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Jul 15, 2006

Guilty verdict calls time on Lucky Luciano's career

MILAN, July 15 (Reuters) - They called him Lucky Luciano for his wily dealings in the transfer market. Others saw him as the reason why so much suspicion surrounded Italian football.

Last season Juventus's former general manager Luciano Moggi was arguably the most powerful club official in Serie A.

But his luck ran out on Friday, when a sports tribunal handed him a five-year ban for his part in the Serie A match-fixing scandal.

Juventus - the club he worked for from 1994 until quitting in May, and with whom he had won seven Serie A titles and the 1996 Champions League - will start next season in the second-tier Serie B with a 30-point deduction.

While many neutrals will regret Juve's demise, few will shed a tear for Moggi's spectacular fall from grace.

Moggi was at the centre of the scandal from the moment it broke in early May with the publication of intercepted telephone conversations in which he discussed refereeing appointments with senior FIGC officials during the 2004-05 season.

The effect of the transcripts was like an earthquake.

Moggi dismissed them as 'a load of rubbish' and suggested their release was timed to distract Juve from their final two games of the season in which the Turin side need to defend a three-point lead over AC Milan to claim their 29th league title.

As newspapers printed more transcripts, however, the pressure on him to quit grew.

He hung on until the last day of the season when - after watching Juventus beat Reggina to secure their 29th scudetto - he bid a tearful, televised farewell in which he accused the media of 'killing his soul'.

Few were weeping with him. In his long career in football management, Moggi had made as many enemies as friends.

In 2000, Juve won a vital end-of-season game against Parma when a valid goal from Parma defender Fabio Cannavaro was ruled out.

'Why do the Rome teams find it difficult to win the title? Ask Moggi. It will be this way until Moggi isn't against us. It is not enough to invest millions to win,' said Roma president Franco Sensi.

After 20 years working for the state railways, Moggi got a job as a scout for Juventus and worked his way up the ladder with spells in administration at Roma, Torino and Napoli. He returned to Juventus as general manager in 1994.

He was known as the 'king of the transfer market' and was one of the few officials from a top club to attend lower division deal-making sessions held in a Milan hotel.

His son Alessandro heads GEA World, Italy's leading management agency for top players and coaches which is being investigated by Rome magistrates.

For a man who was essentially an administrator, Moggi was rarely out of the headlines.

He frequently had rows with leading figures from other clubs - Inter Milan president Giacinto Facchetti and coach Roberto Mancini found themselves in bitter public exchanges with the Juve official last season.

He appeared to revel in such clashes, but became increasingly camera-shy after the scandal broke.

He refused to meet the magistrate leading the Italian Football Federation investigation, Francesco Borrelli, claiming that since his resignation he had become 'extraneous to the world of football'.

He was also the only defendant not to present himself at the tribunal.

In his single public appearance, on a chat show on Italian state broadcaster RAI, 68-year-old Moggi portrayed himself as a man more sinned against than sinning.

'Look, I'm not a saint but I've not been in the company of angels,' he said.

For many fans, however, his protestations failed to dispel his image as the sinister eminence gris behind more than a decade of Juventus successes.