World Cup Open thread
In Italy, a Scandal Overshadows a Quest
By GEORGE VECSEY
Published: June 30, 2006
THIS World Cup may well be defined not by a goal scorer with flashing feet but by a man who was found broken in a driveway in Italy, clutching rosary beads. Nothing that happens on the 12 playing fields of Germany in this tournament may compare with the sad story of Gianluca Pessotto, a world-class player for Italy, apparently leaping out of the office of his club, Juventus, on Tuesday.
Pessotto was in serious condition in Turin yesterday, his life in doubt, according to hospital officials. Italian soccer is also in serious condition, plagued by a scandal involving the possible fixing of matches, including those of Juventus.
There is no suspicion that this World Cup, involving national teams, is dirty, but with one of the great leagues being investigated, the entire sport is under a pall, even as the Italians play Ukraine tonight in Hamburg and host Germany plays Argentina in Berlin, in the quarterfinals. If the Italian scandal is really that bad, what can we think about any league?
The trial began yesterday in Rome, but was adjourned until Monday, not in deference to Pessotto but to give people more time to prepare. The trial is to be held in a conference room in Olympic Stadium, the beautiful arena used for many of the 1990 World Cup matches, including the grim final between West Germany and Argentina. The stadium they call Olimpico is in a beautiful setting, above the Tiber River, with gardens and pools and marble patios. Now it is the scene of an inquisition.
Pessotto is not under investigation in this scandal, but his apparent suicide attempt is a symbol of the dark side of soccer. After retiring as a player last year, Pessotto, 35, was elevated to the job of team manager in the wake of the departure of Luciano Moggi, known as Lucky Luciano to Italians who are into English-language alliteration.
Moggi resigned amid allegations that he had sought favorable referees to work matches of Juventus, the team of the Agnelli family, the team of Fiat, the team of 29 Italian championships. I have been watching Serie A on Sunday mornings since the late 1980's, when civilization (that is to say, Italian soccer) finally arrived, all fuzzy and scratchy, on my UHF channel, before cable made it all clear how marvelous European soccer is.
•On some of those Sunday mornings, I saw strange sights. Juventus often seemed to get one extra break a match — a dubious offside call, a phantom foul, an inexplicable out-of-bounds decision. Yankee Luck, we used to call it back in Brooklyn.
There are prosecutors who think they have evidence, some of it on wire tap, that Juventus — and maybe A.C. Milan and Lazio and mercurial Fiorentina — had an edge in some of their matches.
It isn't hard for the lone ranger of a referee to have an impact on a match. Assuming the best of motives, we've seen some strange calls in this World Cup: One ref couldn't process the three yellow cards he had shown to the same player, one more than the normal limit. Another ref handed out 16 yellow cards because he had lost control. Another ref called a highly marginal penalty kick against an American defender. (I recalled Casey Stengel's famous explanation about why the umpires called plays against his dreadful Mets: "They stick it to us because we are rotten," Casey said, sort of.) Another ref called for a penalty kick against an Australian defender who was sprawled on the ground — a call that gave Italy a 1-0 victory and a spot in the quarterfinals.
posted by Steve @ 10:53:00 PM