The lives of others

A phone-tapping scandal has reached into most aspects of Italian society and football in particular. Matthew Barker listens in

Christian Vieri announced his retirement from football last month in typically gruff and to-the-point fashion. “I’ve had enough. I don’t want to do it any more,” he told journalists at the Milan Palace of Justice. Vieri was in court to give evidence against Inter, one of his 11 former clubs who he’s suing for €21 million (£18.7m) along with Telecom Italia (€9m from the former, €12m from the latter) after they apparently authorised the tapping of his private phone calls during a two-year period from 2002-04.

The case first came to light in 2006 as part of the (still unravelling) Telecom Italia scandal, which in turn had partly prompted the initial round of hearings into Calciopoli. This was a widespread network of illegal wiretaps, put in place without the company’s knowledge by members of its internal security department and allegedly stretching back to the mid-1990s.

It was used to pry on the private lives of hundreds (possibly thousands) of Italian public figures, from politicians to fashion designers – and including football directors and referees. One crucial point where the two scandals appear to tantalisingly dovetail is Inter, who have close business relations with Telecom Italia (whose parent company Pirelli is a long-term sponsor). Domestically at least the club have never looked back since that turbulent scandal-hit summer three years ago.

Rabid conspiracy theories abound on the internet, mostly stemming from Juventus supporters, insisting that Inter were always in cahoots with the communications company and actually set off the whole Calciopoli affair with the express intention of toppling their rivals from Turin. Nerazzurri president Massimo Moratti has admitted that the club did approach Giuliano Tavaroli, Telecom Italia’s former head of security and one of the main protagonists behind the wiretap scandal, for some “advice” on Juve’s seemingly powerful grip on match officials. But he has always strongly denied instigating any phone taps: “Everything that Tavaroli did, he did on his own initiative.”

Accusations of skulduggery are still surfacing, however, with former FIGC (Italian FA) official Paolo Bergamo claiming last month that his calls had been bugged by an agency on behalf of Inter. Bergamo was the selector of referees at the time of Calciopoli and isn’t the only one now claiming to be a victim of all this alleged espionage; Luciano Moggi, no less, the former Juventus general director and very much the public face of the scandal, has also accused Inter of listening in on his numerous lines. It could well be that a new front in the still ongoing investigation is about to open up, with Inter at the centre of things. The club have angrily dismissed both accusations and are currently preparing legal action.

It was at an inquest in 2006 that Moratti also admitted Inter had used their Telecom Italia contacts to keep tabs on Vieri. The club have always appeared suitably embarrassed about the whole unsavoury business of spying on one of their own players and are keenly aware of the damage the case could do to their image. During the hearings in Milan last month Vieri’s girlfriend claimed that he has been suffering from bouts of insomnia, so tormented is he by the idea that Inter had been furtively watching his every move during his San Siro heyday. Any sympathy would doubtless be more forthcoming if Vieri hadn’t recently appeared on a tacky chat show boasting about his incessant partying with ex-nerazzurri team-mate Ronaldo; all of which is exactly what led to Inter keeping tabs on him in the first place.

Having made just nine appearances for Atalanta last season (scoring twice), the 36-year-old was linked with various moves over the summer, including Ajax (the Cape Town, rather than Amsterdam variety), Notts County and Blackburn Rovers. A career in professional poker also briefly beckoned, as did a starring role on Isola dei Famosi (Italy’s version of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here), but “Bobo” insisted all he wanted to do now was concentrate on his private businesses, which include a successful clothes company.

At the time of writing, stories in the Italian press claiming that a deal was in place with Brazilian club Botofago were being shrugged off by a disinterested Vieri. Fellow night owl Ronaldo will be disappointed.

From WSC 274 December 2009