Thursday, December 21, 2006
Sorry is not now the hardest word
Opposites attract, apparently. Which of course would mean - if you forgive the personal note - that I should be attracted by those who use short, direct, simple sentences, and I'm not.
Opposites met on Tuesday evening in Bologna, in what was also a top-of-the-table clash in the Serie B.
Opposites, if you will, and the loose ends of a story which began less than two years ago and passed through the Calciopoli/Moggiopoli (choose your own version) scandal before coming full circle on the night. Bologna, indeed, were among the main victims of the scandal.
Look closely at the transcripts from the now legendary phone-tappings, and check the point-penalties that were inflicted upon the guilty clubs.
You will notice that that the perceived help Fiorentina received in the last few weeks of the 2004-05 season helped keep them in Serie A and sent Bologna and Parma to a two-legged playoff which the Parmesan milked to their advantage, sending their regional rivals down. Bologna's then owner Giuseppe Gazzoni Frascara had long been a vocal critic of the so-called 'system'.
In his opinion it gave some clubs an unfair advantage over others, but at the time he was more suspicious of the indirect help some 'friendly' banks had given struggling clubs like Lazio or Roma than of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres by a few individuals to influence the outcome of matches and indeed whole seasons.
But a point could be made that Luciano Moggi and friends ultimately caused Bologna's relegation, if of course you do not consider the fact that even before the football equivalent of the 'Axis of Evil' had stuck its finger in, the Bolognese's form had gone further south than a flock of geese.
So when Juventus came to town you were sure Bologna fans would not be in a forgiving mood.
This, despite the fact Juventus has done much more than any of the other guilty clubs to steer away from old habits. Moggi, chief executive Antonio Giraudo and others among the 'Dead Serious' cabal are gone.
Juve even seemed to be willing to accept demotion to the Serie B, early last summer, as an easy way out before realizing that in our country even the worst criminals can get a lighter sentence if they repeat their innocence often enough and loud enough, so imagine what a club that can hardly be described as such could - and did - obtain. But don't tell the Bologna fans, regular or the hardcore ultras.
The latter had planned to sit out - literally, out of the stadium - the first 15 minutes of Tuesday match in protest towards what they saw as the light, irrelevant punishment Juventus had received for their role in the scandal.
The protest would go on, they then added on Monday, on a lighter tone as a mark of respect for the death of two Juventus youth players who had drowned in a rain-collecting pond at the training ground on Friday, causing the postponment of the Juventus-Cesena clash.
The bizarre scene at kickoff, then, had a stadium which was 90% full in all other sections - including the away fans' one - but completely empty in the home end, which had been decorated with several banners who let no ambiguity about what the missing fans thought of Juventus, the sports justice system and even of the media who had neglected to shed light on the scandal.
When the protesters did enter the gates, after a little less than eight minutes, was a muscular contest in which Juventus held firm to Bologna's initial onslaught before stating to exert their superior class.
Gianluigi Buffon, unlucky to miss out on every world prize to former Juve team-mate Fabio Cannavaro, who had a less consistent and spectacular year, again made a couple of great saves although he did appear to grab Massimo Marazzina's foot as the Bologna forward pushed the ball past him in the first half.
Tragedy - of the football variety - struck late midway through the second half, and the loose ends of the scandals, which had seemed to be getting closer in a sort of closure, blew away in different directions, opposites failing to attract.
From a left-wing cross, Juventus striker Marcelo Zalayeta appeared to control the ball with his right bicep - technically, handball - then his shot hit the underside of the bar, bounced on the goal-line and on its way out again.
The ball was cleared to safety by Bologna defender Marcello Castellini. Or was it? No. A goal, the linesman indicated, and referee Domenico Messina obliged. Just imagine the scenes at the stadium: reviled Juve visits a few months after a scandal (and two years after a highly-controversial last-minute win on a disputed free kick) and takes all points with a goal that most certainly wasn't.
For a moment, looking around at the scenes of outrage in the stands and even in the press box, you could feel, almost touch, that something was deeply, unescapably, inevitably wrong in our calcio, but then Juve president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli, in a flash of the fair play attitude that has been flashing in and out of Juventus since the summer, admitted that 'if it wasn't really a goal, I'm sorry'.
Sorry, apparently, is a word that had been all but ripped out of the vocabulary in the previous regime at Juventus, so perhaps hearing their new president utter it may really signal a significant change in the attitude and gives us a sense that hope, despite its pale appearance, may still be breathing.
One post scriptum: the December 16-17 weekend again saw a number of soccer-related fan trouble throughout Italy, a disease which does not seem to go away.
And on a lighter note, Wednesday's round of Serie A matches brought the season's fourth missed penalty by Francesco Totti, against Torino away.
If you remember the chipped penalties he used to do before going for the cannonball, you can surely come up with the adjective 'cheeky', but it took on another meaning for him in Turin, as after having the penalty kick saved by Christian Abbiati he scored the opener by deflecting Mancini's shot with his, er, bum.
Now that's cheeky.
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