Football Business: UCL's John Foot on Calciopoli

By London_Duncan Last edited 139 months ago
Football Business: UCL's John Foot on Calciopoli

So ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Milan, deducted eight league points for their involvement in the Calciopoli scandal, provide Europe's club champions, sitting alongside the Italian nation's triumph at last summer's world cup. (Incidentally, anyone who still disbelieves Filippo Inzaghi that Milan practice free kicks such as the one they scored from should have a look at this.) Former Milan CEO Adriano Galliani, banned for five months for his part in Calciopoli, was prominent amongst those leading the applause. In the second and final part of his interview, John Foot, reader in Modern Italian History at UCL and author of "Calcio: A History of Italian Football", talks about the influence of the businessmen who became club owners, the reaction of the fans to the scandal and what lessons we could learn from Italian football's problems.

Big businessmen are figureheads of many clubs in Italy…

That’s always been true in Italy, that big companies have owned the big teams. Fiat is obviously the key example. Back in the eighties and nineties a series of rather dodgy big businessmen took over some smaller teams in Italy, which I document in my book, and they were totally uninterested in laws and regulations, but they also attacked the bigger teams and you had these rather extraordinary people like Luciano Gaucci [currently holidaying at length in Santo Domingo while the subject of an international arrest warrant linked to fraud allegations] and Enrico Preziosi [banned from football for five years for match fixing while president of Genoa] coming into football because they thought there was a lot of money and also a lot of visibility for them. But you haven’t had foreign money coming into Italy at all. If football’s a business then obviously big business is going to be involved and I don’t think you’re going to be able to stop that. I haven’t even mentioned Berlusconi which is the most crucial example. But, while it’s not necessarily bad in itself, I think that the problem is that Italian society is corrupt and that’s why football is part of that system. It’s not separate from it. In some ways it’s worse.

Is gambling thought to have been involved in this? In some of the other match fixing scandals around Europe it was.

No, not really. There’s no evidence that gambling was involved as a central part of it. It may have been a by-product. There was a gambling scandal that exploded just before the world cup involving some players, but it didn’t go anywhere. Players aren’t allowed to bet on their own teams, or on football at all, because that’s been the eighties scandal which was the biggest one, easily, before this, all players betting and throwing games. There’s no evidence, really, in this scandal that the players were directly involved in any of it and therefore gambling was very marginal. But, of course, there is still an extremely large illegal gambling sector in Italy and in fact gambling is what sparked off the [Calciopoli] scandal. It was allegations about Neapolitan gambling rings involving referees. Probably some people were making money, but we don’t have any direct evidence of that.

One of the crucial things is the reaction of the customers, the fans. Have they put their fingers in their ears and tried to pretend it didn’t happen, or have they voted with their feet and gone elsewhere?

Very difficult to tell, it’s so early on. There’s been a fall in attendances this year. I’m not quite sure of the figure, but quite a marked one, but that could also be down to the violence and so on, so there are other factors involved. It depends who you support and it depends on what your level of cynicism is. There are various fans who said “No surprise. We knew this anyway,” and so it doesn’t make any difference to them. They then say, “This is now a clean game”. Then there’s Juventus fans who are very bitter, many of them, and say, “It’s all a plot! What did we do wrong?”.

I think there is definitely a kind of falling out of love with the game for many people and we won’t be able to judge that for a few years, but going to the stadiums is not just about the scandal, it’s about they’re horrible, they’re dangerous, they’re dire. I mean, they’ve been closed down! It’s quite a big crisis, really, in terms of the actual public going to the stadium, but it’s also the fact that you can get almost all the games you want on telly for very little money in Italy. I have a subscription and I can see the whole season, every single Serie A game live. It’s a bit too much! You never leave the house! It costs about £20 a month. I think if they did that in the Premiership you might see quite a big drop in attendances.

Are there any particular alarm bells that should be ringing for us?

I think it’s fascinating to see Mourinho, the way he talks about referees. He uses discourse which, in Italy, is very common, but which here is seen as kind of mad and it proves some of the stuff I’ve been writing about the English game and the Italian game.

Image via remuz's Flickr stream.

But alarm bells… English football has a very untransparent system of choosing referees, of judging them. They don’t seem to get punished for bad games, it’s very behind closed doors. It’s not very consistent.

There’s clearly questions to be asked, particularly, about the role of agents and transfer fees and markets. I think in some ways our system is more open to corruption because we don’t have these magistrates, we don’t have this sporting justice system which Italy has which is run by judges, not run by just the football authorities. I think we have a very unopen system, a very cliquey world, which is not a good thing for corruption and scandal. I don’t know, but I think there’s much more that goes on here that’s not actually revealed.

There’s a culture of non-suspicion, a culture that a referee’s basically bad or good, but not corrupt and therefore people don’t take seriously Mourinho when he says “We always have bad luck” with a certain referee, which is quite a subtle way of saying he’s being biased against us. I don’t know if there’s any truth in that, but it would be interesting to know how the referees are chosen. We don’t know.

There’s a lot we can learn from the Italian system, I think, in terms of dealing with these things. It’s all dealt with at club level. George Graham was sacked by Arsenal for taking a bung of nearly half a million pounds. He was managing a team the next year, wasn’t he? [He was - Leeds United] I can’t remember what happened to him, but it wasn’t too serious, was it?

The press won’t even talk about the Sam Allardyce allegations. I find it very weak willed. He won’t talk to the BBC. Not enough is made of that. Sir Alex Ferguson won’t talk to the BBC after they made a programme with his son. That’s now gone on for years. If that happened in Italy, if someone wouldn’t talk to the RAI because they’d done a programme about football corruption they would be hauled over the coals every week, but the press is very cosy here with the clubs and things. I think that’s not a good thing.

Is anything being done to stop something like Calciopoli happening again or are people just hoping it won’t?

That’s a very good question. There’s obviously the factor of the punishments and whether that had enough of an effect, and clearly, in one way, Juventus in Serie B was a very big punishment, but on the other hand, maybe it wasn’t big enough. Quite a lot of people were removed from their positions, but there’s a sense of resurrection of power as well in terms of the people who’ve taken over the Football Federation again, who are really from the old school, not the new school. The guy Guido Rossi, who was in charge of the emergency administration of the Football Federation when the scandal broke said that we need to rewrite the rules and that hasn’t really happened. But I think people will be very wary of phoning referees and referee selectors now because, the first hint of that and it’s going to be back to the trials and so on. There’ll certainly be a period when it’s not going to be at the same level. I don’t think that kind of system can build up because that took a long time, the Moggi system. I certainly think the influence of power will go on.

Finally, what about the business of dual-ownership and loans. It’s been going on for years in Italy. It’s causing interest here now with Tim Howard and so on. Have any problems come up with that in Italy or does it work fairly well?

I think it was abused a lot. It’s a very long-term system. People would own half a player and half his contract for a very long time and that was problematic. They would buy half his contract and then you would bid to have the full contract, a very strange system. Yes, certainly, the loan system’s been abused in Italy as well over a long period of time and also the system of owning more than one club. I was just looking at all this about West Ham and I think that’s also very fascinating that Carlos Tevez thing and the way that West Ham appear to have got away with that. They should have been docked points. I think it’s absolutely clear and they didn’t have a political will to do it because that would have been relegating them. We may end up with a semi-Calciopoli there if that goes to court.

See Part 1 of John Foot's interview with us here.

Last Updated 06 June 2007