'Wounded' Italians a worry for Trap
Azzurri’s World Cup wins in ’82 and ’06 were preceded by match-fixing scandals – and latest drama could prompt another big reaction in Poland
ON a sunny afternoon in Montecatini, Giovanni Trapattoni is approached by a local journalist wearing a replica of Mario Balotelli's infamous 'Why Always Me?' T-shirt.
There was a different question casting a shadow over this country yesterday, though. Fifty kilometres away, Italy's Euro 2012 preparations were thrown into chaos by a match-fixing investigation involving two intended members of Cesare Prandelli's squad.
Pictures of police cars arriving at their Coverciano base were beamed around the world. And it left Trapattoni with one prevailing thought: "Why always Italy?"
With an Irish hat on, the turmoil being endured by his Group C rivals could be construed as a positive. Over 30 football figures are under scrutiny, and the hotel room of defender Domenico Criscito was searched by officers on a dramatic morning.
The Zenit St Petersburg left-back -- who is part of the probe into activities at his former club Genoa -- was duly omitted from Prandelli's squad. Later in the day, it emerged that Juventus centre-half Leonardo Bonucci, who is part of the 25-man panel for this evening's friendly with Luxembourg in Parma, could also be in trouble dating back to his time with Bari.
But Trapattoni is a proud Italian, and has spoken in the past about the manner in which tales of corruption in his homeland have damaged the reputation of his fellow countrymen who travel overseas.
"This situation humiliates us," he declared. "And it humiliates me. We are sad and disappointed because not all Italian football is like this. We don't have a good reputation, and it's important that it is cleaned up.
"We have to see what happens with the magistrates, but this is a difficult situation. I hope it just ends up being three or four people and not 30."
Trapattoni had previously pondered the merits of visiting this part of the world for a training camp. There was a slight concern that local media attention could turn an important week of preparations into a little bit of a circus.
While events down the road did swell the number of Italian camera crews at yesterday's session in Borgo A Buggiano, the fact that most questions revolved around Prandelli's woes means that the actual business of Irish preparations has slipped under the radar. Indeed, the calm in the Irish camp is being juxtaposed against the Italian storm.
However, students of footballing history will know to be wary of a wounded Italian side. Their World Cup victories in 1982 and 2006 were both preceded by damaging match-fixing scandals that were supposed to have left the Azzurri in tatters.
Paolo Rossi was implicated in the 'Totonero' investigation in 1980 and banned for three years. It was reduced to two years so he could play in Spain, and the rest is history. Ireland's assistant manager Marco Tardelli scored in the final, but it was Rossi's goals that inspired them to the trophy.
Six years ago in Germany, Marcello Lippi's group entered the tournament under the shadow of a probe that led to Juventus being stripped of two Serie A titles and suffering demotion to Serie B.
Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina were docked points, and AC Milan escaped relegation on appeal. The chaos affected every member of the group in some shape or form, and the apparent attempted suicide of Juventus sporting director Gianluca Pessotto -- a friend and ex-colleague to senior players -- added an emotion that unified the group.
A small cabal was allowed leave on a private jet to visit Pessotto during the competition, and returned with increased determination to lift the crown.
So, it would be dangerous to assume that the trauma of the police presence yesterday and the subsequent dismissal of Criscito will automatically weaken Prandelli's hand.
Trapattoni instantly acknowledged it could have the opposite effect.
"It could push them to prove the clean face of football," he said, when doorstepped outside his team's hotel in Montecatini as the news broke.
Later, in discussion with an Irish group, he adopted a slightly different tone, dismissing the suggestion that it would somehow make the Azzurri a more dangerous opponent.
"I can't accept that their morale will be better after this," he claimed. "I don't think this. We also have proud players in the Ireland team, and every day we train with enthusiasm. I think we have our quality, and they have their quality, and it will come to the third game."
On a personal level, Trapattoni does have sympathy for Prandelli. The Italian boss was set to name his squad at lunchtime yesterday, but the breaking news threw everything into disarray.
"Prandelli was my player at Juventus," Trapattoni said. "I know he has already had a difficult family situation already (Prandelli lost his wife to illness). He is a wonderful person, a fantastic person."
A degree of uncertainty now hangs over the identity of Prandelli's final 23. Losing Criscito is a blow, although he was only involved in three qualifiers on the road here, so it's not a grave setback. Nevertheless, the chain of events has delayed clarity, with Bonucci's standing in doubt.
Throw in a couple of injury concerns, and the Italian supremo has 25 men in mind ahead of today's UEFA deadline, yet the final call on who exactly goes might be out of his hands.
Certainly, the Luxembourg fixture has been totally overshadowed by a wider debate about the integrity of the sport. Time will tell if Italy's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity.