Matthew Barker on how one player's story has offered some respite amid the depressing Last Bet match-fixing scandal
Simone Farina looked a little lost at the Ballon d'Or presentation last month. But the 29-year-old defender, caught blinking under the bright lights of the Zürich Kongresshaus and nervously glancing over at Marco van Basten, sat in the same row, had as much a right to be there as any of the shortlisted superstars.
Farina has enjoyed a modest career. He was part of the Gubbio side that won promotion to Serie B last season, but his time at the Umbrian club has been hit by niggling injuries. Rome-born (and Lazio-supporting), he came up through Roma's youth ranks in the celebrated late-1990s side that included Daniele De Rossi, Alberto Aquilani and, crucially, Alessandro Zamperini, the former Portsmouth defender and one of the central figures in the still unravelling "Last Bet" match-fixing scandal.
Last November, a couple of weeks before Gubbio's Coppa Italia tie against Cesena, Farina received a phone call from Zamperini. The two had not been in touch for the best part of ten years. His former team-mate said he was hoping to sell his car, a white Porsche, and did Farina fancy taking a look at it? He didn't, but agreed to meet up for a coffee anyway. It was over the mid-morning cappuccino that Zamperini made his offer. If Farina could help throw the game, and persuade the club's goalkeeper and two fellow defenders to join him, he would be given €200,000 (£170,000).
The defender is said to earn €90,000 a year at Gubbio. He must have been tempted. But within an hour Farina reported what had happened to the investigators. Zamperini was one of 17 individuals arrested the following month, along with ex-Atalanta captain Cristiano Doni.
In the days after the arrests were made, Farina's name began to appear in newspaper reports. The first person to publicly reach out and offer support was the national coach, Cesare Prandelli. As gestures go, his was a fine one. Prandelli invited the player to take part in a training session with the national team at Coverciano as they prepare for a friendly against the US on February 29. "The door of our house is open, Simone Farina can come when he wants," Prandelli told journalists. "It's not a call-up for sporting merit, but a gesture to show that this guy should not be left isolated." When Farina next turned out for his club, coming on as a substitute against Bari, he was greeted with a standing ovation and a banner reading: "Simone, Our Pride".
His attendance at the Ballon d'Or ceremony apparently came at the personal request of Sepp Blatter. There were stories in the press that Farina had to go and buy himself a suit, because he had never actually owned one before. The Fair Play award had already been presented to victims of the Japanese tsunami, so the defender was instead nominated as one of FIFA's fair play ambassadors. Blatter, who pronounced Farina's club as "Ciubbia" and claimed it was near Novara (it is a good 300 miles away), praised the player for "defending football's honour".
Another Italian, Fabio Pisacane, now at Ternana, who denounced former Ravenna sporting director Giorgio Buffone for an attempted bribe, has also been given a similar ambassadorial role. Chris Eaton, FIFA's security chief, has insisted that any player who comes forward with information will be safe from any repercussions. There has been talk of football's governing body working with international police forces to step up intelligence and tackle the threat of a global criminal network with a phone line and website for anonymous informants. So far, Last Bet has been attempting to keep track of a chain that links up Asia, Europe and South America.
Farina, meanwhile, is trying to get on with his life: "I've never loved the limelight. What people say about me really isn't of any interest. I only know that I did the right thing." Italy has been in need of heroes of late and Farina's the perfect fit: a seemingly humble everyman, despite his high-profile profession. Together with Pisacane, he is provided an example for others (in Italy and elsewhere) to follow; it is now up to the international football community to continue providing support and protection for both players.
From WSC 301 March 2012