It's a conspiracy, I tell ya

KEITH BRADFORD -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:12 AM ET

Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory.

But forget crop circles, who killed John F. Kennedy and the outcome of the last U.S. presidential election.

For the very best in evil scheming, collusion and intrigue, look no further than Italian soccer.

Elimination from the World Cup against untalented hosts South Korea? The referee "had his mind set against us," explained striker Francesco Totti.

And the real reason they were knocked out of Euro 2004 after Sweden and Denmark tied 2-2? Match-fixing, of course. Or to quote goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon: "Somebody should be ashamed and it's not us."

New Italy coach Marcello Lippi might have to continue the trend if his team's poor start to World Cup qualification continues. The 1-0 weekend loss to Slovenia left his side with the proverbial mountain to climb.

To Lippi's credit, conspiracy theories were few and far between after the shock defeat.

But we got the next best thing when he was asked if his team lacked motivation. "These are just fairy tales invented by you (the press)," he said.

Which leads us handily on to the ramblings of Alessandro Lucarelli, part-time Serie A striker, full-time conspiracy theorist.

UNIQUE INSIGHT INTO THE GAME

The Livorno ace, thanks to his unique insight into the game, was able to offer his fans an explanation for yet another defeat - which sent the club to the bottom of Serie A.

"They want to relegate us, because we're a left-wing club, because our supporters have banners with Che Guevara on them!" he explained (with thanks to noted Italian soccer nut James Richardson for the translation).

"Last year, there were four clubs with socialist support and 'Che' flags; Perugia, Empoli, Modena and Ancona, and all four went down. Now it's our turn."

There's still no word on whether Lippi plans to hire Lucarelli as a "consultant."

But Canada could probably use his help after falling victim to yet another dodgy ref in the 1-1 draw with Honduras, despite the apparent absence of Che Guevara banners.

- You only have to look at England or Spain - two nations with an equally overinflated sense of their ability to actually win a tournament - to know that conspiracy theories aren't just an Italian phenomenon.

He might not be in Lucarelli's league, but fallen English star Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne came up with his own conspiracy theory this week after walking out on his latest club.

The 37-year-old, whose career has been blighted by alcoholism, said his name - and the connotations that go with it - are to blame for his struggles to make it as a coach.

So he's planning to do the only thing that makes er ... sense. He's changing his first name. Elocution lessons are also apparently being sought to "calm me Geordie accent down and make me talk slower so as people can understand us."

"I have to get my reputation back," he told the Sunday Times.

How about Paolo Gascoigne?

NOT ENOUGH TO SAVE COACH'S SKIN

Sometimes even conspiracy theories aren't enough to save a coach's skin. But if you've got to go, you may as well do it in style.

Peterborough United coach Bobby Gould was so fed up during what turned out to be a 1-0 loss against Bristol City that he decided to walk - at halftime.

Peterborough manager Barry Fry told the club's website that following the team talk: "Bob said, 'That is me, I am packing up, I can't be associated with that side.' "


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