Hooliganism, threats, player violence...Italian football lurches from one crisis to another, with no end in sight.
Torino’s first derby win over Juventus in 20 years should have provided the main headlines in Italy last weekend. it did, too, but for all the wrong, off the field reasons.
Five arrests, nine people injured by the explosion of a (probably) home made bomb and an attack on the Juventus team bus when it arrived at Turin’s Olympic Stadium all served to remind us that Italy still has a serious fan violence problem.
All of this is a great pity not only because it inevitably overshadowed a terrific, typically competitive derby (won 2-1) but also because it came at the end of an excellent week for Italian football, marked by the Champions League and Europa League semi-final qualifications of Juventus, Napoli and Fiorentina.
Aimed at the mother of Ciro Esposito, the Napoli fan killed (allegedly by a Roma ultra) prior to last May’s Italian Cup final between Napoli and Fiorentina at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, the banner suggested that Esposito’s mother was exploiting her son’s death through her recently pubished book, “Ciro Lives”.
In response to this, Roma’s American President James Pallotta had called the fans in question, “F……g Idiots”, thus taking a very clear hardline stance against the club’s ultras. Not intimidated, some ultra fans replied to Pallotta by writing up on the wall of the club’s Trigoria training ground:
“This F…..g Idiot gonna Pay you Mother F….r”.
The Ultras, however, are still very much alive and as last Sunday’s Turin derby events proved, they remain seemingly free to act with impunity, whether it be at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, Turin or outside the Roma training ground. Arguably, the most serious aspect of last Sunday’s disturbances concerned the fact that some Juventus fans are alleged to have thrown a home made petard into the Primavera part of the stands, occupied by Torino fans. When the rudimentary device exploded, it caused of a variety of (mainly minor) injuries to nine Torino fans.
As different authoritative figures scrambled over one another to condemn the incident, one could easily understand Giovanni Malago, the head of CONI, the Olympic Movement and overall controlling body of Italian sport:
“I’m tired of all this. Every weekend, I would like to be commenting on all the good things that happen in other sports but every weekend, we’re just suffocated by the things that happen in football…And that notwithstanding all our proposals and solutions in recent months. I’m going to ask [interior minister] Alfano for new legislation.”
The problem is, of course, that Italian football does not need new legislation, rather a new mindset. Does it really encourage good behaviour by fans if a senior football administrator talks about “Opti Poba who has come here, until yesterday he was eating bananas but now he is first choice for Lazio”.
Two weeks after he made those remarks last summer, Carlo Tavecchio was elected President of the Italian Football Federation.
Nor did Atalanta’s talented striker German Denis do much to encourage good behaviour when he “settled matters” with Empoli opponent Lorenzo Tonelli minutes after the two sides had drawn 2-2 on Sunday.
Denis reportedly called Tonelli out of the Empoli dressing room, hit the player hard in the face when he emerged and thus earned himself a five-match ban. Tonelli was also banned for one match because, according to the Disciplinary Judge’s verdict, he had allegedly made threats against Denis and his family.
At the end of a weekend marked by Milan’s disappointing 2-1 away defeat by Udinese, all is not lost. Milan might languish in 10th place in Serie A but the club is still at the centre of a possible takeover bid from Thai businessman, Bee Taechaubol.
The Thai millionaire is currently in Milan, with reports suggesting that he will attend tomorrow’s home game against Genoa. After that match, he is expected to talk business with the club’s current owner, media tycoon and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Media reports say Mr. Taechaubol may offer approximately 0.5 billion euros for a 60 per cent shareholding in the club.
For much of the last year, there have been persistent rumours that 78-year-old Mr. Berlusconi has been reluctantly considering the sale of his much loved club. A variety of financial problems plus the fact that the club runs at an annual loss – the deficit for 2014 was 91 million euros – mean that Mr. Berlusconi’s closest advisors such as his eldest daughter, Marina, have reportedly long urged him to sell the club.
By the end of this week, we may know more about the future of Milan. Remember, too, that cross town rivals, Inter Milan, 2-1 winners on Saturday night against Roma, are now 70% controlled by Indonesian tycoon, Erick Thohir.
Final thought this week concerns the Cremona “Last Bet” betting scandal which originally broke in the summer of 2011. One of the key figures in the enquiry, Macedonian Hristiyan Ilievski, is expected to arrive in Italy today to hand himself over to the judicial authorities.
Known as “The Gypsy”, Ilievski reportedly knows much about the match-fixing scandal since, on behalf of an Asian syndicate, he is alleged to have co-ordinated a group of people who contacted players in relation to various match-fixs.
Media reports, however, suggest that it is unlikely that Ilievski will co-operate with investigating magistrates, pointing out that he has consigned himself to Italian justice in order to escape a potentially more punitive conviction in his native Macedonia.