Miralem PjanićPhoto: Getty Images
Maybe you were a little boy or girl up until 2006? Is that what it says here? OK. Well maybe you were just in high school or college at the time and that was the last major Serie A scandal known as ‘Calciopoli’ where Juventus stumbled into Serie B and other clubs put on points and money. It was about influencing match officials, although the practice of “suitcases” turning up in referees’ hotel rooms the night before matches had been no secret in Italian football for decades. It’s Italy after all. And now Serie A have another that may not see Juve relegated but could very well leave another stain in the league that they will struggle to overcome.
Late last week, Juventus were docked 15 points for basically funny accounting, although appealing. The deduction saw the Torino giants drop from Serie A Champions League spots to 10th, 12 points off the top four and it will be a real battle for them to regain that ground in half a season . Missing out on Champions League earnings could be disastrous for a club that is likely the definition of Icarus on a football pitch chasing European glory and now plunging deep into the earth. Napoli may get justice too, but we’ll come back to that later.
At the heart of the scandal is “Plusvalenza” or basically inflating the value of players on transfers. This from Forbes is a pretty good introduction to the whole thing, but Cliff’s version of the notes says that because the transfer fees paid out are spread out over the length of that player’s contract, the transfer fees received are recorded as a lump sum, which can be misleading You benefit and how much about some transfers
This scandal revolves around two such Caponian works as Juve essentially traded Miralem Pjanić to Barcelona in exchange for Arthur Melo. The latter was valued at €72 million while the former was valued at €60 million and neither player was ever worth anywhere near that much. But given that the €72m that Juvenus never really spent was able to be spread across Arthur’s contract on the books and the €60 came all at once (although Barca wouldn’t have actually sent Juve a penny), Juve could book that all as a win this year. They pulled off some of the same shenanigans when they traded Danilo and Joao Cancelo with Manchester City but didn’t trade.
There is also evidence that while Juve announced players would be taking a one-third pay cut during the pandemic to help the club, the club tried to pay them under the table to keep them happy and also to evade tax collectors, a greater Italian tradition than Ferrari.
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Napoli are also in the spotlight for the transfer of Victor Osimhen and his transfer from French club Lille. Osimhen was brought in for around €70m but Napoli sent back four players worth €20m despite it not being a swap. Except that these four players, a backup goalkeeper and some youth players, all played together for Lille. So how did they come up with 20 million euros? Again, Napoli were able to spread that €70m cost for Osimhen over the length of his contract, but that €20m sale of lying around flotsam meant Napoli could at least claim they are in the black for this year.
Can’t get right
It’s one thing for Juventus to be punished again and that’s a big black eye. But if Napoli, perhaps the best story in European football right now, suffer some sort of point deduction that throws their Scudetto chase into chaos, Serie A’s credibility will be severely damaged yet again.
While actual football in Italy is a smash (if Napoli aren’t penalized, they’ll likely be the fourth champions of the league in four seasons, something none of the other Big 5 leagues can match), that doesn’t mean the league is ‘t an absolute basket case. It is miles behind the Premier League and well behind the Bundesliga and La Liga when it comes to TV deals, especially international ones, and sponsorships. Serie A clubs just can’t spend as much as their European counterparts and that’s exactly what Juventus and possibly Napoli were looking to bridge with their fiendish bookkeeping tactics. Italian football has far too many teams just a breath away from bankruptcy, playing in outdated and decaying stadiums that are half full. Tune in to a Serie A game and it just looks different to games in Germany or England and that counts.
But getting the league to move in a direction to overhaul the way they run the game and the league would be the definition of cat hats if all those cats were wearing Gucci suits and sunglasses that cost more than your car. Italy isn’t the only league that has failed to get owners to band together and split their TV money like the Premier League has, making the latter the global force it is. But just as Barcelona and Madrid won’t give up their kingdoms over Spain, you won’t make Juve or the Milans cede anything to the Fiorentinas and Spezias of the world.
So the league will likely continue to bleed stars to England and it’s hard to know which company will pay big bucks for TV rights to a league that has fans left wondering if next week’s leading team isn’t yet bringing another penalty will turn the table into dirt. Her contract with CBS has one year left and brings the league just $75 million a year. For comparison, the Premier League gets $450 million a year from NBC. How does that work? Summarize that for all of their TV offerings.
But this is Italy, where organization and following the rules has always been a suggestion rather than the norm. Anyone who has tried to cross a street in Rome while thinking they had the light can tell you that.