Conte's ban? No problem
And so Antonio Conte's 10-month ban has been upheld on appeal, meaning that the manager of the current Serie A champions will not be allowed at pitchside until the end of the season.
Frankly, I'm surprised. After all, Conte isn't accused of match-fixing. He's accused of being aware that a match was fixed and not reporting it to the authorities. The charge relates to his time at Siena in Serie B and is based almost entirely on the testimony of one man, Filippo Carobbio. Carobbio, who faces an array of match-fixing charges related to other matches and clubs, decided to turn state's evidence in exchange for a reduced charge (he's getting four months).
Of the 25 or so men in the room when Conte gave his pre-match team talk ahead of Siena's clash with Albinoleffe on the last day of the 2010-11 season, Carobbio is the only one who remembers Conte telling his players not to worry too much, since the game was "sorted." (Siena had already clinched promotion to Serie A while Albinoleffe needed the points to stay up: Albinoleffe won 1-0.)
Such late-season "gifts" from teams that have nothing to play for to sides desperate for points are, sadly, not uncommon in Serie B and indeed elsewhere, as well. The difference is that it's usually unspoken; this time it appears matters had been prearranged, money had changed hands and bets had been placed.
The thing here, though, is that there is no evidence beyond Carobbio's testimony that Conte was aware of any fix. (He may have been aware that his side had taken their foot off the gas and weren't too bothered, especially against opponents who were highly motivated, but that's an entirely different issue.)
This whole tribunal boiled down to credibility: whether to believe Conte and the other guys in the room at the time or whether to go with Carobbio's account. Sporting justice has a different threshold of evidence than criminal or civil justice, as we saw in England with the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra case. And it moves at a much quicker pace.
Conte has one appeal left, which will likely yield a verdict toward the end of next month. In the meantime, Juventus has made contingency plans with Massimo Carrera elevated to the role of manager.
Will the punishment make a huge difference to Juventus' season? From where I sit, probably not. Conte may be suspended, but effectively it's a touchline ban. He can still work with the players every day. He can still talk to them up to a certain point before kickoff. He just can't directly manage during the actual game.
Yet that distinction is probably not much of a consolation. Juventus, still angry over the 2006 Calciopoli verdict, feels persecuted. In this case, it's not hard to see why. In practical terms, though, it shouldn't overly affect the team's performance on the pitch.
Good for De Rossi, good for Roma
When Daniele De Rossi announced on Tuesday that he "wants to stay at Roma," it made sense to many. He's from Rome, he's a Roma fan (poke around on the web and you can find a picture of a beaming De Rossi with a big, blond, bowl haircut and decked out in full Roma kit as a young boy), his dad works at the club's youth academy and he has been at the club for as long as he can remember.
What more could Manchester City offer him? Money? Sure, but he already signed an enormous contract last February, one which pays him nearly $15M a year and makes him the highest-paid Italian player in Serie A. How much more could City give him?
Five million more? Ten million more? And would that cash substantially change his life and the lives of his loved ones? Probably not.
The one other thing City can offer is the thing players usually cite when they move to big clubs: the "chance to win things." Big, wealthy clubs -- broadly speaking -- have better players and better managers and therefore win more trophies and titles. So, the thinking goes, joining City would have been, for De Rossi, a chance to win the Champions League and a league title. Given that he has never won either surely he should have jumped at the opportunity, right? And not doing so shows a lack of ambition, yes?
Some see it that way. I don't. Not in the slightest.
De Rossi's teammate Francesco Totti put it best: "Winning one league title at Roma to me is worth winning 10 at Juventus or Real Madrid." He could have added Manchester United or Bayern Munich to those examples.
The idea is that when you stay loyal to the club that raised you, the club you support, winning becomes so much more meaningful even if it's a rarer occurrence. De Rossi "gets it." So did Alan Shearer, when he turned down Manchester United to go back to Newcastle, "his" club. Or Matthew Le Tissier, who stayed at Southampton his entire career. Or Julen Guerrero at Athletic Bilbao.
There aren't many examples of superstars who sacrificed a truckload of trophies for the chance to live out their boyhood dreams, but there are enough to understand and appreciate what De Rossi did.
Some, of course, will never get it. I remember Graeme Souness saying a few years back that "if Totti was that good, he'd have moved to a big club a long time ago." Leaving aside Souness' debatable definition of a "big club" and the fact Totti turned down opportunities to move elsewhere throughout his career, it's worth remembering that there's more to satisfying personal ambition than money and titles. Incidentally, in 1984 Souness left Liverpool, who had just won its fourth European Cup, for Sampdoria, who at the time had never won a major trophy. Did he also move to satisfy his "personal ambition" of winning trophies? Or was Sampdoria merely offering him a massive raise?
Of course, saying he wants to stay at Roma does not automatically make De Rossi some kind of saint. Lest we forget, he makes a huge amount of money and that's a result of a very tough negotiating stance that took him to within a few months of free agency before he signed his new deal last February, becoming one of the highest paid players in Italy. Equally, Shearer, Le Tissier and Guerrero were also all handsomely paid for their loyalty.
But it does suggest that these players hold values in terms of personal and professional satisfaction that are somewhat different from the mainstream. And they see beyond a pile of trophies and a fat bank account.
Final note on the De Rossi issue. He was brutally honest in his news conference when he said that "better players than me" have been sold for the benefit of the club. And that's true. Just as happened to Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo and others, there can come a time when it's in the club's best interest to cash in. And if City were to make that "monstrous offer" then maybe Roma's bosses will push him to take it "for the good of the club."
I doubt it will happen -- I'm not sure the numbers make sense for City -- but you never know. But that's a vastly different proposition from trying to force a move because you value silverware and more zeros on your paycheck ahead of your personal happiness.