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Oct 31, 2006

Calcio amid more chaos

It may sound like a broken record, but Italy is a country which wishes it was going nowhere fast.

That, at least, would be better than hurtling downhill towards moral and material disaster as it's been doing for a while.

Some clubs, instead of retreating to their caves and locking themselves in, still found the temerity to ask for further leniency from the Italian Olympic Committee's judges.

Of course, we have museums, beautiful natural and man-made scenery, art, monuments, beaches and the sea, but hey, we had those two hundred years ago, too, and we've barely moved an inch in the direction of ethical progress since.

Romans may have given the world the first structured legal system a couple of thousands years ago - and that's another zero added to the 200 I mentioned a few lines back - but they never suspected their teachings would not only drive law students crazy thoughout the centuries but would one day be stretched, mashed, mangled and pulled in all directions to form a hybrid structure which prolongs the issue of a final sentence through two, three or more degrees of justice until one of the contenders is either too tired or too bored to do battle, and very debatable kind of justice prevails.

I am referring, of course, to the outcome of last week's arbitrato, the final passage for the teams that had been penalized last July in the Calciopoli scandal to get their point across and gain a further discount on their previous penalties.

In other words, the cacophonic 'reduction from the deduction' that has haunted the sleep of the many Italians who simply can't understand why some clubs, instead of retreating to their caves and locking themselves in, still found the temerity to ask for further leniency from the Italian Olympic Committee's judges.

As readers will know by now, Juve got another discount, lowering the total penalty in this season's Serie B from a original and example-setting 30 points to a more manageable nine.

Fiorentina and Lazio went from demotion to the Serie B and a 12 and seven-point deduction to reclaiming their Serie A status with 15 and three-point penalties, while Milan, who had originally been stripped of Champions League qualification, were left empty-handed and will be stuck with the 8-point deduction that had hit them on appeal.

Some among the fans and directors of that foursome of meddlers showed possession of remarkably strong facial muscles by managing to keep a straight face while still saying their club had still received a raw deal, but this nonsense has already set its table on this column for too long and has too frequently shoved the more exciting and positive developments on the pitch in the background.

Whence we'll rescue them this week, after a particularly lively weekend programme that again proved Palermo's challenge at the top is not fluky.

Juve's absence from Serie A, of course, has helped. It has proved damaging for their fans and sponsors and the TV and press corps that desperately crave more viewers and readers and for this reason tend to suck up to big clubs like the bianconeri and Napoli, who are irritatingly given more airtime and analysis than others in the division, but it has definitely helped.

Of course, Juve - or any other club in their position - competing on an equal footing with the others would be welcome back in the Serie A, but what was driving Italian soccer towards destruction for most, and prosperity for few, was the system of mutual help between Juventus and Milan which had been there for all to see - and hear about, from the interested partied themselves - and was destroyed last spring when according to the wire-tapping it turned out Luciano Moggi had perhaps tried to tip the bilance a little bit too much on Juve's side.

With competition more open, new referees who may or may not do a perfect game but cannot - so far - be suspected of receiving outside 'suggestions' on what to do, Inter and Palermo have been grabbing all the headlines, and there's even too much stuff to write about them to include all on this space.

Inter won the Milan derby 4-3, but it was never that close. They led 3-0 and 4-1 before Marco Materazzi was sent off seconds after scoring his side's fourth for lifting his jersey over his head in celebration, and with Patrick Vieira hobbling on a bad ankle Milan basically played the last 15 minutes 11 v 9, at one point even Dida sneaking into the opponents' penalty area on dead-ball situations.

Once coach Roberto Mancini sorts out the tactical side for good - a sentence which, admittedly, could have been used at any point of his three-year stint with the nerazzurri - Inter could really take off, although the Adriano situation may interfere with their progress.

The Brazilian striker was sent home last week after he asked Inter for some time away from the suffocating pressure - and the unwatchable performances he'd given the side in the las few months.

You wouldn't think letting what was the best striker in the world only a couple of years ago to leave on the eve of the Milan derby and a crucial Champions League clash at Spartak Moscow could work, but it did, and no one at the San Siro on Saturday, once Ibrahimovic proved he can sometimes add a direct shots at goal to his repertoire of flicks, tricks and spits, even thought about Adriano, unless it was the first name of Milan's vice-president, whose facial expression as Inter piled in the goals turned sulkier by the minute.

Adriano - the striker - had been at the center of another controversy just a few days before.

His personal life has been subjected to all kinds of scrutiny and innuendo, with allegations - all of them unproved, of course - on his poor performances as varied as the people who might have whispered them to you.

Then a few pictures turned up, apparently taken at the Brazilian's mansion during the summer, which showed him shirtless and with a cigarette in his hand during a party attended, as the photos seemed to show, by many young females.

Ordinary pictures of an ordinary party which would barely cause anyone to give them a second glance had they been taken at anybody's villa. But for some reason - spelled ADRIANO, obviously - the guy who offered them around for sale thought they were the hottest thing since cheese pizza. Italian newspapers at first turned down the offer of those photos, then, displaying the (not surprising) moral consistency of whipped cream, promptly printed them at no cost by reproducing the front page of the Swedish daily that had eventually fallen for the trick.

To their credit, readers responded en masse by shrugging their shoulders and laughing at the stupidity of some of the captions: among the words used, 'sexy photos' and 'scantily clad females'.

Hey, take a walk on any summer day and you'll see hundreds of women between 15 and 40 dressed like that, jeans and a midriff-exposing tank top, and as for being shirtless at home in mid-summer, it's the least you can do, if you're young and - at that time, at least - fit and your garden is shielded by the plague, mosquitoes, that haunts most of lowland Italy during the summer months.

While I'm on the subjcet, another Brazilian has taken on the appearance of a plague for opposing defences, though.

His name is Amauri - Carvalho de Oliveira Amauri - and at 26 he seems to be peaking. He has already scored five times this season for leaders Palermo and could teach Adriano a thing or two about the footballing art of playing as a lone striker, although it's not Adriano's fault that Inter has very rarely used him as such.

Amauri scored in Palermo's 2-0 win at Milan and had two at Fiorentina on Sunday, the first a textbook-perfect bullet of a header from 12 metres out, the second - and the visitors' injury time winner - with a right footer from a tight angle after juggling his way past two Fiorentina players who really should have done better.

In the first half, again after shaking off two defenders, Amauri had provided a wonderful 30-metre crossfield pass with the outside of his right foot for David Di Michele to score Palermo's first, and his performances so far have been so impressive that the rumour on Monday was that Brazil coach Carlos Dunga would call him up for the November 15 friendly in Switzerland.

No phone call came, though, and now Amauri may choose to turn out for Italy once he gets his dual-nationality papers sorted out for good (he may be 55 by that time, if you know Italian bureaucracy, but perhaps not, as VIPs usually get preferential treatment here).

An astonishing ascent for someone who went through Napoli (in 2001), Parma, Empoli, Messina and Piacenza without leaving a trace, and only found his feet with Chievo last season, scoring 11 times in 37 appearances.

Once Chievo's Champions League campaign was brought to an immediate halt by Levski Sofia, he joined Palermo for 8 million euros on the last day of the summer transfer window, and has now clearly relegated former starter Andrea Caracciolo to the substitutes' bench.

In Tuesday's newspapers, his agent compared him to Aristoteles, a fictional, saudade-plagued Brazilian footballer in the 1980's cult movie 'L'allenatore nel pallone' who overcame his homesickness to became a star in the most important game of the season.

Aristoteles was comedy, though, Amauri is for real, and it's comforting to know there are still some places in Italian football where you can tell one from the other.


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