Tuesday 29 May 2012

The Familiar Gloom

Under investigation: Domenico Criscito
It seems all too familiar now.  Coverciano, inquests, investigations, raids, recriminations, and strident protests of innocence.  This is all preparing for a major tournament, Italy style.

For 2006, read 2012.  For 1982, read 2012.  Italy coach Cesare Prandelli picked a shortlist of players for Euro 2012 and the news Monday should have focused on who should stay, who should go, who should play where.  In the case of Domenico Criscito, he simply could not stay, so he went, and he will not play a part in Euro 2012.

On Monday morning, police arrived at Coverciano, the headquarters and training ground of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), and questioned the left-back over his involvement in a match-fixing scandal that has already resulted in the arrest of Lazio's Stefano Mauri, who is by no means a low-profile player in Italian football.  Criscito's room was raided by police, and although he is still under investigation, he was told to pack his bags.  For Prandelli, for Demetrio Albertini, FIGC's vice-president and former Milan legend, his presence would have been too much of a distraction.

"Criscito won't be going," said Albertini. "He has to sort this out--it is understandable and the federation has supported the coach."

With less than three weeks left until Italy's opening match against reigning World and European Champions Spain, you could say, without being laughed at, the preparations could be going better.  As if the scandal wasn't enough, the elements have conspired against Italy too, it seems.  Today, their friendly against Luxembourg was cancelled because of an earthquake near Modena.

There is a perverted logic to all of this.  As dedicated optimists will tell you, whenever there are occurrences of this nature around the Azzurri, they perform.  As squalid as the latest match-fixing scandal is, the omen is good.

In 1982, Paolo Rossi arrived at the World Cup after serving a ban for match-fixing--he stormed the tournament, taking Italy to their first World Cup triumph in 44 years.  In 2006, Calciopoli 'broke' before the World Cup.  The debates around that scandal are well-rehearsed, but suffice to say here that the legal crusade of investigator Stefano Palazzi against Italy's biggest clubs concentrated, rather than dissipated, the Azzurri, resulting in Fabio Cannavaro euphorically hoisting the trophy in Berlin.  It was indeed quite the juxtaposition to read of Italy's progression at the World Cup, and the regression of their football back home.

Ashamed: Giovanni Trapattoni
That is the optimistic view.  While the view is comforting, it also tacitly privileges what should be a depraved sideshow.  To say Italy will win again this summer--and indeed I have hoped that the latest match-fixing scandal spurs Italy onto great things in Poland and Ukraine--is, in the end, also to trivialize what is happening.

"In the foreign media our image is abysmal," lamented former Italy and current Republic of Ireland (whom Italy play during the group stages) coach Giovanni Trapattoni.  "We should give a better account of ourselves."

Italian football's problems, from racism to crumbling stadia to match-fixing, inundate any account of its football.  It's a shame.  The latest scandal, which also involves Juventus coach Antonio Conte and his time at Siena, gives another opportunity to people who have had the knives out for Italy a long time ago.

Neutrals and non-Italian football fans, in my experience, despise Italy and Italian football with almost a venomous passion; as if they need any more excuses.  There may be a redemptive element to all of this, and I hope it shows itself, but for now it is a moment to reflect on how low Italian football can sink.  And for another increasingly rarer moment, I can agree with Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani, that it is a sad day, and there is not much else to say.

Since 2006, the publicized clean-up of Italian football has not drained the lifeblood of scandal--rather, persistent machinations have engorged it.  It seems that when it comes to Italian football, scandal is not only bizarrely an omen for succes, but also for more scandal.

I will be covering the Azzurri almost exclusively over the next month.  Keep visiting. Forza Azzurri!

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