Monday, July 17, 2006

The Fix and the Fire Sale

So far, so good. The FIGC imposed significant penalties on Juve, Fiorentina, Lazio and AC and the fire sales are beginning. But the story isn;t quite done, for a couple of reasons.

One, the initial punishments were slightly odd. Juve in Serie B with a 30 point penalty is just another way of saying Juve have been given a two-year sentence in Serie B. But Fiorentina in Serie B with a 15-point penalty carries a significant risk that Fiorentina could drop to Serie C. Why give the Viola a nastier penalty than the Bianconeri? And why give Milan even a theoretical possibility of still competing in the UEFA Cup this year (as described here)?

Two, there's still an appeal process going on. Until next Tuesday AM, the teams still have a hope of having their sentence lightened (and, this being Italy, it seems almost certain that some leniency will be in order). It's even not totally out of the realm of possibility that three of the teams may still end up in Serie A, though it seems very unlikely that Juve will be playing anywhere other than Serie B.

(On this note: while fans of all four teams have held protests against the ruling, Fiorentina's have been more intense than most. Viola fans yesterday blockaded trains coming into and out of Firenze's train station for an hour, a move which - given the city's central location on the national rail grid - more or less cut the country in two. They left peacefully, but are now threatening to shut down the city's museums as part of their ongoing campaign to gain "justice" for the team. And no, I'm not making this up.)

Three, there is still no decision on which teams will replace Juve, Lazio and Fiorentina in Serie A. Will the three relegated teams be given a retroactive salvezza? Or will three extra teams be promoted. Expect lawsuits galore on this topic lasting all the way until the opening round of matches.

Meanwhile, the vultures are descending on Juve. Little has been settled yet, but Cannavaro seems set to become the first proper defender to play at Real Madrid in three years, while Buffon seems likely to make a switch to Milan. Trezeguet and Vieira may be on their way back to France (although the latter may yet decide to break Gunner fans' hearts and sully his own reputation with a hubristic move to Old Trafford to become part of what promises to be Red Devils' most disastrous campaign in fifteen years). Nedved is toying with the unlikley idea of joining Spurs, Ibrahimovic is off to Inter, Thuram may head to Arsenal, Tottenham or Barcelona and Zambrotta seems likely to become the object of a ruinous bidding war between Real Madrid and Chelsea.

Juventus may yet start next year with negative thirty points, but the impending fire sale seems likely to ensure that they will at least start it with a healthy bank account.

More intriguing is what happens to Milan's players. Though many are professing they will stay with the club (and some, like Maldini, obviously will), there are a number for whom a season without Champions League matches will seem like a life sentence. Expect Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso (a pugnacious former Rangers midfielder who once famously claimed he was a Scotsman trapped in the body of an Italian) to be the object of some serious attention soon, especially from England.

I for one am enjoying the summer fun. First, a great world cup, and now, football's best summer soap-opera since the Bosman ruling. Just think, if it weren't for a group of corrupt Italian GMs, the only thing we'd have to talk about right now would be Doug Ellis' incompetence or the stunningly irrelevant Ashley Cole - Cheryl Tweedy wedding.

Danke, Beckenbauer! Grazie, Moggi!

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