SHARUKO ON SATURDAY
EXACTLY 10 years ago, the Calciopoli, the biggest match-fixing scandal to hit Italy’s turbulent and corruption-riddled football landscape, exploded and, like a tsunami, left a trail of devastation and scars that will last a life-time.
Italian police, using a series of intercepted telephone conversations, were able to draw a graphic network of corruption that involved team managers, referees, club officials and players in the rigging of matches in the country’s Serie A and B leagues.
So daring were the executors of the Calciopoli that Juventus, Italy’s first professional club, with the country’s biggest fan base and its most successful football team with 59 official titles, including a number of European crowns, was found to have been choosing referees to handle its matches who would be favourable to its cause.
A number of other prominent Italian football clubs, notably AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio were also caught up in the web of corruption that shook world football with the BBC calling it “the worst scandal football has ever seen”.
And, when the storm had passed, and due process had taken its course, Juventus’ powerful president, Andrea Della Vella, was banned for four years, Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani — who remains the club’s top official today — was banned for a year and Lazio president Claudio Lotito banned for three years.
Juventus were stripped of the 2004/2005 Italian Serie A title and thrown out of Serie A into Serie B, and barred from playing in the European Champions League, AC Milan were deducted 30 points and Lazio were thrown out of the 2006/2007 UEFA Cup.
The impact of the scandal on the Italy national team, the Azzurri, was huge given that many of the players picked to represent their country at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, just two months before the scandal exploded, came from the top clubs that had been caught in the match-fixing scandal.
For years, these players had played for corrupted clubs, under corrupt officials and in matches corrupted by corrupt match officials and, now, they had a bigger test, representing their nation at the biggest stage of them all under the shadow of a scandal where no one believed them to be saints and opponents mocked them as crooks.
Skipper Fabio Cannavaro, one of the players from a Juventus club besieged by shame, later revealed that the need to do something positive for their country, in the wake of the image damage inflicted by Calciopoli, to cheer the fans whose spirits had been battered by the scandal, was the driving force that powered them to reach the Promised Land at that 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Cannavaro was one of four Juventus players who were in the starting XI for the final against France in Berlin, with ‘keeper Gianlugi Buffon, Gianlucca Zambrotta and Mauro Camoranesi the others, AC Milan, the other shamed club, provided Gennaro Gttuso and Andrea Pirlo in the first XI while their partners-in-shame Fiorentina had Luca Toni.
Somehow, against all that negativity, the Italians battled on, beating Ghana, drawing against the United States, beating the Czech Republic, Australia, Ukraine and hosts Germany to book their place in the final where, against a very powerful French side, they forced the game into extra-time and penalties which the Azzurri won 5-3 to be crowned World Champions.
Even in their hour of triumph, as Italy celebrated its first World Cup success story since 1982, they kept being reminded of the cancer of the match-fixing scandal that was devouring their game back home, and shaming its reputation around the world.
“Many of the Italy players returning from Berlin in triumph today will be doing so in the uneasy knowledge that their clubs still face possible disgrace and relegation,” The Guardian newspaper of Britain noted.
“Thirteen of the 23 Azzurri play for teams caught up in the most far-reaching scandal to hit Italian football for almost quarter of a century. Today, as their plane touches down at a military airport on the Mediterranean coast near Rome, judges at a sporting tribunal in the capital will be pondering the outcome of a trial that could see four Serie A sides relegated and leading officials banned.
“Most at risk are Juventus, several of whose most senior former executives are accused of operating a vast match-fixing ring.
“But last night’s victory over France in Germany will make it much more difficult for the court to hand out stiff sentences, particularly to Juventus, who supplied several of the key players in the squad, including Italy’s captain Fabio Cannavaro.
“On Friday Italy’s Justice Minister, Clemente Mastella, suggested that getting as far as the final was enough to merit an amnesty: ‘As a fan, let me say this — is it fair that [Fabio] Cannavaro and [Alessandro] Del Piero and so many others should play in the Third Division after everything they have done?’”
Twenty-four years earlier, Italian football had seen this before, Paolo Rossi emerging from a two-year ban from the Totonero match-fixing scandal just in time to make the Azzurri team for the ’82 World Cup and scoring six times, including a hattriick that knocked out favourites Brazil, as Italy were crowned World Champions.
