Dodgy Italian deals, a slack McIlroy and triumphant Harlequins
We'd like to say we were shocked. We'd love to admit to feeling a sense of disbelief, anger and emptiness.
But, alas, we can’t because the news there’s yet more scandal to hit Italian football - this time another possible match-fixing saga - is as predictable as an Azzurri striker tumbling in the box at the slightest gust of wind.
It’s been six years since the last match-fixing crisis, which in Italy means it could be time for another. So the arrest of Lazio captain Stefano Mauri, among 19 detained by police, regarding allegations of match-fixing, and the questioning of Juventus boss Antonio Conte, is nothing out of the ordinary.
You see, when it comes to corruption Italian football outdoes itself time and again, and would make even Machiavelli’s jaw drop.
And for this it has only itself to blame. For as long as we can remember the story of ‘calcio’ has been a tragedy worthy of an Italian opera. From the ‘Totonero affair’ in 1982, to another match-fixing scandal 24 years later in ‘Calciopoli’, to problems with violent and, all-to-often racist, fans, to drug-taking players, the
list of wrongdoing is both lengthy and depressing.
However, what’s worse than that litany of dodgy dealings is the authorities pathetic response to them. Every time the bigwigs have had an opportunity
to clearly lay down what it perceives as acceptable it has failed - by being ridiculously lenient on the guilty parties.
That the Italian top-flight is embroiled in another match-fixing saga just six years after the last is entirely believable when you remind yourself how the ‘Calciopoli’ scandal was dealt with.
Juve, AC Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina and Reggina were all found guilty of rigging matches. Designed to send out a message, the original punishments (relegation for Juve, Lazio and Fiorentina and a big points reduction for AC) were undoubtedly harsh.
Yet in the warm glow of the national side’s 2006 World Cup victory the administrators went soft and reduced the penalties for all. Only the Bianconeri were banished to Serie B and the points penalties for the rest hardly hindered their next Serie A campaigns.
Playing in Serie A used to be the promised land for every great of the game. For Diego Maradona, Marco van Basten and Zinedine Zidane, there was only one league to play in.
But the revelation that Italian football has a rotten core changed all that. And if the response to the latest alleged crisis is as inept and botched as before and the indifference to scandal stays, then its image will remain tarnished - and we can expect more dodgy dealings in the future.
STUMBLING STAR NEEDS TO FIND FOCUS
There’s nothing we fear more on the sports desk (other than Mama7DAYS’ wooden spoon) than talent wasted. Think Paul Gascoigne, Danny Cipriani, Macaulay Culkin. Rory McIlroy take note. Now, we’re not saying the world No.2 golfer will end up allegedly making friends with a madman, or get caught thieving alcohol from a bar, or, even worse, accept a starring role in ‘Saved!’
But his performance at last week’s BMW PGA Championship suggested he needs to focus on the thing that made him one of sport’s hottest properties in the first place: his golf game. McIlroy showed his petulant side by throwing a wobbly, literally, at Wentworth on Thursday, then the following day meekly surrendered to his worst professional round in 15 months - and missed a second successive cut.
“I’ve taken my eye off the ball,” he admitted. “I did not practise as hard as I might have. I just need to hit a lot of balls.”
So where did he turn up on Monday night? Nope, not on the driving range at Muirfield Village as he prepares for the most important period of the season, but on tennis girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki’s Twitter feed, taking in the Eiffel Tower. In Paris. In France.
Our geography’s not the best, but isn’t he supposed to be playing The Memorial on Thursday in Dublin, Ohio? To fine-tune for his US Open defence in two weeks? So much for time spent hitting “a lot of balls” on the range. And that’s the worry: McIlroy seems to have bought into his ‘celebrity’. Since finishing second at Quail Hollow a few weeks ago, the Northern Irishman has been busy doing photoshoots in Rome and romancing Wozniacki.
Sure, sponsorship is crucial to a modern-day sportsman, and Wozza’s distracting dimensions have not reached Yoko Ono proportions yet, but his job must come first.
McIlroy should remember what’s given him this lifestyle and work rigorously on maximising it. That thing is talent. And it shouldn’t be wasted.
QUINS POINT WAY FOR RED ROSE
Watching Saturday’s scintillating Aviva Premiership final between Harlequins and Leicester one couldn’t help but wonder just how good England could be. In arguably the game of 2012 to date on a baking-hot day at Twickenham, the cream of English rugby proved that finals don’t always have to be such conservative, dour affairs.
On the back of an expansive approach that has served them well all season, Quins were undoubtedly deserved champions. Yet Stuart Lancaster could be the biggest winner if he can somehow mesh the London outfit’s daring style with the traditional Red Rose blueprint.
As in all victories, the platform was laid by the pack. But rather than simply grind their way forward via the conventional route, it was the deft passing and skilful offloading by the Quins’ big men that set them on their way. Such tactics saw them punch through Leicester’s middle and recycle ball at breakneck speed, creating a field day around the ruck for electric scrum-half Danny Care and plenty of room for classy Kiwi fly-half Nick Evans to unleash his backs.
Considering the historic strengths of the Red Rose - imposing forwards and a dominant set piece - such a game plan could work wonders for Lancaster. The new coach has already shown during his rise to the top that he’s not afraid to roll the dice. But having witnessed Quins’ irresistible display, taking a leaf out of their book hardly seems like a gamble.