24 December 2009 ~ Fernando Miele broke down in tears in the Buenos Aires courtroom on December 22. "My handling of the club may have been careless at times," conceded Miele, "but it was never criminal." San Lorenzo, the club in question and where Miele was president for 15 years, see things considerably differently. One of the five traditional grandes in Argentine football, San Lorenzo became the first club in the country to take a former president to trial for fraudulent administration.
Miele won the 1986 presidential election at San Lorenzo and remained in office until 2001, during which time the club won two league titles, a Mercosur Cup and also built a new stadium, the Nuevo Gasómetro. By 2003, however, Miele was persona non grata at the stadium he built. There was no hiding the ruins in which he had left San Lorenzo, including a $45 million (£28m) debt. There was also no hiding that only $24m of that debt could be explained by the accounts. He was expelled from the club and San Lorenzo took unprecedented action in pressing forward with legal proceedings against him.
Several transfers are under scrutiny, including the sales of Sebastián Abreu to Deportivo La Coruña, Javier Artero López to Dundee and Gustavo Campagnuolo to Racing Club. In the case of Campagnuolo, three $1m cheques went missing from the club, although one was later traced to Miele’s wife’s bank account.
Money from the 2001 Mercosur semi-final against Corinthians and final versus Flamengo is also nowhere to be found. Agents working with Miele’s San Lorenzo, meanwhile, could expect to take a vastly inflated 40 per cent commission for finalising transfers. Sentencing is in February and the maximum penalty Miele could face is six years behind bars, although there is a chance he will avoid a jail sentence altogether.
For San Lorenzo, however, the very fact that Miele has been brought to trial over his administration is a victory in itself, and it is one which other clubs in Argentina may well look hard at. The players’ strike at the beginning of the Apertura last August, and the subsequent battle over television rights, highlighted the economic problems faced by clubs in Argentina. The government doubled the money paid for rights to 600m pesos (£98m) a year but the previous rights holders TSC euphemistically referred to "incompetent" administration of clubs’ accounts as the reason for club’s debt, rather than the price paid for the rights.
Little secret has been made of the five grandes’ boardroom disputes, power struggles, questionable transfer policies and snowballing debt. Yet it is the players and the coaches who are take the blame for why not one of the ‘Big Five’ has qualified for next year’s Copa Libertadores. There will be no River Plate, no Boca Juniors, no Racing, no Independiente and no San Lorenzo representing Argentina. Fernando Miele would put it was down to carelessness. Joel Richards