This week-and-a-half’s feature club is Inter Milan: the most successful Italian club of the last decade and one of the most storied clubs in world football. Inter are probably one of the first clubs you think of when Serie A is mentioned, and for good reason. They have been tremendously successful over the past few years and, despite their recent troubles, are one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Some of the world’s greatest players have strutted their stuff for the Nerazzurri over the years, and their list of honours is very enviable. Only Juventus (27) have won more than Inter’s 18 Serie A titles (although they’re tied with city rivals AC Milan) and their Barcelona-toppling, Champions League-winning 2009-10 campaign was remarkable. They are a hugely popular side with a big global fan base, and I really, really don’t like them.
It’s not because their popular or successful or because I have a big distaste for any of their personnel (I’m a big José Mourinho supporter and an admirer of Javier Zanetti). I dislike the Nerazzurri for the way they benefited from Calciopoli and the penalties handed to their biggest rivals, even though their hands were just as dirty as anybody else’s (except Juventus, perhaps).
I assume that if you’re reading this blog then you probably know a thing or two about Calciopoli already, but if not I’d recommend using good old Wikipedia (shhh, you at the back) to read up on it. If you don’t know it as “Calciopoli” then you’ll probably know it as the 2006 Italian Football Betting Scandal. Teams were accused of rigging games by selecting “favourable referees” for certain matches.
The case had huge ramifications for Italian football. Four of the implicated clubs (Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Juventus) were all initially relegated, but most punishments were overturned on appeal. Some of them were still pretty severe nonetheless:-
- Milan were deducted 30 points for the 2005-06 season, meaning they finished third instead of second. They were also forced to play one game behind closed doors in 06-07, and started that season on -8 points.
- Fourth-place Fiorentina were kicked out of the 06-07 Champions League, deducted 30 points for 05-06, had to play two games behind closed doors and started 06-07 on -15.
- Lazio, who finished sixth, were also deducted 30 points and booted from European competition (the UEFA Cup this time). This deduction left them just three points from relegation. For 06-07 they started on -3 points and had to play behind closed doors twice.
- Reggina’s president, Pasquale Foti, was fined approximately £20,000 banned from all football activity for 2½ years. The club were fined £68k and started 06-07 on -11 points.
- Juventus were handed the sternest punishment. Their Serie C1 relegation was changed to a Serie B relegation on appeal, and they were stripped of the Serie A titles they’d won in 2005 and 2006. They were kicked out of the Champions League, fined £31million, started 06-07 on -9 points and played three games in an empty stadium.
I’d say that some of the punishments handed-out on appeal were a tad lenient given the enormity of the situation, but I’m no expert on the situation. Lazio, Milan and Fiorentina only started showing signs of recovery in recent seasons, Reggina are stuck in Serie B and Juventus haven’t been the same since. Considering Calciopoli’s impact on these clubs, maybe the punishments were fair after all.
It doesn’t take a genius to see how Inter benefited from all this. Aside from being awarded the 2005-06 Scudetto despite finishing third, Inter had effectively seen their biggest rivals (Milan and Juventus) neutered. The lack of competition helped them two four legitimate straight titles until last season’s post-Mourinho demolition job. They dominated, and even won the league by 22 points in 2007.
It speaks volumes of the impact Calciopoli had on Inter’s fortunes that they collapsed as soon as Milan were strong enough to mount another challenge. There is nothing exceptional about Allegri’s Rossoneri, but they were functional, consistent team and the strongest opposition Inter had had since the scandal. A lot of blame for Inter’s fall can be placed on Rafa Benitez’s dire man management and their ageing squad, but it’s no coincidence that they started to slide as their rivals recovered.
The Nerazzurri weren’t exactly flying before Calciopoli either. They won just three titles in 40 years between 1966 and 2006, and their awarded 2005-06 Scudetto was the first they’d “won” since 1989. Inter often finished seasons without qualifying for Europe. Inter were also-rans to Juventus and Milan, and even the two Rome clubs (Roma and Lazio) won Serie A during Inter’s barren decade-and-a-half.
Calciopoli turned them into a dominant force. They ruled the roost because there was nobody to challenge them, even if Roma did push them all the way in 2008. Mourinho’s influence shouldn’t be completely discounted but, on a domestic level, Inter were “better” by default.
I wouldn’t have had a problem with this if Inter hadn’t actively taken part in Calciopoli. They weren’t punished, right? That must mean they were innocent? I wouldn’t be writing this if I thought they were. Inter were just as guilty of tarnishing Italian football’s reputation by participating in the scandal as everyone else, and the way they’ve trumpeted themselves as an honourable club in the aftermath is arrogant and hypocritical.
Inter aren’t innocent. It was found last year that the Nerazzurri’s then-president Giacinto Facchetti (RIP) had contacted Italian football’s referee selection committee to “discuss” which referees should officiate their games, just as Fiorentina had done. I’m not conspiracy theorist, but it’s very suspicious that we’ve only just heard of these discussions and the telephone transcripts weren’t leaked to the press at the time (as Juve’s were).
Juve have always protested their punishment and it’s hard to feel sympathetic for them, but they do have a point. Why weren’t Inter implicated? The Bianconeri were crippled by Calciopoli, and, if what I’ve read is to be believed, Inter should’ve been reprimanded as well.
FIGC president Franco Carraro resigned in 2006 after the first wave of phone calls had been revealed. Guido Rossi, Inter’s vice president, came in to head the investigation and soon, not long after the verdict was announced, left his position to head TIM (a branch of Telecom Italia). Telecom Italia are Italy’s biggest telecommunications company, and the ones who wiretapped the phone conversations between convicted Juventus president Luciano Moggi and the referee selectors.
Last year’s Inter-implicating calls were leaked by Moggi’s lawyers, not Telecom Italia. Rossi was good friends with Inter president Massimo Moratti, who was also on the TIM board. Putting two-and-two together, it’s not hard to see what was going on. Rossi must’ve known what was going-on with Inter, and given his involvement with Moratti (and Moratti’s involvement with Telecom Italia) it would’ve been in everyone’s best interests to keep Inter’s Calciopoli involvement under wraps.
Again, I don’t want to fall for what could be a load of cloak and dagger nonsense, but it’s hard not to see this as a murky plot to cripple Juventus and establish Inter’s dominance (this is Italy, after all). Christian Vieri made allegations last year that his phone had been tapped by Inter (who wanted to spy on him) and that the Nerazzurri squad were forced to sign contracts promising not to mention the club’s plans to “bring Juventus and Milan down.”
“I am ready to show everyone the document, everyone knew what was happening. I was spied upon because I cannot keep these things locked up. 70% of the contract was to be paid by inter and the other 30% by Telecom (Italia)” – Vieri speaking to firenzeviola.it
The Calciopoli scandal continues to rage-on and attempts to prove Inter’s guilt continue. I’m willing to accept the possibility that these theories on the Nerazzurri’s involvement are nonsense, but it certainly doesn’t look like that’s the case. I’m going to use this week to do some more research on Calciopoli and hopefully get a better idea of what really happened during the 2005-06 season. The timing couldn’t be any better (with fresh Calciopoli-related sentences being handed-out last night), and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.