Rossi, who had missed the 1980 Euro Championships as he served his ban, won the ’82 World Cup Golden Boot, Golden Ball given to the best player, the ’82 Ballon d’Or, was voted the ’82 European Footballer of the Year and transformed himself, in that month in the Spanish sunshine, into a national hero.
LIMPOPOGATE IS AN INSULT TO EVERYONE WHO LOVES FOOTBALL
To say the explosion of LIMPOPOGATE, the latest match-fixing scandal to hit Zimbabwe football, is depressing is an understatement given that the country is still to recover from the scars of Asiagate, the wounds it inflicted on the domestic football landscape and the scars that it left, including changing the lives of some people, like Guthrie Zhokinyi, forever.
Norman Mapeza isn’t a man who says a lot, a professional who prefers to let his work do most of the talking, and although he will not tell you, he will always wonder where his career would have been today had it not been derailed, at a point when it was set for a sensational take-off at international level, by Asiagate.
Given the trail of destruction Asiagate left on the domestic football landscape, one would have thought its bitter lessons had left a permanent scar on the conscience of our national game and would provide an eternal reminder, to everyone, that corruption doesn’t pay and there were some red lines, in this game, that should never be crossed.
Reputations were battered, images were left in tatters, lives were shattered, friendships were wrecked, opportunities were lost and, in that chaos, that darkness, we blew golden chances to qualify for three Nations Cup finals, we were barred from the 2018 World Cup and, until Philip Chiyangwa and his partner Wicknell Chivayo came along, we faced the grim prospects of being kicked out of the 2022 World Cup without kicking a ball.
In that darkness, no-one spared a thought for a generation of some of our finest football stars — led by Khama Billiat and Knowledge Musona — faced the grim prospects of ending their careers having played just six World Cup qualifiers, for the 2014 World Cup finals, winning zero, drawing two and losing four matches.
We all thought everyone had learnt the hard way that the integrity of this game was something that should never be tampered with, was the be-all-and-end-all of this beautiful game, the very strong roots that kept it alive to help it provide the sights and sounds that make it the number one sporting discipline in the world.
But, it appears, we were wrong, very, very wrong.
What I can’t understand is how a Zimbabwean, working in conjunction with some shadowy characters, can plot to ensure that the Warriors, who stand on the threshold of qualifying for the 2016 Nations Cup finals, standing in joint leadership of our group and needing to win the back-to-back matches against Swaziland to all but secure a place in Gabon, fail to make it just because they want to reap some financial rewards for themselves.
I can understand that some shadowy Asians, Australians or Italians can plot that because the Warriors don’t mean a thing to them, our qualification — or failure to qualify — for the Nations Cup finals doesn’t mean a thing for them, our expulsion from the World Cup doesn’t mean a thing for them because they have no emotional attachment, whatsoever, to this country and its football.
They don’t know the Dream Team, and all the purity that it represented, because it’s nothing to them, the battles we fought in the trenches of African football, including beating the Pharaohs and Indomitable lions, heroic men who were allergic to defeats and regularly punched above their weight and, at the peak of their athletic powers, floated like bees and stung like butterflies.
They don’t know a German firebrand called Reinhard Fabisch, a man so passionate to our cause he even married one of us, a coach who embedded himself in everything that Zimbabwe represents and made us believe that we could regularly punch above our weight and, during an unforgettable run, took us within 90 minutes of a place at the 1994 World Cup.
They don’t know a tigerish midfield dynamo called Benjamin Nkonjera who, fought a number of epic battles — which bellied his diminutive frame — in the tough trenches of African football, including outshining stars who had shined at the 1990 and 1994 World Cup, for his fatherland before fate dealt him a cruel blow and ended his life at a very young age.
Makanacky, we called him, Benjie his best friend Peter Ndlovu preferred to call him, and such was the big impression he made on the greatest Warrior to ever wear our golden-and-green jersey that the Flying Elephant named his son Benjamin so that every time he looked at him, it would provide memories of a friend he lost and, for us, an icon we might never see again in our national colours.
These shadowy idiots from all over the world, who are always there to try and manipulate football matches, can do as they please, because they don’t have a conscience and they are guided by greed, but what I can’t understand is how a Zimbabwean can be drawn to be part of a web to ensure the Warriors don’t qualify for a major football tournament.
