This story was gleefully reported almost as soon as the rumors linking Chelsea with Antonio Conte started solidifying. In fact, that the media started digging for dirt was probably a good sign that there was substance behind those rumors from the very beginning.
The story involves a rather unsavory side of the professional game, match fixing — specifically the huge 2011 scandal that rocked the Serie A. This is not to be confused with the scandal from 2006 (Calciopoli) that involved match-rigging via referee selection.
In broad strokes, the scandal involved a number of teams, players, and criminal organizations, all revolving around illegal betting, spot fixing, and at least in one case, a player drugging his teammates so that they would lose a match. Perhaps the biggest "name" involved in the initial investigation was former Italy international and World Cup runner-up Giuseppe Signori — he was sentenced to five months house arrest and to a five-year ban from all football activities for illegal betting. Other penalties ranged from point deductions and fines to bans and even relegation. It was a big deal, to say the least and it was only beginning.
Halfway through the 2011-12 season, new evidence brought to light resulted in a second round of investigations and arrests. Some were even calling for the suspension of the league for a couple years to sort everything out and/or to even withdraw Italy from Euro 2012 (where they eventually ended up as losing finalists). This is also where Antonio Conte enters the scene. By then he was manager of Juventus, fresh off of winning the first of his three consecutive Serie A titles.
CONTE & SIENA
With five games to go in the 2010-11 Serie B campaign, Conte's Siena were top of the league and all but assured of promotion. Atalanta however were hot on their heels, just a point behind. While the top two teams earn automatic promotion, the Serie B title was still up for grabs.
Siena were away to Novara on the first day of May, a Sunday, with a great chance to put some distance between themselves and second place as Atalanta had lost earlier that weekend. It was supposedly during this game that Siena's owner somehow let it be known to his players that he wanted them to draw in order to win a large bet that he had placed against his own team. As far as I can tell he was never prosecuted for anything — he did manage to bankrupt the club however a few year later. But back then, he cashed in said bet when Siena were held to a 2-2 draw. They had come from behind to take a 2-1 lead going into the final quarter of an hour.
If you're asking questions such as why wouldn't have Emanuele Calaiò missed his penalty kick if he was in on the fix, well, I have no idea. Maybe he wasn't, though the accusations against Conte do involve a supposed team meeting where the message to draw the game was relayed to the players. Calaiò signed a new three-year contract later that summer; clearly they weren't exactly mad at him for not following these "orders". Neither Calaiò nor any of the other players (other than the man who fingered Conte) would be charged with anything — they all strongly deny any involvement, as does Antonio Conte.
Two important things should be noted.
- The entire case against Conte is based on the word of one man, Filippo Carobbio, the one Siena player who did get himself caught up in this thing, and rather extensively it seems. Carobbio had entered a plea bargain to receive a lighter sentence and, presumably, to inform the investigators of others' involvement (but mostly Conte's, apparently, as he was the only one charged as a result of Carobbio's information). Police had even ransacked Conte's house but found no actual evidence.
- Conte was never accused nor charged with match fixing, but rather, the failure to report match fixing (by his players, owner, assistant coach, etc.). He was accused of doing so (or not doing so, as it were), for the 2-2 draw, a subsequent 1-0 loss on the final day of the season (when they still could've won the league), and also an earlier win in the season that he was apparently supposed to lose, once again to placate a big bet that someone had placed.
On advice of his lawyer, Conte attempted to also work a plea bargain, proposing to serve a three-month ban and pay a fine but without admitting any guilt or wrongdoing — that last bit is especially important, especially in a system that apparently doesn't exactly adhere to the principle of "innocent until proven guilty". Perhaps to make an example of the big fish, the deal was rejected and the by-then Juventus coach was banned for 10 months. After a couple appeals, the ban was eventually reduced to four months, which Conte served at the start of the 2012-13 season. Juve had lost just twice in his absence in all competitions.
So, all over, right? Wrong.
CONTINUING LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
This is where it gets even more murkier for me, but it would appear that the ban Conte had served was purely for the (supposedly pre-arranged) 1-0 loss to AlbinoLeffe. The trial that may still go ahead is for the 2-2 Novara draw. I'm not sure how or when the two got separated — and there may jurisdictional issues here, too — but this is what seems to be happening. And I say 'may' still go ahead, but it appears that it's definitely going to go ahead — no one's talking any other outcome at the moment.
Unlike the previous case, Conte and his lawyers are not seeking a plea bargain this time, but they are seeking to fast-track the trial to get it over and done with before the start of the Euros and the start of the Chelsea job. The latest news on Tuesday morning was that the prosecutors are seeking a six-month suspended prison sentence and a fine. A suspended sentence simply means that Conte won't serve any time unless he breaks the "law" again. Going to trial for a suspended sentence and an €8,000 fine strikes me as excessive and far too showy — Conte's team seem to agree and are hoping to avoid a big spectacle (thus the whole fast-track process in the first place).
"It has been a nightmare, completely crazy. We are convinced he is innocent and asked for this trial to be fast-tracked because we did not want a long and boring trial which would turn into a TV show at a time when he wants to concentrate on his football."
"We're preparing to refute the prosecution's story. They're alleging omission, where it's required that the coach prevents the event [the fix] taking place, whereas before they were alleging active participation. We're prepared to refute this in fact and law. We're confident of our arguments."
-Leonardo Cammarata, lawyer; source: Guardian
A ruling is expected in the next month or so, by mid-May.
SHOULD WE WORRY?
Probably not. (Clearly, neither did Juve as they kept the faith during the initial investigations and trial, nor did the Italian FA themselves who then proceeded to hire the man to coach the national team!)
The latest reports all agree that Conte will be free to start the Chelsea job regardless of the outcome of the latest (last?) trial. Prosecutors, after all, are not actually seeking a prison sentence. Even if convicted, he will most likely receive the equivalent of a slap on the wrist, though obviously his reputation will suffer. There's no doubt in my mind that the media and the tabloids are frothing at the mouth at just such a prospect. It's a good thing we're used to such things, right?
Forza Conte. Forza Chelsea. Carefree.