Sunday, July 16, 2006

Serie B-special

I'm not a fan of Italian football and I was supporting France in the World Cup final last Sunday but I cannot say that I begrudge the Italians their victory this year. Though they were outplayed by the French in the second half of the final and in extra time last week, in the tournament overall they were probably the most impressive side, along with Argentina (and possibly the ageing French too - I am still unimpressed with Germany's one-dimensional game that was made look good by a sturm und drang pace and lifted by the benefit of being hosts). Cannavaro, Gattuso, Buffon and Zambrotta were all superb, and you have to admire the way that ten of their players got on the scoresheet. Even the inevitable presence of charmless thugs such as Daniele de Rossi and Marco Materazzi does not take the lustre off the azzurri's perfect defending and sharp counter-attacking.

Now, however calcio has come back down to earth with the sentences handed out by Italian Federation prosecutor Stefano Palazzi. 29-time-scudetto-winners Juventus have been demoted to Serie B and handed a 30-point penalty, as have Lazio and Fiorentina, the latter having already been nearly rendered defunct by a similar penalty six years ago. Only Milan survived the drop, though they will start next season with a fifteen-point penalty and have been banned from the Champions' League. I am curious as to why Milan avoided relegation (they too were relegated before in similar circumstances, in 1980). One is tempted to say that it is because they are owned by Silvio Berlusconi but Palazzi was the magistrate that was the scourge of the Caiman throughout the 1990s, without ever managing to put him away. There was an article on the affair in last week's London Review of Books, which illuminated some of the case but the reality is that Italian football politics are painfully similar to Northern Irish ('real') politics: cut away from the main action and everything is terribly tedious.