Football Business: UCL's John Foot on Calciopoli

By London_Duncan Last edited 126 months ago
Football Business: UCL's John Foot on Calciopoli
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As the morning of the 2007 Champions League final dawns and Liverpool fans throng the streets of Athens, desperate to acquire a seat for tonight's match from amongst tens of thousands of corporate matchgoers, it seems an appropriate moment for the launch of our new series of articles looking at where football is going, particularly regarding off-the-field issues which seem increasingly to dominate newspaper back pages.

Liverpool's opponents tonight, Milan, are especially apposite for our opening feature which sees John Foot, reader in Modern Italian History at UCL and author of "Calcio: A History of Italian Football" telling us about last summer's "Calciopoli" scandal that nearly had the Rossoneri barred from this competition and may have warnings for us as our game increasingly divides the haves from the have-nots. Intercepted telephone calls laid bare a hidden structure masterminded by former Juventus general manager, Luciano Moggi, that favoured his team along with others who were drawn into his circle. Juventus were relegated, Milan and three other sides were docked points and many individuals were censured. In Part 1 of his interview, John Foot explains the nature of "Calciopoli" and looks at the roles played in it by some referees and journalists.

Was the essence of the Calciopoli scandal in Italy financial, like many other football scandals?

It’s not really about the exchange of money. If we’re talking about Calciopoli, it’s the influence of power over a whole system, influencing all levels of the game right from Europe down to the lower leagues and disciplinary procedures and media. Some of the scandals recently have been bags of money, but that’s really been about buying one game or one referee or one player. This was a system, which made it much more pernicious over a long period of time and much more frightening. In some ways corruption is really the wrong word. It’s messing around with the very jobs that the people are meant to be doing, a long term influence over them, sometimes direct influence and sometimes psychological, doing what the people wanted you to do without even being asked to, which is a much more powerful position to be in than having to sort it out in detail every time.

And far harder to put your finger on if you’re trying to track things down?

That’s right, and without the phone taps and the phone call evidence they would have gone on saying for years, like they’ve been saying before, that we’re the better team and these are just mistakes. There was nothing to go on exactly. The smoking guns were the mobile phones, really. Juventus themselves say, “Where were the fixed games? There weren’t any fixed games!” That’s their defence, but that’s not really the point. The point is you didn’t need to fix games, you just had a guarantee that you weren’t going to lose that game. Normally they were good enough to win anyway, so it didn’t really matter, but it’s a kind of guarantee that’s really very subtle.

The extent to which the media were involved is fascinating.

Yes, well that’s crucial to build public opinion and also to get your enemies sorted out, if you imagine the fact that in Italy you’ve got the huge coverage, the three dailies, the TV analysis of every single event. Moggi had quite a lot of journalists on his side who kind of directly worked for him, not for money again, but for influence and power. He would go on TV a lot himself. He was constantly being invited on and treated like royalty and he also had TV people in his pocket. He did it with other clubs as well, so it wasn’t just him. The media was crucial and again it was quite subtle the way it was used to mess around with slow motion replays, even at that level, and plant certain articles, transfer market questions and so on which I’m sure is still going on.

What was in it for people like the referees and the media?

I think that’s one of the important questions. What’s in it for referees? It is indirectly money, because it would be difficult for you to have a good career if you continually disobeyed the powers that be, including Moggi, so that was one thing, if you were ambitious as a referee, although that wasn’t always true because you had the Collina counter-example. But, you know, a safe life, an easy life, not being criticised in the media.

What was in it for the journalists? Power, influence, tickets, shirts, going to games, meeting the players... It was easier planting stories, all that kind of thing, transfer market stories, which are the bread and butter of the sports press in Italy because they’ve got nothing to say all week as there aren’t any games.

Destabilising stories? Destabilising players?

Yeah, he [Moggi] did that, but he would have a lot of information, so he could plant stories with his favourite journalists and that would make them look good. I think Cannavaro [Fabio, the Italian national team captain] is the interesting example, advising Cannavaro to make a lot of trouble so he’d be transferred from Internazionale to Juve and that’s all documented in the phone calls. Of course, money is everywhere and it would be naïve to say it isn’t about money, and the transfer market stuff is obviously when a lot of money is being made. Also, in winning, your team is making more money, so at the end of the day it is about money as well. The transfer market is crucial in that Moggi's son and all these powerful peoples’ children basically control the transfer market. I think that’s changed for the better since the scandal broke. That’s a possible parallel there between Calciopoli and the so-called bungs scandal [in England] which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

It seems to me that the big difference between Italy and England is that in England the magistrates don’t have the kind of investigating powers that they do in Italy. I’m sure they would have acted on the bung allegations, I’m sure they would have interrogated the people involved, I’m sure they would have looked more deeply into it, whereas the police seem to think that no crime’s been committed. It seems to me slightly bizarre. I think the magistrates in Italy have huge autonomous powers of investigation and that makes a difference to what comes out..

So they can just decide to be interested in something?

If they have knowledge of a crime, it’s actually their constitutional duty to investigate it, and they can then order phone taps or ask for them to be ordered. They have police working for them and they have a lot of powers that the British police force don’t have.

Were there journalists who knew, but couldn’t speak out?

There were some very brave journalists, some of whom I talk about in my book, who did speak out and there’s a great book written in the nineties called “Lucky Luciano” about Moggi which basically details everything, not up to the level of what we found out later, but it’s a pretty hard-hitting book which was ignored by the press as too dangerous. So there were journalists who spoke out, who basically detailed the system and they were marginalized within the journalistic world, especially the sporting journalistic world, which is a very cliquey world in Italy. There were some names that I think were very brave: Marco Travaglio, who’s a fantastic journalist who also writes about politics and Oliviero Beha, another journalist. When the scandal broke a year ago for about two weeks you couldn’t turn on your telly without seeing these people who you’d never seen before, suddenly out of the woodwork, being asked about it. They faded slowly away again, but they were kind of proved right and it wasn’t easy to take on people like Moggi because Moggi would sue you, he would crush you if you took him on. He’s got a lot of power and a lot of powerful friends in politics and the police and so on.

As soon as the scandal broke journalists jumped on the bandwagon saying “How terrible! How has this been going on?” Of course they knew what was going on, a lot of them. I think nobody knew to the level that actually emerged, but they knew quite a lot of stuff. A lot of journalists had their careers ruined by the scandal, by the way. One guy who’s now died, called Giorgio Tosatti, who was the grand old man of Italian journalism, he had his reputation besmirched right at the end by a few phone calls with Moggi that came out that showed him to be very friendly with Moggi.

In the second and concluding part of the interview John will talk about the influence of the businessmen who became club owners, the reaction of the fans and what lessons we should learn from Italian football's problems.

Last Updated 23 May 2007