Long Reads

Calciopoli: the scandal that shook Italian football

Since Charles Dickens wrote “A Tale of Two Cities” in the 19th century, one line has been used more than most. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Maybe it’s been used too regularly.

But if you turn the clock back to 2006, this was the perfect way to describe the state of Italian football.

The year 2006 – on the international scene – will be remembered as Italy’s golden time; their fourth World Cup trophy – their first since 1982. But bubbling under the surface was a scandal which rocked Italian football as a world of match-fixing, of corruption, was uncovered across Serie A.

What was once perceived as the greatest league in the world saw its reputation completely torn apart overnight.

The rumours started some two years previous. Perhaps something suspicious was happening at one of the most prestigious Italian clubs: Juventus. The Old Lady, at the time, had some of the most well-known players on the planet – the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero and Zlatan Ibrahimović all wore the famous black and white jerseys. Perhaps this was just a decoy, then, to divert the attention away from the football played by Juventus.

And so, it proved. After an investigation into allegations of illegal betting by the police, all accusations were proved to be without foundation.

In Turin, attention turned to the action on the field once again. The 2004/05 season was one to remember for the club. Fabio Capello – a Juventus legend, adored by the supporters during his time at the club in the 1970s – was brought into the dugout; Marcello Lippi’s second spell as manager had come to an end as he made the step up to the national team following a disastrous Euro 2004 campaign for the Italians. Five days prior to the Champions League final, a weakened AC Milan only managed a 3-3 draw over Palermo. The result led to celebrations two hours west of Milan; Juventus were crowned champions of Italy for the 28th time, and for the first since 2003 – or so they thought at the time.

Under the surface, however, lied a scandal which was set to rock the entire nation. It was in the spring of 2006 that Turin Magistrates approached the Italian football authorities. They discovered something quite remarkable. The governing bodies themselves were impacted by the accusations of corruption within the Italian game.

The Magistrates had one option; turn to the press and tell the story of Calciopoli. Unsurprisingly, it dominated the front pages of the Italian media.

At the centre of the scandal was Luciano Moggi. It’s at this stage that we should suggest that the former general manager of Juventus has always denied the charges. In March 2015, the investigation was closed and Moggi – nor anyone else- was punished.

Moggi had built his reputation with Juventus during the 1970s. A former railway station ticket office manager, he eventually moved on to Roma, Torino and Napoli. In 1994, he returned home to the Stadio delle Alpi.

It marked the beginning of a golden era at Juventus. Under the guidance of Marcello Lippi – also appointed in 1994 – a dynasty was born. Champions in Italy by 1995, the following season saw Juventus take on Europe. For the first time since 1985, Juventus became champions of Europe in 1996 as they lifted the Champions League, beating Louis van Gaal’s Ajax on penalties in Rome. In the city where the Pope resides, this team became saints in their own nation; Vialli, Conte, Ravanelli and Didier Deschamps just a few of the names which will forever remain entwined in Juventus folklore.

But it was 10 years later that Moggi’s reputation was destroyed. The story the investigations were focused upon remain quite incredible. It all focuses upon a 2-1 defeat to Reggina in November 2004.

It is alleged – and denied strongly by Moggi – that he, and Juventus chairman Antonio Giraudo, detained referee Gianluca Paparesta and his two assistants in the changing room; they are accused of scolding the officials because they didn’t show favouritism towards Juve during the game.

The front pages of the Italian newspapers also released evidence – which was later proved to be inconclusive – that Moggi held talks with Serie A administrators. It’s suggested that he intended to influence results by asking for certain referees of who were more likely to favour Juventus or support Juve at a time of a dubious decision.

The punishment imposed on Juve was one of the harshest sentences that the European game has seen in living memory. They were stripped of their 2004/05 Serie A title; they were relegated to the Italian second tier – they remain the only club ever to gain 91 points in a season and see themselves condemned to relegation.

Just five days after Fabio Cannavaro lifted the World Cup high – arguably his greatest moment throughout his illustrious career – he was contracted to a side lying in the second tier of Italian football. How much a few days can make a difference.

Eventually, Juventus started the 2006/07 season on minus nine points, reduced from the minus 30 originally sanctioned on the Turin club.

It was not just them, however, who suffered. AC Milan were deducted 30 points from the 2005/06 season and eventually finished third; despite retaining their places in Serie A, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina all too were docked points. Inter Milan were crowned champions; Juventus have since appealed to the courts to have their crown rejected. In November 2019, they were defeated and the record books still tell us that Inter triumphed throughout the 2005/06 season in Serie A.

But playing second tier football also presented another issue for the Old Lady. How could they retain their star players? As you might expect, it proved to be harder than first thought.

Ibrahimović and Patrick Vieira joined the champions Inter; Cannavaro and Emerson made the move to Madrid, whilst Adrian Mutu joined Fiorentina for £5.5 million.

Crucially, however, they kept hold of some of their star names. Buffon stayed; so too Chiellini, Trezeguet and Del Piero. So, there was no big surprise when – despite starting the season on minus nine points – they returned to the top tier at the first time of asking. Under the guidance of Didier Deschamps, they lost just four games throughout the season. Juventus were back where they belonged.

And Juventus soon became a leading light in Italian football once again. Claudio Ranieri guided them back to the Champions League, following a third-placed finish in the 2007/08 campaign. And then, in 2011, the decision to appoint Antonio Conte changed everything.

But to be successful, you have to go through the worst of times first. And, yet that pain still remains a part of your DNA, your history. And there is no doubt – Calciopoli will forever be remembered in the history of Juventus Football Club, and the history of Italian Football.

In their new stadium, Conte – fresh from guiding Siena back to the top flight – guided Juventus back to the summit of the Italian game, going an entire season unbeaten. And since, they have flourished, lifting another seven Serie A titles since Conte’s first in 2012.

Article by Conor O’Grady via Football’s Finest