Italy - Jubilation to Relegation

 


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On Sunday 9th July, 2006, Italian fans were celebrating their countries fourth World Cup. Fans were still celebrating from Milan down to Rome on Friday before Italys Sports Tribunal shattered the nations celebrations. In less then a week Italian fans went from jubilation to despair as the biggest scandal to hit Serie A came to a conclusion.

The latest scandal to hit Italian football centres on former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi and his part in alleged match-fixing. It is believed that Moggi used his connections to influence the appointments of referees for Juventus matches. Juventus are not the only club to be involved as AC Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina are also accused of attempting to fix a match, fixing a match and failing to report match-fixing or similar ‘unsporting’ behaviour. '

The Italian Football Federation (IFF) asked state prosecutor, Stefano Palazzi, to put together a case against the four clubs alleged of match-fixing. Palazzi wanted to set an example to other clubs in Italy in this case and before the result was announced he wanted Juventus relegated to Serie C1 (the third tier of Italian football), and AC Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina relegated to Serie B.

On Friday 14th July, 2006, Palazzi announced the Sports Tribunals decision. The announcement rocked the footballing world as Juventus, Fiorentina and Lazio were relegated to Serie B. Juventus were stripped of their last two Serie A titles and given a 30 point deduction for the start of the new season. Fiorentina and Lazio have also been docked seven and twelve points respectively for the new season. AC Milan escaped relegation but start their Serie A season with a 15 point deduction.

The Old Lady of Turin has been hit the hardest out of the four clubs involved. This is because Lazio, AC Milan and Fiorentina have been accused of far lesser crimes. Fiorentina were victimised by match officials controlled by former Juve general manager Moggi until the club agreed to stop campaigning against the Juventus general manager. Once they had agreed to put an end to this campaign, they were given some favourable decisions towards the end of the 2004/05 season which saved them from relegation. AC Milan approached several linesmen and Lazio approached league officials who appointed referees.

The four clubs that are at the centre of the scandal are not the only ones to be effected by the outcome. Messina, Lecce and Treviso avoid relegation from Serie A and Italy now have new entrants to the Champions League and UEFA Cup. Juventus, AC Milan and Fiorentina have been kicked out of the Champions League and are replaced by Roma, Chievo and Palermo and Lazio have been replaced by Empoli in the UEFA Cup.

This is not the end of the current scandal as a further five clubs have also been named. Siena, Reggiana, Leces and Messina from Serie A and Arezzo from Serie B are also under investigation. The reason why Lazio, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Juventus have been trialled now is that the IFF had to meet UEFA's deadline of 25th July, to name Italy's clubs that are to participate in Europe next season.

It will take years for Italian football to recover from this scandal and clubs such as Juventus could face a possible ‘financial meltdown’. Juventus earns approximately 80% of its revenue from sponsorship and TV rights. The relegation to Serie B will effect this income as TV rights for Serie B (last season) were £14 million and this is a big drop from the £66 million which they received last season. It is also more than likely that sponsors will pull out (so they are not linked with a corrupt club) and this (along with a drop in TV revenue) could see Juventus’ revenue dropping by 50%.

Given the fact that Juventus fail to attract large crowds (in Serie A) and now they are to play their trade in Serie B, their income from ticket sales will plummet further. Juventus are also used to regular Champions League football which generates millions each year, it will be at least three seasons before they play in the competition again.

Some neutrals will not be surprised at the recent scandal. Last time Italy won the World Cup, in 1982, Lazio and AC Milan were relegated to Serie B admit allegations of corruption. The results of that scandal took Italian football seven years to recover from.

The Sports Tribunal's decision has not just effected the clubs invovled, but also the many fans which they attract and also Italian football in general. The competition in Serie A next season is going to be weak as teams like Messina, Lecce and Treviso are not in the same league as AC Milan, Juventus and Lazio. They do not have the same fanbase, financial power or players to compete at a high level.

What does this means to Italian football? The quality of Serie A will be weaker next season as there are only a handful of clubs which can realistically challenge for the Scudetto. The star players from Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina will leave and probably end up playing their trade in La Liga or the Premiership. In turn this will weaken Serie A as teams like Roma and Inter Milan will suffer from a lack of competition. This will effect all of Serie A as the quality of games will drop and this will effect attendances and revenue.

If you look at it long term then it is even worse. Lack of competition in a domestic league has implications on a teams performance in European competition. This in turn can effect a countries national team. If you do not believe this then you only have to look at how Italian clubs fared in the early to mid 80's in Europe and also look at how Italy did in France ‘84 (European Championship) and Mexico ‘86 (World Cup).

The IFF and the Sports Tribunal might think they have made the right decision in punishing the guilty clubs, but in the long run they might have ended up punishing all of Italy.

Steven Gore is the editor of SoccerManager.com, the free online soccer game .

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