A figurehead Italian boss, a certain "Lucky Luciano" who, in one fell swoop, goes from triumph to rock-bottom as a web of gambling, kidnapping and corruption charges envelop him and his organization. Sound familiar?
No, the above isn't a rehash of a "Goodfellas" -- it is in fact the real-life events surrounding what now looks to be the inevitable fall of one of Italy's most glamorous clubs, Juventus otherwise known as the "Old Lady".
Italian prosecutors contend that former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi created a system that decided which referees should officiate Juventus games, which players should be selected for the national team and even which players should be disciplined during games.
Investigators are said to be looking into the rigging of 20 games from the 2004-05 season -- all but one in the top league, Serie A -- and that four of Italy's top clubs (Juventus, Lazio, AC Milan, and Fiorentina) are being probed.
Aside from the obvious implications of what happens to Juventus and the structure of Serie A if the charges are indeed proven true -- the question concerning U.S. fans is what are the ramifications for the Italian team due to face the U.S. in Game Two of World Cup group play?
It's doubtful that the scandal has as much impact on the national team as one would think. As Italian coach Marcelo Lippi told reporters, "It has nothing to do with the Azzurri."
The two biggest question clouds over the national team were whether or not goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (arguably the best goalkeeper in the world) would be indicted on suspected betting improprieties, and whether or not the Italian soccer federation would bow to pressure and ask Lippi to resign.
Both situations appear to be resolved, at least for the duration of the World Cup. Buffon voluntarily presented himself before Italian magistrates and conceded that in the past, he had gambled only on soccer games that did not involve Italian teams. However, Buffon's lawyer asserts that his client had stopped when that practice was banned last year.
As for Lippi, earlier this week, he received the full backing of Guido Rossi, the top official in Italy's soccer federation. Given that Rossi was appointed last week by the Italian Olympic Committee to clean up the wide-ranging scandal, it's safe to assume that Lippi's position is secure.
Outside of playmaker Francesco Totti's return from injury, Lippi staying on might be the single most positive development for the Italians. Nothing is more guaranteed to shake up a team than to lose its coach on the eve of a major tournament. To a man, the Italian squad respects Lippi. As star striker Luca Toni told reporters, "Lippi enjoys the trust of us all, it is only fair that he should lead us in Germany."
In Lippi's case, his presence during the World Cup will be significant for the Italians in more ways than one. He's the first Italian coach in a long time that disdains the overly cautious defensive approach that past Italian teams have taken. Who can forget the score-one-goal and then turtle with ten-men-behind-the-ball approach which has cost the Italians dearly at the last three major tournaments (Euro 2000, World Cup 2002, and Euro 2004).
Lippi has promised not to hold Italian flair in check at this World Cup, and that being the case, the current Azzuri squad, with arguably Italy's finest collection of attacking talent since the 80s, finally might make the inroads at the World Cup that observers have come to expect from Italy.
As for dealing with the general repercussions of the scandal itself, the Italian media's attention to the scandal could in some ways alleviate the pressure on the Italian squad itself. Sure, the players are having to deal with questions pertaining to the scandal. But for some players, it might be a welcome relief from the microscopic second-guessing and heightened expectations the Italian media usually foists upon its national team during major tournaments.
It's not as if Italian soccer is averse or unused to scandal. Bear in mind that Italy has shown before that it can cope with similar situations. When Italy won the World Cup in 1982, the hero of the national team and the tournament was one Paolo Rossi -- newly freed from a custodial sentence for match fixing.
As for Juventus, anyone who's actually surprised by the allegations probably hasn't been following Serie A for very long. Juventus has long been accused by rivals of benefiting from dubious refereeing decisions. Besides claims in recent seasons such as the 1997/98 season (when Inter striker Ronaldo was denied a sure penalty in a key late season match against Juventus), the whispers have been rife since as long ago as the 1980-81 season.
That year, Juventus snatched the championship away from Roma thanks largely to a controversial refereeing decision. With three games to go, Juventus held Roma to a scoreless draw in Turin to maintain its one-point lead at the top of the table. However, Roma were furious that a goal scored by Maurizio Turone 10 minutes from time was ruled out for offside. Replays showed Turone was clearly onside, prompting many Romans to accuse Juventus -- owned by the powerful Agnelli family -- of bribing referee Paolo Bergamo.
There's also the untidy little matter of the last April when former Juventus club doctor Riccardo Agricola was found guilty of administering the banned blood-booster EPO to Juventus players between 1994 and 1998. Rather amazingly, Juventus got off lightly in that case by somehow convincing the authorities that Agricola had been acting of his own accord.
Whether this latest scandal surrounding Juventus is true has yet to be substantiated but so far it doesn't look good for the club or Moggi. Italian news organizations have printed transcripts of alleged wiretapped conversations between Moggi and various referees. In one, Moggi reportedly brags that he once locked referees in a locker room for not assuring Juventus of victory.
If the allegations are proven, then the Italian authorities are morally obligated to strip Juventus of some of its titles and at the very least relegate the team to Serie B, although maybe Serie C would be a more fitting punishment.
As Italian national team star Francesco Totti recently said, "Whoever did wrong must pay. We need to clean the whole thing up. As to names, I don't know them and I don't want to know."
Hopefully Barcelona's dramatic win against Arsenal in last week's Champion League won't cause the club to overlook the fact that there are some very real flaws on the roster that need to be fixed.
Thierry Henry's decision to nix a move to Barcelona may have scuppered visions of an All-World attacking triumvirate in Ronaldino-Eto'o-Henry, but ultimately the money would be best spent on some quality defenders. (Having Lionel Messi already in hand to reinforce the attack doesn't hurt either.)
The club's true weaknesses lie on the flanks where neither Presas Oleguer or Giovanni Van Bronckhurst offer much in the way of either attacking thrust or defensive capabilities. In the case of Oleguer, it's a sad state of affairs when Barcelona fans find themselves wishing that the equally shaky Juliano Belletti be brought on to replace him. Granted, Belletti scored the goal of his life in the Champions League final. However, if Barcelona wants to stay top dog, it would be wise to snap up Sevilla's superb right back Daniel Alves and consolidate the long rumored move for Roma's Christian Chivu.
As for arch-rivals Real Madrid, they could be in for yet another long (and possibly trophyless) season. With Zidane's retirement, the team lacks a true playmaker and dominant midfield presence, and no one on the current squad looks remotely capable of filling that role. Replacing Zidane won't be easy, but there are two players available that can at least replicate some of the guile and creativity that he provided.
The perfect solution would be to make a move for Argentine Juan Riquelme of Villarreal or the highly underrated Brazilian Alex De Souza, who plys his trade in Turkey with Fenerbahce. Of course, the common sense thing to do never seems to apply to the Real Madrid decision makers who seem hell-bent on acquiring yet another top notch striker (Adriano of Inter Milan) to add to their stockpiling of forwards.
Jen Chang is the U.S. editor for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org