That is why, if what we are getting from ZIFA that some people from this country went into bed with some shadowy match-fixers, to try and ensure that they destroy our 2017 Nations Cup dream, is true, it’s not just an insult to this nation but greed that borders on treason.
WE CAN TAKE A LEAF FROM THE AZZURRI
However, what is refreshing is that not all our Warriors were polluted by LIMPOPOGATE and, from what we have heard, and gathered so far, the shadowy plot was busted when those who were plotting it were still in the planning phase of this stinking mission.
That, of course, then opens a window of hope that our Warriors, and I have to say that we have a group of footballers who can give it their all for the sake of their nation, will be fully charged for the crucial back-to-back matches against Swaziland.
Before we start to condemn all our players as being rotten, I believe it is important that we also appreciate that these are the same men who braved a dangerous and long road trip from Harare to Blantyre, Malawi, and — after arriving for their first 2017 Nations Cup qualifier against Flames just hours before it got underway — proceeded to beat their hosts 2-1.
Before we start to condemn all our boys as being rogue Warriors, I believe it is important that we also appreciate that these are the same men who, despite being given a raw deal by an Association that didn’t care for their plight, leading to that revolt ahead of the game against Malawi that ended up with them missing their plane to Blantyre, still went for that assignment by road and powered to a priceless victory.
Before we start to condemn all our men as being latter-day Judas Iscariots, I think it is important for us to appreciate that these are the same men who are owed bonuses, allowances and appearance fees, dating back many years ago, by a previous football leadership that didn’t care for them, or their welfare, but still kept coming to represent their nation, at times using their own financial resources, to fight for the cause of their beloved motherland.
Before we start to condemn all our Warriors as mercenaries, a word that has repeatedly crept up in conversations on social media in the past few days, I think it is important for us as a nation to embrace them as our sporting ambassadors who are going to give it their all, when they take on Swaziland, and make them understand that we are in this journey together.
The Italians didn’t turn their backs on their players, after all the negativity related to the Totenero match-fixing scandal in 1980, even when one of their stars — Paolo Rossi — ended up being banned for three years and, when the 1982 World Cup got underway in Spain, the striker — who still pleads his innocence — paid back to his country in spectacular fashion as his goals powered them to World Cup glory.
Ten years ago the Italians didn’t turn their backs on their players, despite all the negativity related to the Calciopoli, and they didn’t’ target the Juventus players, as crocked men who played for a corrupt team, and a united Italy was rewarded as the team — captained by a Juventus star — went to Germany and won the World Cup.
The ball is in the court of our Warriors and, in these trying times, they can define themselves as true heroes, and patriots, by ensuring that they grind the results that we all want and, in the process shame those who wanted to pollute them and their game, by winning in Swaziland and winning here at home to all but secure their place at the 2017 Nations Cup finals.
When Zambia needed something to cheer its spirits, after the tragedy of that plane crash that wiped out a generation of the country’s finest footballers in Gabon in 1993, Kalusha Bwalya and his teammates provided that by fighting, against all odds, to qualify for the 1994 Nations Cup finals and also go all the way to reach the final where they, unfortunately, lost to Nigeria.
Our Warriors can rebuild the bond of trust, which has been shattered by the events of the past few days, with their fans by winning in Swaziland and also beating the Swazis here and, if they need a team to provide that inspiration, they can look at how the Italians turned it around in 1982 and 2006.
TOO BAD THIS MADNESS IS DESTROYING OUR REPUTATION IN MZANSI
A number of Zimbabwean footballers, notably Wilfred and William Mugeyi, John Mbidzo and the late Francis Shonhayi, fought gallantly in South Africa to distinguish themselves and build our reputation as hard-working footballers who can always be trusted to deliver.
That is why even at Kaizer Chiefs today, the defensive midfield position appears reserved for our players — from Tinashe Nengomasha to Willard Katsande today — because a reputation has been built that we are not only hard working but very good players.
Sadly, the events of the past few days will begin to inject doubts in those who have always believed that we are good guys and the worst that we can do is to create an identity crisis for a generation of our future stars by making sure that we destroy their hopes of getting a deal to play in foreign lands.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on Mighty Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Text Feedback – 0772545199
WhatsApp Messenger – 0772545199
Email – [email protected]
Skype – sharuko58
Chat with me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @Chakariboy, interact with me on Viber and on ZBC’s weekly television football magazine programme, Game Plan, on Monday nights, or read my material in The Southern Times.