Pitchside Europe

Old Lady still dogged by age-old suspicion

Pitchside Europe

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"Clamoroso al Cibali" remains to this day one of the most memorable phrases uttered by a football commentator in Italy. It was said by the great Sandro Ciotti, his unmistakable gravel voice revealing to the listeners of 'Tutto il Calcio Minuto per Minuto' on June 4, 1961 that Catania, safe from relegation and with nothing to play for on the final day of the season, had quite miraculously opened up a 2-0 lead over Helenio Herrera's Inter, who, up until that moment, had still been in with a chance of winning the Scudetto.

Over half a century later, Ciotti's expression was adapted by the headline writers at Il Corriere dello Sport to "Scandaloso al Cibali" after Juventus' controversial 1-0 win away to Catania on Sunday afternoon. The visiting champions left the pitch at the final whistle to chants of "Ladri, Ladri, Ladri" - "Thieves, Thieves, Thieves." Their directors had been insulted in the stands. Assistant coach Angelo Alessio, standing in for the suspended Antonio Conte, was then "besieged", in the words of president Andrea Agnelli, by incensed local journalists in the post-match press conference.

What in the name of Calcio had provoked such fury?

To understand the reaction it's necessary to return to the 26th minute of the first half. Catania full-back Giovanni Marchese whips in a cross from the left-hand side. His team-mate Nicolas Spolli flicks it on with a header and sees Francesco Lodi manage to get a touch to improbably direct the ball towards goal. Scrambling across his line, Juventus goalkeeper Gigi Buffon sees it come back off the far post and into the path of Catania's onrushing striker Gonzalo Bergessio who, leaving his marker, Kwadwo Asamoah, makes no mistake and pokes it into the net to give his team a 1-0 lead.

Over on the touchline, Luca Maggiani raises his flag for a split second only to lower it again after seeing referee Andrea Gervasoni give the goal. Spotting his moment of indecision, the Juventus players in the away dug out and in particular Simone Pepe confront Maggiani on his way back to the half-way line for the re-start. Gervasoni comes across, as does Nicola Rizzoli, the official behind the goal, and an impromptu review is conducted in front of everybody.

After 45 seconds, the time it would take for an instant replay to validate their original decision, the Men in Black - or in this case fluorescent green - begin to doubt themselves and come to the wrong conclusion that Bergessio, clearly played onside by a dozing Asamoah, was in a non-existent offside position. The goal is disallowed and all hell breaks lose. Catania president Antonino Pulvirenti is by now apoplectic and, to compound his sense of injustice, is sent off for protesting.

Meanwhile, Juventus keep their heads when all about them are losing theirs and go in front in the 56th minute when Arturo Vidal follows up a Nicklas Bendtner shot, sweeping in a loose ball saved by the otherwise excellent Catania goalkeeper, Mariano Andujar. Replays showed that Bendtner was ever so slightly offside, his right leg planted just ahead of the last line of defence when receiving a through ball from Mirko Vucinic.

Unlike the first major incident, it was a close call, perhaps too close to be detected by the naked eye amid a flurry of movement. Marchese's second yellow card 10 minutes later, even if it was perfectly justified, only added to the feeling that, whatever they did, however they tried, they just weren't meant to beat Juventus.

Reflecting on the match, Catania had every right to be aggrieved, but not every decision went against them. In some respects, they might consider themselves to have been quite lucky. Juventus had a case for a penalty when Nicola Legrottaglie brought down Giorgio Chiellini in the first half. He arguably should have been sent off later on for a foul on Sebastian Giovinco, who had been through on goal. Spolli also went unpunished after appearing to strike Paul Pogba in the face, a red card offence, which also took place in the area.

Of course, any pursuit of balance didn't fit the narrative. This supposedly was "Vecchia Juve", the Old Juventus: one rule for them, another for the rest - in short, a grand conspiracy. "It's the death of football," Pulvirenti insisted. According to him, "Juventus' bench disallowed the goal." Not finished, he claimed that this was "more than 'sudditanza psicologica'," the subconscious instinct referees appear to show in favouring a big club over a small one. "What must we to do to play against Juventus? I thought that certain times were over, but it's not like that."

Pulvirenti's conviction that something other than human error lay behind the refereeing mistakes only grew after it was brought to his attention that there was a page on Facebook in Maggiani's name with a Juventus emblem on it. The AIA, Italy's referees' association, released a statement insisting that it didn't belong to the linesman in question, that it was a fan page, not a personal profile, and even threatened legal action against anyone who claimed otherwise. Maggiani, in the meantime, came out, held his hands up and admitted he had made an honest mistake in disallowing Bergessio's goal.

