It’s hard to believe, but we’re rapidly closing in on the 10th anniversary of Calciopoli, and like a classic horror movie monster, it just refuses to stay dead. The most recent resurrection of the whole tawdry affair came last week, when new FIGC president Carlo Tavecchio addressed the question of just how many Scudetti Juventus can be said to have won.
"Juventus were clearly the strongest on the pitch," he said. "They won 32 titles, they did not steal anything, and they wouldn’t have needed any of these tricks. I say this as an old Interista."
He did subsequently hedge the statement a bit by stating that the Calciopoli ruling, "which sanctioned the behavior of the club off the pitch, is the law and we’re here to enforce it." But frankly, that hedging only makes it worse.
For an Inter fan, I like to think that I'm something of a moderate on the whole Calciopoli issue. I think the rulings were flawed and unfortunate in several ways, most importantly in the sense that they missed the opportunity to really clean up Italian football in a lasting way. I also have a very hard time believing that Inter was the innocent babe in the woods that Moratti liked to claim at the time, and I think the honorable thing would have been to decline the 2006 Scudetto. However, I also believe that Luciano Moggi was a fundamental cancer on the game who got everything that was coming to him, and I can't really feel any sympathy at all for the club that empowered him for so long. You play with fire, you sometimes get burned.
But whatever one’s feelings on the matter, Tavecchio's statement is inane. I will address its faults in two points.
1. Consider the logic
Allow me to present two statements that I believe to be true. First: In the years prior to Calciopoli, Juventus had the best squad in the country. Second: In the years prior to Calciopoli, Juventus employed the most Machiavellian figure in all of Italian sports, who was engaged in behavior that any neutral observer would consider "questionable," to say the least.
These two statements are not in any way mutually exclusive, and to imply that one of them is in some way unrelated to the other is fallacious reasoning. Apply this thinking to economic policy, and you could easily say: "Goldman Sachs is one of the biggest investment firms in the world, so there’s no need for them to do anything underhanded..."
If we imagine an alternate universe where Moggi doesn’t exist and games are officiated by incorruptible, all-seeing robots (it's a shame the name Arbitron is already taken), would Juve have won the 2005 and 2006 Scudetti? Probably! They were an excellent team. But that’s an impossible question, because Moggi does exist, robot referees do not, and we cannot yet travel back in time. And furthermore, would Juventus have even had such a good team if not for Moggi? Would the inevitable knock-on effect that causes top-class players to gravitate toward a winning team have happened without his dealings? Another impossible question, and one that gets right to the heart of the absurdity of the "sul campo" debate.
You can’t separate the events in the boardroom from the events on the pitch and judge them individually, because the two are fundamentally connected. It’s not like the teams are on the pitch playing football, and then the owners and directors are off somewhere else playing an unrelated game of Monopoly. The suits are doing what they do for no reason other than to give their team an advantage on the pitch. So if what the suits are doing is adjudged to be illegal or unethical, that stigma necessarily spreads to the pitch.
Here’s where Tavecchio really gets into trouble. Juventus are arguing the following: "We did nothing wrong under Moggi, and therefore we earned those Scudetti fair and square." I might disagree with this argument, but at least Juve are being logically consistent. Tavecchio, on the other hand, is arguing that Juve did do something wrong under Moggi, but also won the Scudetti fair and square. You can’t have it both ways, and his attempt to split the difference is classic political posturing.
2. Consider the Source
Tavecchio is not making these comments in a vacuum. For one, Juventus is currently attempting to win monetary damages for their relegation, which the FIGC obviously does not want to pay. Furthermore, Juve were one of the very few clubs to oppose Tavecchio’s candidacy last summer – which put me in the uncomfortable position of siding with Juve instead of Inter. I still can’t believe nearly everyone in the league went for this guy.
In order to preside over Italian football, Tavecchio can’t really afford to be at constant loggerheads with its biggest, most powerful club. Hence, he’s trying to curry favor by throwing them a bone here, never mind what it means for the integrity (cough) of the league as a whole.
This is classic chickensh*t leadership, wherein an official attempts to please both sides and in doing so makes everything more complicated and pisses everyone off. Italian football needs a bold, innovative reformer right now, someone who is willing to take some kind of stand and attempt to move the league forward. "I think Calciopoli was wrong, so go ahead and put 32s all over the stadium," would be an acceptable response. "I think Calciopoli was fair, and Juve should STFU already," would be another acceptable response. The best one, by far, would be, "Calciopoli happened almost 10 years ago, in a very different time, in a very different league. None of the current troubles facing Italian football will be solved by banging on about this for the rest of our lives, so can we please move on?"
Incidentally, toward the end of the conference, Tavecchio was asked an interesting question. According to some reports, the FIGC allegedly recently purchased 20,000 copies of Tavecchio’s book, "Ti racconto il calcio," at a grand total of 107,000 Euro. If true, this would represent a pretty obvious conflict of interest, all but inviting allegations of corruption. Tavecchio did not answer the question, though later was reported to have yelled "who is that guy?!"
Moggi would have called that amateur hour.