The Italian Job

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

Suspend reality for a moment while we paint a grim, fictional picture.

It is the day after the final game of the Stanley Cup championship and the Montreal Canadiens, Canada's most decorated hockey franchise, have won their 25th title, almost double the total of any other team in the National Hockey League.

There is, however, little joy in Montreal, or any other city in Canada for that matter. The team general manager has resigned, embroiled in a game-fixing scandal that appears to involve league referees and administration officials.

The scandal already has claimed the NHL commissioner, who was forced to resign in disgrace the week previous. Former Prime Minister Ken Dryden has been appointed "extraordinary commissioner" to sift through the allegations and clean up the mess.

The entire Canadiens board of directors has resigned and shares of the publicly-traded company are sinking faster than the Titanic.

Meanwhile, the Canadiens' goalie, No. 1 in the league, is under investigation as part of a massive gambling and game-fixing scandal from two years previous. The goalie is accused of betting on games in which he was playing.

In all, dozens are under investigation for various roles in the scandal, and that may just be the tip of the iceberg. If the allegations are proven against the Montreal GM, it is very likely that the Stanley Cup victory will be nullified and the team banished from the league.

With that horrifying, fictitious scenario fixed firmly in your brain, we welcome you to the wonderful world of Italian soccer. And this is no fantasy. It's real and it's happening, almost on the eve of the 2006 World Cup.

Just as hockey is our sacred sporting passion in Canada so, too, is soccer in Italy.

Even before Juventus, the Montreal Canadiens of Italian soccer, were wrapping up their second-consecutive Serie A championship on Sunday with a 2-0 win over Reggina, the stench of scandal hung over the team, the league and, indeed, the entire sport.

At the centre of the controversy stands Luciano Moggi, the Juventus general manager who appears to have held a Godfather-like control over a cadre of dishonest referees and administrators in Serie A. Moggi even was allowed to control the assignments of various referees to his own ends.

According to wiretap information released on the weekend, "The Moggi System" allowed the GM to have influence over who would referee not only Juventus games but games of their chief rivals, as well. The idea was to get a "tame" official to work the Juventus games while "softening up" future opponents with plenty of well-timed red cards.

Moggi, it appears, also had recruited officials of two other Serie A sides (Lazio and Fiorentina) to take part in his scheme.

BBC Sport reports that Italian Football Federation president Franco Carraro had been in possession of the wiretap information since February but had taken no action. He and federation vice-president Innocenzo Mazzini resigned last week and are included in the group of people under investigation.

In one recorded phone call, Pierluigi Pairetto, the joint head of the Italian referee federation is talking with Paolo Dondarini, a ref selected to work a game between Juve and Sampdoria.

"You know what you have to do," Pairetto said. "Make sure you see everything. Even that which isn't there."

For Moggi's part, despite his resignation, he's denying everything and vows he will prove his innocence.

"I have no soul left," he told RAI Radio 1. "Football is no longer my world and I will think only about defending myself from the much evil that has been said and been done."

Moggi is facing potential charges ranging from intimidation and criminal conspiracy to kidnapping. On one of the wiretapped conversations, he is heard boasting that he had locked one of Italy's senior referees, Gianluca Paparesta along with another official, in their dressing room after Juventus lost a game last year.

"I locked them in and took away the key," he said with a laugh on the telephone. "They'll have to break the door down."

Another referee, Massimo De Sanctis, one of nine under investigation for being under Moggi's influence, has been stripped of his World Cup assignment.

Last week, the entire Juventus board resigned.

Because there is so much evidence weighing against Moggi, there is a belief that when he is pressed by investigators, many, many names of co-conspirators will come tumbling from his lips. All of the phone evidence released thus far is based on phonecalls made during the 2005 season. More allegations likely are, based on more recent wiretaps.

A management company headed by Moggi's son Alessandro and which controls nearly 200 players and coaches, also is being scrutinized by Italian investigators.

By the time the investigation reaches its conclusion, Juventus, AC Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina could be punished by relegation to the second division.

Meanwhile, Italy could be without its No. 1 goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, at the World Cup. The Juventus keeper is one of 41 people under investigation for gambling and game-fixing two years ago. It is alleged that as many as 20 games were rigged during that season and Buffon is a central figure.

Juventus is a publicly traded company and its shares have been hammered on the Milan Stock Exchange. For the second day in a row yesterday, trading in Juventus shares was suspended when it fell by more than 10%. The share price now has fallen 20% in the last week.

Yesterday, Guido Rossi, a former stock market watchdog and senator, was appointed "extraordinary commissioner", with the mandate to clean up Italian soccer. There are those who believe he would have an easier job trying to hold back the waters of the Tiber River with his fingers.


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