Gianluigi Buffon could only look to the heavens as Italy ignominiously failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. The Azzurri had reached a new nadir in their footballing landscape.
Following their failure to qualify, numerous articles have been written, with many critics stating that the writing had been on the wall all along. Italy’s long decline started long ago and can now truly be felt.
Though, coach Gian Piero Ventura together with former Italian FA president Carlo Tavecchio are hugely responsible, playing the blame game will not help Calcio regain its former standing.
A salient feature that has continued to plague Italian football and Italy in general. The boot-shaped nation has earned the infamy of the world as being corruption-riddled, from its football to its politics.
In order to fully understand how corruption has afflicted Italian football, one does not have to look further than Serie A. Once a league that was the envy of the many, today Serie A is but a shadow of its former self with the Premier League and La Liga overtaking it.
This is evident in how most of the prominent players today have bypassed the league in search for greener pastures, especially with the salary package offered in Spain and England being far more attractive.
Before delving further, it must be noted that six of the ten Ballon d’Or winners of the nineties came from Serie A, two of the other four signing for an Italian side the season after they won it.
Furthermore, since 1982, Italian clubs have broken the world transfer record nine times though the figures weren’t as astronomical as today given the introduction of petrodollars in modern football.
So where did it all go wrong for the Italians? Just as the headline of this article suggests, corruption was allowed to seep into the Italian game and from then on it has largely been left unfettered. Here are a few notable incidents.
In 1980, two years before Italy’s unexpected World Cup triumph in Spain, the Totonero affair was uncovered.
Named after the term for illegal betting schemes in Italy, it involved a syndicate attempting to tamper with Serie A and B matches.
The result ended in mass arrests and in the aftermath AC Milan and Lazio were relegated to Serie B.
A total of 50 years of bans from football was meted out to the culprits, while various teams incurred a total of 25 deducted points.
Additionally, caught in the thick of it was Azzurri forward Paolo Rossi and he was handed a three-year ban for his role though it was reduced by 12 months to allow for his participation in the World Cup.
Unsurprisingly the Totonero scandal wasn’t the first nor the last scandal to rock the peninsular as there were other similar episodes, proving how corruption continued to rear its ugly head in Italy while insidiously kick-starting the rot.
Other episodes of corruption include doping allegations involving Juventus in the 90s.
Zdenek Zeman once accused the Turin giants’ players, Gianluca Vialli and Alessandro Del Piero, of putting on muscle via chemical help, although nothing was ever proven.
Exacerbating this matter further was the fact that Diego Maradona and Claudio Caniggia were found to be using cocaine in the 1990s, the latter even before he stepped foot on Italian soil.
2011-2012 betting scandals
In June 2011 a number of prominent figures, notably former Italian international Giuseppe Signori and Atalanta star Cristiano Doni, were arrested in relation with the fixing of a number of lower tier Italian matches.
Bans were subsequently handed out and Atalanta were deducted six points in the 2011-2012 season.
Moreover, further investigations revealed other established names including the likes of Chelsea coach Antonio Conte and internationals Leonardo Bonucci, Stefano Mauri and Domenico Criscito.
A scandal that needs no introduction. Considered the mother of all scandals, Calciopoli was ultimately the final nail in the coffin for Italy’s footballing reputation.
Its reputation nosedived and it is still safe to say Italian football is still fighting to be free from the shackles of this tragedy.
In May 2006 police in Italy began acting on telephone conversations they had intercepted incriminating Serie A champions Juventus and a host of other clubs.
A huge match-fixing network had been exposed, whereby clubs would select ‘favourable’ referees and influence results to suit one another.
Juventus were relegated to Serie B, AC Milan were deducted 30 points and both Fiorentina and Lazio were banned from European competitions for a year.
In Transparency International’s annual surveys, Italy has consistently been regarded as the most corrupt country in the Eurozone.
All is not lost though as Italian football can still rescue its bedraggled reputation.
Firstly, there must be a complete overhaul of the footballing system in Italy. It needs major reforms.
There must be a new watertight system in place to prevent, expose and enforce doping and corruption offences in Calcio.
Tighter regulations combined with harsher penalties must be introduced so as to act as a deterrent against those who dare flout the rules.
Bureaucratic red tape must be eliminated in order to allow smoother administration processes, and this means bringing formal and informal processes together.
This will greatly aid Italian clubs especially when they submit a proposal for something major such as building a new stadium.
Significantly there must be an urgent need for greater transparency within Italy’s major footballing bodies. Achieving this can be made simpler with the use of technology. Use the power of technology to build dynamic and continuous exchanges between key stakeholders – business, fan bases, media, etc.
Getting Italian clubs and the Italian FA to organise anti-corruption campaigns can also act as a constant reminder that corruption has no place in the sport and will only bring dire consequences.
Italian culture can be described as having an ambiguous attitude towards graft, however this is a country that time and time again knows how to rise from a setback.
After all, this is a country that is renowned for having pride and strength as seen by the four stars that are stitched onto their national shirt.