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