However, the damage had been done. Pulvirenti, taking issue with Juventus' general manager Beppe Marotta for saying that whether the goal had stood or not ultimately didn't matter because the champions would have won anyway, countered that, if he were so sure, why not re-play the game.

Marotta's logic wasn't without its flaws. True, Juventus are unbeaten in 48 matches, but while they should have scored more than one against Catania and failed to do so because of a mix of poor finishing and Andujar's goalkeeping heroics, he couldn't guarantee a win. Juventus fell behind against Shakhtar and Nordsjælland and could only draw, so who's to say if Bergessio's goal had not been scrubbed off, Catania wouldn't have claimed at least a precious point?

Sunday's events brought up a couple of themes that are worth exploring further. The first regards how persisting without technology is absurd. "The only one 'condemned' not to know, to make decisions in the dark, to get it sensationally wrong, do you know who it is?" asked La Repubblica's Alessandro Vocalelli. "The man who has to make the decisions: the judge, the referee! Does all this seem normal to you?" Not in the 21st century, no, and especially not in a country where decisions are as scrutinised and subject to suspicion as in Italy.

The second thing to discuss is how Juventus are perceived six years after Calciopoli. Talking to Sky Italia on Monday, Agnelli expressed his belief that the coverage in the aftermath of Catania-Juventus has been excessive and "makes you reflect on the hounding" of his club. There were several other refereeing mistakes at the weekend across Serie A — particularly in Lazio's 2-0 defeat to Fiorentina when they had a penalty denied and a Stefano Mauri goal wrongly disallowed, while Milan's 1-0 win at Genoa was sealed by a goal that should have been ruled out for offside.

It's fair to say, however, that none were treated with the same scepticism as those involving Juventus. Did Inter receive the same treatment a week ago when Catania were denied a penalty after Fredy Guarin mistimed a tackle on Alejandro Gomez in the penalty area? It raised eyebrows, sure, but nothing more.

This is the unfortunate but, to a certain extent, understandable legacy of Calciopoli, not to mention the longstanding tradition of mistrust - justified or not in other cases - relating to Juventus in the decades beforehand. Irrespective of the severe punishment served and the work Agnelli and others have done to restore Juventus' reputation, the stain left by the scandal remains tough to remove from the collective consciousness. Juventus have to live with it.

"The great illusion of 2006," wrote Roberto Perrone in Il Corriere della Sera, "is really this: to think that, with the Grande Vecchio [Luciano Moggi and his system of power] eliminated, the referees would no longer make mistakes or that the reverence towards top clubs would disappear."

Everyone sees exactly what he or she wants to see whether it's there or not. Just because it was there in the past, however, doesn't mean it's still there now. Even Inter president Massimo Moratti is prepared to go on the record and say: "I am convinced that the new Juventus has not been reorganised with that system."

It must also be said that Juventus' reputation post-Calciopoli has often counted against them with a number of decisions rather inexplicably not going their way. Forgotten amid the storm that followed Sulley Muntari's 'goal that never was' in the top-of-the-table clash with Milan last February were Conte's claims 10 days earlier that "referees are scared to give penalties in our favour." He found it "impossible" that "after 22 rounds at the top of Serie A there isn't a team, not until the Lega Pro, who has been awarded fewer penalties than us."

After Sunday's game, the magazine Panorama published a study, which sought to 'true-up' the league table, adjusting it to show where everyone would stand had there been no refereeing mistakes in their favour or at their expense. Surprisingly it found that, were it not for poor officiating, Juventus would be even further ahead at the top of Serie A with a five- rather than a three-point gap between themselves and Napoli.

To many, it's an inconvenient truth because it appears to demonstrate there's no falsehood in Juventus' position. Conspiracy theories will continue to be indulged ahead of Wednesday's visit of Bologna and Saturday's Derby d'Italia against a promising Inter side. They deserve credit for seeking to "lower the tone" in the build up. Both coach Andrea Stramaccioni and Moratti have said that they don't see anything sinister behind the decisions made in Juventus's favour at the weekend. "[The scandal] of 2006 was a ghastly stain," Moratti recalled, "I don't believe anyone wants to go back to that time."

Juventus would like to move on. Of course, whether they're allowed to put their past behind them or not remains to be seen.

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.

Follow @JamesHorncastle

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