Border incidents

Fake passports are being bought by non EU players in Italy. Filippo Ricci tells who and why

It’s never quiet at Lazio. After a long investigation, one of the club’s star players, Argentinian international Juan Sebastián Veron, is to face trial having been accused of falsely ob­taining an Italian passport.

In Italy it seems that a fake EU passport costs £100,000. But it’s a price worth paying because a player holding European Union documentation can expect to boost his basic wage by up to 30 per cent. Each Serie A team can register five players from outside the EU, three of whom can be in the starting XI. Big and small clubs around the country have pro­tested against this rule, hoping to increase the limit, or to convince the Italian FA to cancel the restrictions altogether.

But the clubs face fierce opposition from the footballers’ union, which is desperately try­ing to strengthen the restrictions. The Ital­ian federation is supporting the clubs and to please them has widened the concept of the European Union to include countries in north Africa and eastern Europe. Ukraine is still out of this list, but AC Milan are fighting to get it in, in order to guarantee a new passport for Andryi Shevchenko.

This is the legal battle. Then there is an illegal one. That consists of finding European ancestors (real or made up, recent or even dating back to the 16th century) for South Am­erican players. When the research isn’t suc­cessful, the clubs’ last resort is to go for false papers. It seems that this practice had been going on for a long time, but it was only discovered last May when the Italian consulate in Cordoba, Argentina, con­tes­ted Veron’s presumed Italian ancestor.

The consulate had already refused to grant Italian nat­ionality to Veron, so when the player managed to get it through an ancestor from Calabria, an official inquiry began. It was discovered that the Argentinian had obtained his papers by producing a for­ged document provided by an employee of a very small council in Calabria.

The fed­eration threatened to deduct three points from Lazio for each game Veron had played. If they had stood by this, Lazio, instead of win­ning their second championship, would have been rel­egated. For the new season, Lazio simply registered Ver­on as an Argentinian. But the enquiry has been taken out of the hands of the football auth­orities. Now Veron will face trial, along with Lazio chairman Sergio Cragnotti, two members of the Lazio staff, two players’ agents and a translator from the legal office that provided the document.

In September, Udinese went to play Pol­onia Warsaw in the first round of the UEFA Cup. At the border, Warley and Alberto, their two Brazilian players, were arrested by the Polish police and accused of possessing false Portuguese passports. Only the intervention of the Italian embassy saved the two players, who were allowed to go back to Italy and from there back to Brazil. Alberto came back as a Brazilian, and re-registered as a non-EU player. Warley is still in Brazil, looking for new papers. Dida, AC Milan’s erratic new keeper, was also caught with a false Portuguese pass­port, and re-registered as Brazilian.

Lastly, there were four African players with the youth team of Sampdoria, currently struggling in Serie B. Second division clubs are permitted to have just one non-EU player. Pol­ice found two Cameroonians with false Bel­gian passports, another one with a fake French one and a Cape Verdian with the customary false Portuguese documentation. The government of Portugal, worried that such cases are ruining the image of their country, even made an official statement on the issue.

The most surprising thing is that neither Juventus, who lost the title to Lazio in the very last game of the season, nor any other clubs complained to the FA or tried to persuade them to act against Veron. This may be because they all have something to hide…

From WSC 166 December 2000. What was happening this month