In 2006, Italy were on the verge of winning the World Cup for the first time in 14 years. But a dark cloud hung over them.
The allegations and court cases had already started back in Italy. Many of the players clubs were getting charged with match fixing. The clubs involved were Juventus, the biggest club in Italy no less, AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina. If you don't know your Italian football, these are all well respected sides, all of which were in Serie A at the time.Many of the Italian national side were involved in these teams, most notably Fabio Cannavaro, the man of the tournament and the winner of the Ballon D'or that year, and Alessandro Del Piero, Juventus' most iconic player.
Remarkably though, the Italians managed to win the tournament, with a bit of help from Zinedine Zidane's forehead connecting with Marco Matterazzi's abdomen. The long term effects though can still be felt in Italy now, calcio, as they call football in Italy, would never be the same again. Juventus probably felt the punishments the most, they still haven't won a trophy since they were relegated to Serie B because of the match fixing they were involved in, much to the delight of the rest of Italy.
The man behind the match fixing was Luciano Moggi. At the time he was the general director of Juventus. Moggi is a hated man throughout Italy. He has still not admitted to the allegations put towards even though he has been charged with bribery and sporting fraud. He bribed referees left, right and centre and due to the Italian rules at the time, was able to pick his sides referees for each game. And I have serious doubts his choices were made on how good he thought the referee was.
Italy, although definitely the most high profile case in recent years, is definitely not the only country who has a history with match fixing. England in the 1990's had its own match fixing scandal. It involved Bruce Grobbelaar, John Fashanu and Hans Segers, all fairly high profile names at the time. Although nothing was proved, it still destabilises the thought that a football match is won on pure merit.
The biggest problem with match fixing is that once it has begun, it can be very hard to uncover. No-one knows exactly how long match fixing had been going on for in Italy before ot had been discovered. Moggi had been the director at Juventus since 1994, surely the team could not have been fixing their games the whole time? We will never know.
The thought that any game is not fair though, throws the whole game into disrepute. As football fans we like to think that as soon as the players walk onto the pitch, each side has an equal chance of winning as the other. Otherwise it wouldn't be a contest, it would be a charade. Football would become an "entertainment sport", much like World Wrestling Entertainment. The result would already be decided, the players would just need to put on a show for the spectators and they can drive home in their Bentley's with their money.
For me though, football is nothing without integrity. I wouldn't want to watch a match with a predestined result. Even without match fixing football has increasingly become that way, with the top sides around Europe getting further and further away from the smaller clubs without European football. You would hardly bet on Manchester United finishing outside of the top 2 this season would you? And although this won't happen, it can happen and me and you probably wouldn't watch football if it couldn't.