Former Milan director Paolo Taveggia reveals an incredible series of anecdotes, including a row over bribing referees with Real Madrid, spotting another referee partying with Red Star Belgrade directors and accusing Marseille of attempting to poison them.
Taveggia was organisational director from 1986-93, the height of Silvio Berlusconi’s Grande Milan that dominated Italian and European football.
He spilled the beans in a very lengthy interview with MilanNews.it, with some revelatory details about incidents of the time, including a 5-0 European Cup semi-final victory over Real Madrid at San Siro in 1988-89.
“Aside from winning trophies, the game I enjoyed the most was beating Real Madrid 5-0. The day before that match, our goalkeeper Giovanni Galli told me that in the first leg in Madrid, Sanchez would spit in his face every time he went to clear the ball. So, I had a chat with the referee Ponnet before kick-off and mentioned what Galli had told me, so to keep an eye on Sanchez. Well, Sanchez was booked at the first foul.
“After the match, Real Madrid were hysterical at the humiliation of losing 5-0, so Berndt Schuster said to me: ‘You paid the referee!’ I replied: ‘If I’d done that, we wouldn’t have won 5-0. We are not like your directors, who paid off referees many times.’ Then I left.”
Taveggia had more extraordinary allegations of impropriety in a trip to Red Star Belgrade in the second round of the 1988-89 European Cup.
This is famously the second leg that was called off due to thick fog and had to be replayed the next day, but it seems that was not originally the plan.
“The referee blew the whistle to suspend the game and told me we had to wait 45 minutes to see if the fog lifted,” said Taveggia.
“I went to the dressing room after a cigarette and saw four or five players in the shower already. They hadn’t realised the suspension was temporary. I had to act desperate and tell the referee Dieter Pauly that I’d misunderstood his English and my career was ruined, so he opened the window of his room and said: ‘We play tomorrow afternoon.’
“I didn’t tell anyone what had happened for 20 years, I just acted as if that was the idea all along.”
The story does not end there, as Taveggia picked it up again later that night.
“I couldn’t sleep, so I asked the hotel receptionist for the best nightclub in Belgrade. I got the taxi with (then press spokesman) Guido Susini and I was convinced the referee would also be there.
“Funnily enough, 30 minutes later, a white Mercedes arrived with Pauly, the linesman and a few girls, accompanied by the Red Star directors. The referee saw me and we exchanged a look that meant, ‘I know what you’re doing and you know that I saw you.’ I said nothing.”
The game ended 1-1 the next day and Milan won on penalties.
This was a chaotic era in the sport and Taveggia alleged even more dastardly behaviour from Olympique Marseille in 1991.
“Nobody ever had the courage to reveal what really happened,” he told MilanNews.it. “A few days before the game, Uli Hoeness of Bayern Munich called me and we got along very well. He said (Marseille director Franz) Beckenbauer had told him they were planning something nasty for Milan in France, including the potential to tamper with the food given to the players at the hotel.
“I was in charge of logistics, so I decided without telling anyone that I’d change the hotel where we were staying at the last minute. Not even the driver knew.
“That evening, we went to the Stade Velodrome for training, but the doors were locked. When we did get in, it took ages to find any footballs and I saw people fiddling on the side of the pitch with something in a little dugout area.”
That game was halted with Marseille 1-0 up and three minutes to go, as the referee blew for a free kick, but the hosts celebrated as if it was the final whistle.
“I went to the referee, Bo Karlsson, and he said he was well aware the game wasn’t over. Meanwhile, players were exchanging jerseys. While we were trying to decide what to do next, one of the floodlights switched off.
“At that point, Karlsson told me that the teams had to go back into the dressing room, he’d clear the pitch of all the fans and then we could resume. We were on our way towards the dressing room, but the doors were locked. It was total chaos, we were trapped on the pitch and Jean-Pierre Papin – who would join us the next season – was spitting at us.
“The floodlights slowly started to power back up and the referee changed his mind, deciding the game could resume anyway. At that moment, Adriano Galliani had managed to clamber down the stands and was furious, but that was a mistake, as he shouldn’t have been on the pitch. Suddenly, the doors opened and the players went down into the dressing room.
“It was too late by that point to turn back, the referee put the ball down, only Marseille were on the pitch and he called off the game. We were given a 3-0 defeat and suspended for the next season.
“I heard so much about that night, but I can assure you of one thing: Silvio Berlusconi never phoned and ordered us to walk off the pitch. He never got over that night. The referee changed his mind, but he’d never admit it.
“The other revelation here is that the floodlight was switched off on purpose. Those people fiddling by the side of the pitch were preparing fireworks for the Marseille victory, so the guy working on the lights was told to shut them down after the final whistle to make the fireworks stand out more.”
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