Jamie Casey questions whether Serie A can restore its credibility and with it the glory days of the 1990s.
Atletico Madrid fans nicknamed him “Il Muto” – The Mute, in Italian – so it is perhaps not much of a surprise that the world is yet to hear from Christian Vieri in the wake of his recent €1million compensation award.
The former Italy international last month successfully sued his former club Inter Milan and Telecom Italia for spying on him during his five-year spell at the club, with the telecommunications company guilty of “tapping up” his phone calls on the Nerazzurri’s behalf.
It’s been described as Italy’s vague equivalent to the Leveson Inquiry, although this particular case had been ongoing since 2008, when Vieri first filed his complaint, and it comes as yet another bitter blow to the integrity of the Italian game.
Yet while the football world awaits a direct statement from the man who has scored more headed goals in Italian league football than any other player, or indeed from his legal representatives, Inter have opted to go down kicking and screaming by refusing to accept any wrongdoing.
There’s no doubt who the real villain in this particularly inhumane piece is – club owner and president Massimo Moratti, but the oil tycoon has remained tight-lipped thus far, instead directing his aides to speak his mind for him.
Director general Marco Fassone has confirmed Inter will appeal the decision, while club lawyer Fabio Iudica stressed: “the sentence specifies clearly that it in no way affected the career of the player. There are therefore no damages to his image, so we are calm.”
The likelihood is, though, that Vieri’s claims for damages to his reputation and that the affair caused him depression were merely hit and hopes in an ambitious attempt to win an excessive €20million award - the real issue being the former Lazio striker’s unholy invasion of privacy.
Due to Vieri’s strange, reclusive behaviour at Inter, Moratti first sanctioned former Telecom president Marco Tronchetti Provera to keep tabs on his star striker in 1999, by means of interfering with his communication devices.
Provera – also on the board of directors at Inter and who has significant ties with Pirelli Group, the club’s longstanding shirt sponsor – is, to put it simply, kind of a big deal. As the Honorary Co-Chairman for the Italian branch of the Council for the United States and Italy, his damaged reputation has stretched beyond his homeland.
Moratti, meanwhile, believes Inter had a right to check up on Vieri as they had ample reason to believe he was behaving in a manner which violated his contract at the club. Granted, this seems a fair point in black and white, but to monitor his telephone activity violates human rights, an offense much more ethically erroneous than obeying a few employment policies.
Inter were one of the few Serie A clubs to emerge from Italy’s 2006 match-fixing scandal with their heads held high (although they did receive a €100,000 fine for the incorrect registration of players for financial gain in December 2007), but this current predicament suggests they are every bit as crooked as any of their counterparts.
Last season, Italy’s top flight appeared to be on its way to restoring its reputation of old, as a thrilling title race was well spectated, particularly by eventual winners Juventus, who landed their first Scudetto since their relegation to Serie B for their major part in the 2006 affair.
Much has changed since May, though, with Juve boss Antonio Conte now serving a 10-month touchline ban for turning a blind eye to apparent match-fixing during his time at former club Siena following multiple arrests earlier in the summer. And now with the Vieri verdict, suddenly it seems the division is right back to square one.
On top of that, a series of high-profile characters have finally departed Italy’s top-flight – Zlatan Ibrahimovic in particular as well as old stalwarts such as Alessandro Del Piero, Clarence Seedorf, Ivan Cordoba and Gennaro Gattuso.
The numerous farewells, which should probably also include an honorary mention for the now retired Filippo Inzaghi, sadly only add to the list of reasons why Serie A has lost its appeal.
Il Muto is long gone, but fresh talent is not exactly in short supply. However, respect for the teams at the top end sadly is.