So, the prosecution have spoken, and it’s bad news for at least three out of the four. Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina are all down. It’s a kick in the teeth for those that had argued – including Silvio Berlusconi – for “clemency”, because Italy won the World Cup. Hmm. Nothing to do with your interests, surely, Silvio? Are you sure? Ironically, his Milan team have avoided the worst of the punishment (which will doubtlessly have tongues wagging still further in the Nerazzuri half of Milan), but even they have been docked fifteen points and booted unceremoniously out of the Champions’ League. Given the damning indictments of all of four clubs’ behaviour, Milan can count themselves very lucky indeed.
For Juventus, it’s what could well turn out to be an extended stay at the nursing home of Serie B for The Old Lady – a thirty point deduction and relegation more or less rules them out of an immediate escape from life amongst the also-rans, and it will now take quite a spectacular performance just to avoid a second relegation. The prognosis could be very serious for them. Playing on the outskirts of town in the deeply unloved Stadio Delle Alpe, they struggled for crowds at the top of Serie A. They are, perhaps, more dependent on TV and prize money than any other major club in Europe. They may be able to pay the wages that would enable them to cherry-pick some of Serie B’s best players, but their entire current squad will go, and one year loans for the ones that want to stay are somewhat less likely than they were before, given the points deduction. Players’ relegation release clauses will kick in. Juve can’t even guarantee big transfer fees, and they still have the massive financial burdens of a big club. Their infrastructure alone costs them millions of pounds every year. I wouldn’t be expecting the crowds to go rushing back, either. There’ll be scant sympathy for the mess that they’ve got themselves into.
There’s nominally better news for Lazio and Fiorentina. A seven point deduction for Lazio shouldn’t prove to be much of an obstacle to promotion in the four-up-four-down world of Italian football. As for Fiorentina… what the hell were they thinking of? Closed down by mal-administration not too long ago, they could have set themselves up as a model for how a modern football club should be run. Instead, their name lies in the gutter. Fifteen points leaves them better off than Juventus, but their budget will be even tighter, and the expected transfer fees even smaller. They could well struggle to stay up next season as well.
The prosecutors have done the right thing. You don’t have to read too much of the details of the prosecution to be revolted by what has happened. Who do my sympathies lie with? Well, the supporters of everyone else in Serie A, for a start. They’ve been cheated. But none more than the supporters of Internazionale, who’ve fought like animals to win Serie A since 1989. They never stood much of a chance. Having said that, though, Italian football supporters have much to look forward to. They’ll have the tightest league championship for years there in 2006/2007, while those of us here in England have little more than watching Chelsea stroll to a Premiership hat-trick to look forward to. Let us not forget: this trial is a pretty damning indictment of Italian football, but the lessons that this sad story has taught us about the nature of major football clubs to form hegemonies to protect their own interests could run right the way through European club football. Perhaps the question we should be asking is this: is this sort of thing exclusive to Italy, or do other European football clubs also have skeletons in their closets?