Another week, another scandal
You may have read somewhere recently about the latest scandal which has apparently rocked Italian football.
Sorry, perhaps 'rocked' is not the operative word here. Our leagues, from Serie A and B, right down the alphabet are in such a state of perennial disarray, confusion and sheer corruption that the only movement that could really upset it is a steadying one. Now that would a revolutionary move, but the predatory instincts of the plethora of 'ne'er do wells' around here makes sure no such thing ever stands a chance of happening.
So, to the current scandal, which has already left one man dead in what immediately appeared to be a suspicious suicide.
As most Italians seem to be born clutching a cellphone in their hands, it should be no surprise to know it originates once again from someone listening in on somebody else's phone calls; As it did for the early summer's can of worms when former Juventus director Luciano Moggi and friends' attempts to influence and control Italian football at the top level, which resulted in heavy penalties for Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina and Milan.
This time, though, wire-taps were not set-up by police officials investigating the matter, but apparently carried out by employees of Telecom Italia, the country's biggest phone company, and that's where illegality kicks in.
Giuliano Tavaroli, the firm's head of security, was arrested last week for ordering the wiretaps of hundreds of public personalities. Tavaroli's partner in the apparent crime was Emanuele Cipriani, the founder of a private investigating firm.
Setting aside the obviously worrying consequences of this practice on the political and public side, the football element has already come into the picture on a number of counts.
First, the majority shareholder for Telecom, Marco Tronchetti Provera, is also an Inter director, and Telecom's chief operating officer, Carlo Buora, is Inter's vice-president; second, after Tronchetti Provera - who was apparently also spied upon - resigned as Telecom chairman for reasons unrelated to the wiretaps, Guido Rossi was swiftly installed in his place, and this is the very same Guido Rossi who was appointed acting commissioner of the Italian Football Federation back in June and led the purging brigade to the trials and penalties dished out to Juve and the other teams, not to mention the decision to award Inter the 2005-06 Scudetto; third, an invoice with Inter's name on it was found among the paperwork seized at different locations.
Inter owner Massimo Moratti admitted Inter had requested Christian Vieri, their now former player with a history of night-clubbing and fast-living, be kept under surveillance, but Tavaroli's lawyer said on Sunday Telecom and Polis d'Istinto, Cipriani's business, had in fact spied on the activities of Massimo De Santis, the referee whose career was effectively ended by the suspension received in the 'Moggi scandal'.
Even if, as had been reported earlier this year, Inter had received reports that De Santis was out to get them - as well as anyone else who appeared to stand in Juve's way - and decided to run checks on him as a defensive measure, their behaviour would grossly overstep the boundaries of decency and would amount to a violation of the football rules.
So sanctions could be forthcoming for Inter, which would further muddle the already precarious balance of Serie A. The whole situation, casting yet another dark shadow on our calcio, has already had one cringe-inducing effect: Moggi and De Santis have been able - or tried to, as we're not all dummies - to grab the moral high round and claim conspiracy at their expense. I swear they did it. Really.
As one of the wittiest Italian comedians, Gene Gnocchi, wrote in his daily column for Gazzetta dello Sport, Moratti should rather now have Roberto Mancini followed by an undercover detective, as Inter's coach has been operating under a cloud of apparent indecisiveness and uncertainty for a while.
The nerazzurri's Champions League campaign started with two straight defeats and a flurry of red cards, a result perhaps of the unsettling effect Mancini's chopping and changing has had on the squad.
On Sunday in Cagliari Mancini went for a 4-3-3, a formation he had previously sneered at, but with Ibrahimovic playing in a more withdrawn role, Hernon Crespo enduring an ineffective day and Adriano still way below his best, it took World Champion Fabio Grosso to equalise Colucci's strike which had given the home side the lead.
With the added pressure of being the 'good guys' and of trying to win the Scudetto in a season without Juventus and with Milan weighed down by the 8-point penalty Inter are again making a royal mess of it, and while their inability to win the Italian title in the last 17 years was a source of fun and jokes for a while, the whole situation has now turned nasty and positively tiresome, and if sanctions should result from the Telecom situation, put your helmets on.
Inter's problems have opened the door for Roma - ironically, beaten at home by Inter on September 20 in their only high profile match so far - and Palermo to rise to the top of the Serie A, the Sicilians recovering brilliantly from the previous Sunday's defeat at Empoli and the muscular midweek Uefa Cup tie against West Ham.
Inter's ups and downs on and off the pitch have overshadowed the fact the current season might be a sensational one in terms of competitive balance and unpredictability.
Catania have now been put back in their place after an encouraging start, but little Empoli entered the weekend only one point behind Roma - then lost to them 1-0 - while yellow Tuscans Siena kept their unbeaten away record by snatching a point at the San Siro against Milan, who recorded their third consecutive goalless draw and are now openly worrying about Alberto Gilardino, their expensive 2005 summer purchase who has been going through one of those barren patches strikers dread and can't seem to get out of until they unwittingly score with their knee.
'Not the best of matches' was the reaction of soccer enthusiast Steve Nash, the Canadian point man who was voted the NBA's MVP in 2004-05; A friend of Juve's Alessandro del Piero and Milan's Massimo Ambrosini, Nash took his Phoenix Suns teammates to the San Siro from their training camp base near Treviso.
What the highest-scoring team in the NBA made of a goalless draw in the pouring rain, apart from Nash's remark, may perhaps be best left unknown.