Juve plead for reduction of 'devastating' sentence
ROME, July 23 (Reuters) - The lawyer representing Juventus at the appeals trial in Italy's match-fixing scandal pleaded for leniency on Sunday, saying that last week's decision by a sports tribunal to relegate the club to the second division with a 30-point penalty would have 'devastating consequences'.
'Just to survive in Serie B next season we estimate that Juventus will have to earn about 80 points - equivalent to winning 27 of their 40 matches,' Cesare Zaccone told the appeal court's panel of five judges.
Juventus were one of four clubs from Italy's top Serie A division found guilty by the tribunal of conspiring with referees and linesmen to rig games during the 2004/05 season.
As well as being sent down to Serie B, the Turin giants were also stripped of their last two Serie A titles.
Zaccone told the court the effects of the sentence were already being felt in the exodus of the club's leading players.
'The career for a footballer is short and some of our best players are world champions,' he said.
None of them wants to risk two years in Serie B or, worse still, relegation to Serie C1 (Italy's third division).'
Italy's World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, defenders Gianluca Zambrotta and Lilian Thuram, and Brazilian midfielder Emerson have left since the tribunal announced its guilty verdict last Friday.
Zaccone also asked the court to consider the effects of a heavy sanction on Juventus's income from sponsorship and TV rights, and the effect on investors, who had bought shares in the club.
Juventus have been at the centre of the scandal since it broke in early May with the publication of intercepted telephone conversations between their then general manager Luciano Moggi and senior Italian Football Federation (FIGC) officials, discussing refereeing appointments during the 2004/05 season.
Moggi's conduct, Zaccone argued, did not constitute 'sporting fraud' but could be the lesser crime of 'unfair conduct', which gave the court 'greater freedom to choose an appropriate sanction'.
The other three clubs found guilty by the tribunal - AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio - are also appealing against the verdicts.
Like Juventus, Fiorentina and Lazio were sent down to Serie B with points penalties. Milan avoided relegation, but were thrown out of next season's Champions League and ordered to start their next Serie A campaign on minus 15 points.
Fiorentina lawyer Alberto Bruni told the appeals court there was no evidence that the club had ever sought favours from referees.
'I challenge you to find a single intercept in which a Fiorentina official says 'I would like or would refuse this referee' or says 'I would like or I would refuse that linesman',' he said.
The president of the court, Piero Sandulli, opened on Sunday by saying he hoped the defence lawyers would finish their addresses by the end of the day.
With several lawyers still to speak, however, the proceedings will continue into Monday before the judges can retire to consider their verdicts.
The court is working against the clock to deliver its verdicts in time to meet the July 25 deadline UEFA has set the FIGC to submit its list of teams to compete in next season's Champions League and UEFA Cup competitions.
Should the appeals process remain unfinished on July 25, FIGC commissioner Guido Rossi has said that Italy's list to UEFA would reflect the verdicts of the sports tribunal.
In that case, Juventus, Milan and Fiorentina would lose their places in the Champions League to make way for AS Roma, Chievo Verona and Palermo.