Simone Farina should never be made to feel like he has been left out in the cold. Never. That was what everyone had been told. Not after what he had done for the game in Italy.
Almost a year has passed since Farina was approached by Alessandro Zamperini, a former team-mate of his at Roma's academy, to fix a fourth-round tie in the Coppa Italia between his club Gubbio and Cesena on November 30, 2011.
Farina hadn't heard from Zamperini in years when all of sudden, he started receiving text messages from an unknown number. "How you doing? It's Zampe," one claimed. At first Farina chose to ignore them, but after training one day, he found he had a series of missed calls and another message. It was Zamperini again. He was coming to Gubbio supposedly to sell his car and while in town would like to see him.
Thinking that he was meeting for a coffee one morning with an old colleague at a local patisserie, Farina soon realised that this wasn't an innocent catch-up. He was offered 200,000 euros to split with his team's goalkeeper and two of his fellow defenders to guarantee the outcome that the fixers so desired — a Gubbio defeat by an 'over' scoreline.
For a player in one of Italy's lower divisions, where wages are low and not always paid on time or in full, the temptation was obvious. But Farina flat-out refused. Still, Zamperini persisted.
He promised to return the favour and asked to be put in touch with the Gubbio director of sport. He wanted to make it understood that if the club risked relegation and needed a result to ensure their survival later on in the season, then the people he worked for were in a position to buy the opposition.
Farina had heard enough. He made his excuses, pretending he had an urgent appointment. As they left the patisserie and said goodbye, Zamperini raised a finger to his lips. What he meant was clear: Don't say a word about this to anyone. That same afternoon, Farina reported the incident to the authorities.
As the true scale of the Calcioscommesse scandal was beginning to emerge, he was hailed a hero.
Farina's example was timely. Following a series of denials, the former Atalanta captain Cristiano Doni had finally confessed to his part in fixing games with Piacenza and Ascoli. Italian football had just reached its lowest ebb in years. That perhaps explains why the earlier example of Fabio Pisacane, another player who denounced an attempt to fix a game between his former club Lumezzane and Ravenna on April 17, 2011, had not been given the attention it deserved.
Held up by many as examples to follow, there were some who felt that, while Farina and Pisacane should be thanked, the extent to which they were acclaimed should be restrained. "We mustn't commit the mistake of making a normal act pass for an extraordinary act," insisted Giancarlo Abete, the president of the FIGC.
True enough. "I haven't done anything special," Farina even admitted. But, let's be frank here, what Farina and Pisacane did wasn't normal. The 'done thing' would have been to look the other way, seek refuge behind the wall of omerta, look after their own personal interests and forget about it, pretend nothing had happened. Farina and Pisacane were exceptions precisely because they didn't do that. They were two good apples in a largely rotten barrel, a few good men who took the courageous decision to expose what was happening and in doing so put themselves at risk.
For that reason, Farina was named a Football for Hope ambassador by FIFA at the Ballon d'Or ceremony in January. "Farina and Pisacane are role models for young people," tweeted Sepp Blatter. "Courage in denouncing match-fixing is an example for all."
Cesare Prandelli insisted that his door would always be open to them both. He made the grand gesture of inviting Farina and Pisacane to attend Italy's training camp before Euro 2012. Rather ironically, it was the day police blitzed their Coverciano headquarters to notify Domenico Criscito that he had been placed under investigation after a new development in the Last Bet case.
"It's an invitation to show our solidarity, our support and our gratitude," Prandelli explained. "Simone did his duty, but at times doing it takes courage and runs risks. Farina has shown great inner strength. His example is a message of hope. Today everyone is saying that, but in a few months' time Simone might find himself alone again."
Prandelli's words were sadly prophetic. On August 21, 2012, Gubbio released a statement. Farina's contract had been rescinded by mutual agreement. It seemed amicable enough. The club wished Farina "the best of luck and personal and professional satisfaction for the future." The player "once again thanked Gubbio for the experiences I've had in these years with the Rossoblu colours."
La Gazzetta dello Sport understood that Farina had received an offer from Aston Villa, not to play, but to perform a role within the club, teaching its youth players about fair play. Nothing came of it partly because, at age 30, Farina's playing career shouldn't be over yet. But since his release from Gubbio following their drop to the Lega Pro, Italy's third tier, no one has come in for him. There was talk of a move to Ascoli. Then the transfer window shut. Clubs dramatically affected by the Calcioscommesse verdicts could still bring in new players beyond the deadline. But the special dispensation they had been granted ended on Monday and Farina is still unemployed.
There's a growing sense that Farina has been outcast. "I find it incredible that a player of only 30 years of age who has had a dignified career in the Lega Pro and some games in Serie B last season, can't find a team even on a free transfer and on the minimum wage," FIGC vice-president Demetrio Albertini exclaimed. "I don't know if there's a link between his courageous reporting of match fixing and his actual marginalisation but I do wonder. Perhaps Farina has been judged not good enough for Serie B but it seems a little strange to me that suddenly he is no longer in a position to play at what has always been his level."
Asked if that's the case by Il Corriere della Sera, Farina said: "Absolutely not… There's nothing dark behind the termination of my contract." Still, the suspicion remains that he is no longer welcome. It seems Farina, like Zdenek Zeman before him who was practically exiled from Italy in the late `90s and unable to find work for years in Serie A after making allegations of doping against Juventus, is a persona non grata.
Perhaps a better comparison is the one La Repubblica columnist Gianni Mura has made with former Valenciennes defender Jacques Glassmann who ventured out of the dressing room after a dubious 1-0 defeat to Marseille on May 20, 1993 and revealed: "They wanted to buy us off. I was offered 200,000 francs if I didn't try too hard, and I'm not the only one: approaches were also made to Jorge Burruchaga and Christophe Robert."
Marseille had sought to persuade Valenciennes to give them an easy ride ahead of their European Cup final against Milan six days later. A victory would also keep the club in contention for a fifth consecutive Ligue 1 title ahead of a decider with Paris Saint-Germain. They'd go on to lift both trophies, but Glassmann's whistleblowing prompted the opening of an investigation. Marseille were later banned from competing in Europe, stripped of their league title and relegated to Ligue 2 for two seasons.
As with Farina, FIFA honoured Glassmann with a Fair Play award in 1995. He was flown in from the distant island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean where he was playing for Saint Rose at the time. His contract at Valenciennes had not been renewed following the club's drop to the third division and he'd been turning out for an amateur club US Mauberge before moving across the world to Reunion. It all sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it? "I hope that it's not like this," wrote Mura in reference to Farina. So does everyone who hopes for a cleaner and more honest game in Italy where the good guys are recognised, rallied around and afforded protection.
James Horncastle will be blogging for us on all matters Serie A throughout the season. He contributes to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, The Blizzard and Champions magazine amongst others.