July 15: After the fireworks of the World Cup victory celebrations, Italian football prepared for a fire sale of many of its heroes today.
As most of the soccer world speculated on possible punishment for Marco Materazzi and the future of Zinedine Zidane’s Golden Ball, a more sordid scandal pushed three top Italian clubs into crisis last night.
Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina were demoted to Serie B (second division) for match-fixing, giving the highly-paid internationals in their ranks ample reason to seek to abandon ship.
The stage is thus set for a transfer merry-go-round across Europe, but many of the footballers who go to the shop window can only expect basement bargains.
A fourth club, AC Milan, avoided relegation but a 44-point penalty on last year’s standings ' and a 15-point one this season ' means they will miss out on the Champions League this year and likely the next, too.
Incentive enough for its array of Italian and Brazilian super stars to look for greener pastures.
Fans who had been celebrating on the streets till a few days ago reacted with dismay. “I don’t know what we’re going to do next, but I don’t think these will be easy days in Rome,” 33-year-old Lazio fan Andrea Hotfield said.
For Juventus, Italy’s most successful club, it’s a nightmare scenario. It goes into Serie B with a 30-point penalty, which means it has no hope of immediate promotion and may even have to battle against relegation to Serie C.
Of the eight players from the Turin club who featured in the World Cup final, few are expected to stay loyal apart from the iconic Alessandro Del Piero, who will struggle to find a big-name club willing to pay a large fee for a 31-year-old.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had already said last week that “in all probability we will leave if the club is severely punished”. There will be no shortage of suitors for him or defenders Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluca Zambrotta, all of whom won nominations for the Cup’s best player.
Fabio Capello, the coach who guided Juventus to the last two Serie A titles -- which they have now been stripped of -- has already jumped ship, taking over last week at Spanish club Real Madrid. It would be no surprise if he were to look to Juventus for defensive reinforcements.
Neither should Argentine-born winger Mauro Camoranesi, who had his ponytail cut after the July 9 triumph, worry about distress sale. For the rest, including the club’s ageing Frenchmen, the picture is less clear.
Defender Lilian Thuram and midfielder Patrick Vieira ' another Golden Ball nominee ' shook off the dad’s army tag during the Germany tournament but striker David Trezeguet stayed mostly on the bench and blew his shootout penalty in the final.
AC Milan’s Brazilian genius Kaka is a reported target for Real Madrid while Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso, on this summer’s form in Germany, should have no trouble finding top-flight clubs.
Lazio’s more modest squad has a better chance of remaining intact but Azzurri member Massimo Oddo is unlikely to be relishing the prospect of Serie B football. Fiorentina striker Luca Toni has been heavily linked with a move to Inter Milan. Lazio has been docked seven points and Fiorentina 12.
The sports tribunal that read out the sentences in a Rome hotel punished many of the 25 club executives, soccer federation officials, referees and linesmen accused of being involved.
Former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi, said to be the ringleader of the network that influenced the selection of referees and linesmen who were relied on to affect results, was banned from taking any job in football for five years. He had resigned soon after the scandal broke, as had Juventus managing director Antonio Giraudo, who received the same punishment.
The punishments were lighter than those urged by the prosecution, which wanted Juventus demoted to Serie C. The convicted have five days to appeal.
(Written with Agency Reports)