Lega Pro. In the week that sees the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, to say that what has been revealed so far may be only the tip of the iceberg seems appropriate.

There are also rumours that games from this season are suspect, even some played as recently as two weeks ago. If these rumours prove to be well-founded, we could say that it is incredible that despite the spotlight focused on Italian football, matches are still being fixed. Or we could say that it shows how deep-rooted this problem is.

But it is not confined to Italy or football as the recent developments in cricket show.

Comment by jameswba 2012-04-08 13:10:06

Not confined to Italy no, but, as Joe McGuiness was finally forced to admit at the end of 'The Miracle of Castel di Sangrio'(whose centre-piece is also a case of match-fixing involving Bari), 'il sistema' never changes.

Good article anyway.

Comment by geobra 2012-04-08 15:03:33

So why was no action taken in the Bari v Castel di Sangro case, which saw McGinniss accused of abusing Italian hospitality? In part it was because Bari were run by the extremely powerful Matarrese family. Vincenzo was the club president. Antonio was at various times president of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), including during Italia 90, and Serie A and B, and is the main reason why Bari has a 60,000 capacity white elephant of a stadium that is usually barely a tenth full. And a third brother, Giuseppe, was a local bishop. But it was also because what McGinniss described was common practice, and because there was and is a culture of 'everybody knows what's going on, but in the interests of the game woe betide anybody who spills the beans' that includes the majority of the media, which can only hint at what it knows through the use of coded language.

As a 'reward' for helping Bari, unscrupulous Castel di Sangro President Gabriele Gravina is now on the council of the FIGC.

But things can change and 'il sistema' can be beaten because today's technology allows investigators to prove beyond doubt that crimes, sporting and/or otherwise, have been committed. Before there were rummours, nods and winks, and denials. Now, as recent events have shown, players like Doni and Masiello have been forced to make (partial) confessions in the face of irrefutable evidence. And the FIGC has discovered that it can no longer bury its head in the sand and pretend that apart from the odd rotten apple the game is clean.

Comment by geobra 2012-04-08 19:00:17

I should add that McGinniss's portrayal of the Castel di Sangro players is broadly very sympathetic. He sees them basically as decent, honest and loyal, if somewhat naive, young men shamelessly exploited by unprincipled club directors, and by the end of the season many of them have become his friends. That is why their compliant acceptance of the Bari scam as something that is normal in Italian football is such a shock to him. While it is true that the book describes a season (1996-97) since when many things have changed, it does make you wonder about the protestations of innocence from the clubs in the current scandal. It is difficult to believe that Italian football consists entirely of venal players on the one side and honest, incorruptible club officials on the other. It is easier to believe that while in some cases the clubs may be the unwitting victims of their players' misdeeds, in others they are complicit.

Comment by geobra 2012-04-13 17:46:14

The priorities of the clubs can be gauged from the fact that eight from Serie A have asked for a review of the 'objective responsibility' rule. They are so myopic that they think that finding ways of reducing their own punishments is more important than cleaning up the mess the whole game is in. Luckily the authorities, for once acting responsibly, are having none of it. Olympic committe president Gianni Petrucci has been particularly scathing both about the clubs and Serie A in general.

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