The Italian national team may well be in Armenia, preparing for its FIFA World Cup qualifying match, but domestic problems have followed the Azzurri, even in a country which is nearly four hours away by plane.
An interview given by the head of the Italian Police, the appropriately named Antonio Manganelli, has created havoc in Italian football circles. In Italian his surname means "batons". Talk about one's destiny in one's name.
Anyway, according to Manganelli (capital M, please) the season of football scandals is far from over. He has invited everybody to prepare for further scandals and suspensions, some of which are likely to involve top names.
Public prosecutors in Cremona and Naples are currently investigating a number of matches and their work could lead to the disqualification of more top players, including national team and Inter Milan defender Andrea Ranocchia.
In this friendly and relaxing environment, you will excuse the Napoli chairman for not wanting to be outdone by anybody. Aurelio De Laurentis, you will recall, charmingly refused to have his team take part in the presentation to the Italian Supercup winner.
Yes, you guessed it, Napoli had just been defeated by Juventus in the final, played in Beijing, and De Laurentis, unable to take his own ball home, took his players away from the presentation ceremony.
Now he is whingeing that Juventus players in camp with the national team have been allowed to train more lightly than others including, of course, the Napoli ones. De Laurentis claims that this is to ensure that they are rested when they play Napoli in Turin after their national team commitments. Amazing how the most successful businessmen - and De Laurentis is certainly one of them - can behave like spoiled children when they get involved in football.
Moments to forget
Meanwhile, Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy's leading sports daily, has gently reminded the Italian public of Italy's most embarrassing results against "easy" opponents.
In the qualifying rounds for the 1958 World Cup, Italy was eliminated by Northern Ireland after a 1-2 defeat in Belfast. In the 1962 competition, host Chile defeated Italy 2-0. In the 1966 World Cup in England, the Azzurri managed to be eliminated in the first round by mighty Korea DPR. In 1970 the Azzurri managed only a draw with Israel and in 1982 they drew (1-1) with Cameroon, in a match that was probably fixed. More recently, one page to forget in the history of Italian football is the World Cup in South Africa. Up against giants of international football such as New Zealand and Slovakia, Italy was eliminated in the first round!
Club versus Country?
Ask Juventus and Napoli officials, players and supporters. On the eve of their top-of-the-table clash, where are their players? Travelling all over the world in order to defend their national colours in qualifying matches for the next World Cup.
Juventus has 15 players selected in their respective national teams, while Napoli has 13. It’s hardly the ideal preparation for their top-of-Serie A clash in Turin on Saturday week.
This raises the vexed question of why clubs should pay grossly inflated salaries for players that come back to their clubs exhausted, if not injured and unavailable. Just stop and think. There are players who will be asked to take the field 15 times in 40 days. With such a schedule, even millionaires are entitled to feel fatigued.
Brat in charge
Juventus Chairman Andrea Agnelli does not rest in his war against anything that moves in Italian football.
In the past few days he has again attacked the Federation for the disqualification of Antonio Conte, despite the substantial reduction granted by an Appeal Tribunal. Conte, according to Agnelli, should have had his suspension completely lifted.
Agnelli Jnr also wants to know what the point of an international tribunal is, considering "there is not a single shred of evidence". Now, we do know that young Agnelli has led a very charmed life. "Spoiled rotten" is the term that springs to mind.
Lucky he is not the Chairman of Albinoleffe or a similar club. Given the same evidence available against Juventus, a demotion to Serie B with penalty points would have been a viable sentence.
Del Piero's interview
In case there were any doubts about the level of interest in Italy for Del Piero's Australian adventure, Gazzetta dello Sport has sent one of its reporters to Australia to follow his home debut. And in a long interview with the former Juventus captain, a few interesting details were revealed:
- Del Piero would have liked to stay on at Juventus for another season or more, but he received no offer from the Bianconeri hierarchy.
- He came to Australia in order to live in a completely different environment.
- Australia has "added value" in its approach to life and represents an opportunity for the whole family (wife and three children) to learn English.
- In Australia you can be popular and walk along the city streets without being bothered by adoring fans at the same time. "I am embracing the world and it is a great feeling," Del Piero said, referring to the attitude of supporters of all nationalities he has met in Sydney.
- He chose Sydney and Australia ahead of many other offers from countries such as the United States, Brazil, Thailand, Qatar, Spain, England, China and Japan.
- He is approaching this Australian experience with both excitement and fear. However, he can already sense the freedom he never could enjoy in Italy.
- He did not expect his relationship with Juventus to end the way it did, not even being invited to the team's first home match of the season.
This final point begs one final question: did Juventus contribute to his $2 million salary with Sydney just to get rid of his embarrassing presence? Maybe not, but it is very sad that a spoiled brat like Agnelli did his best to get rid of such an outstanding and popular player who has been so prominent in Juventus' history for the past 19 years.