Antonio Conte was talked into accepting a plea bargain by his lawyers, one that made it very clear this was not an admission of guilt when charged with failing to alert authorities to an attempted sporting fraud. When that was rejected by the Disciplinary Commission, the Coach decided to take a stand. He and Juventus are embarking on a battle that could change the sporting justice system in Italy forever – and it’s about time too.
Let me be clear, lest many stop reading this blog already and accuse me of white-washing history: I am not a Juventus supporter and I am most certainly not accusing the FIGC of creating some anti-Bianconeri conspiracy stretching back to Calciopoli. That would be daft. What I am saying is that Conte’s situation is a perfect example of why the current system does not work. It could easily be argued it is also a sign of a wider problem within the Italian civil justice system, but that is for another day.
The evidence against Conte is simple – former Siena player Filippo Carobbio claims the Coach said in a team meeting that results were ‘secured’ against Albinoleffe and Novara during the 2010-11 Serie B campaign. That is the entirety of the evidence. One man’s word. This man who had already been caught in contact with betting syndicates and confessed with the promise of bringing bigger names to the prosecutor in exchange for a large discount on his own punishment.
This issue of the ‘pentiti’ – penitents – has been a problem throughout the civil justice system for several decades, most notably in the 1980s and 90s when high-profile showbiz celebrities were dragged through the mud simply because they were named by Mafia underlings who wanted a discount on their sentences. After lengthy trials and even spells in prison, those innocent figures were cleared of all wrong-doing.
Juventus launched a scathing attack on the system, suggesting it protected confessed criminals more than those who profess their innocence. That is without a shadow of a doubt true. The Italian approach to justice seems to consider you guilty until you can prove your innocence, which is somewhat difficult when it’s one man’s word against another.
Except in Conte’s case, it is one man’s word against 24 others. The other players who were in that Siena team meeting all testified that the Coach never mentioned or alluded to ‘fixed’ results. Their testimony has been discarded by the prosecutor. As Conte is charged with failing to alert authorities to something untoward, then either he is innocent or the other 23 players are lying and should also be charged. The fact those ex-Siena men have not been charged just makes the whole thing look completely meaningless.
The prosecutor in his own way already showed he doubts Carobbio’s testimony. After all, Carobbio originally accused Conte of something that would amount to sporting fraud, but the prosecutor realised it wouldn’t stick and opted for the less serious ‘failing to alert authorities.’ This way, the prosecutor has cherry-picked which parts of Carobbio’s story to believe. Why? Either he is a credible witness or he isn’t, you can’t rest an entire case on half-believing a testimony. The more you look at what evidence Conte has against him, the more you can see why he is so angry.
I welcome Conte and Juventus standing up to the prosecutor and the Disciplinary Commission, demanding to see them make a case out of this pitiful evidence. Maybe it will have repercussions throughout this and future sporting trials that risk ruining careers without genuine proof. It might also discourage the dawn raids on people’s houses and training grounds when they have repeatedly offered to testify and been ignored.
Some of you will say, but Conte accepted a plea bargain, so isn’t that an admission of guilt? Not in Italy it isn’t. The justice system is insanely long – so that we are still seeing rulings made on Calciopoli six years later in numerous courts of appeal. It has become a tacit agreement that it suits all parties to just work out a plea bargain and get it over with, saving everyone time and money. This is especially true in the civil courts, where the vast majority of people handed prison sentences don’t ever sit behind bars. Again, this was thanks to a law passed because there was not enough space in the jails. As I said, it is a very strange system in Italy.
Many Juventini, including President Andrea Agnelli, will take this as an opportunity to get payback for Calciopoli. With hindsight and the benefit of wiretapped Inter phone calls that were somehow completely ignored at the time of the trial, Juve could’ve fought those charges a lot harder. It’s not so much that they were innocent – they weren’t – but rather that Luciano Moggi had a point when he said everyone was doing it. The wiretaps showed less of a Juve-led cabal and more of a general moaning towards the referees from all quarters.
In any case, including Calciopoli in this legal battle risks muddying the waters. Conte’s situation is entirely separate and must be treated as such, otherwise people will get swept up in the usual club rivalries and ignore the evidence. It suits everyone to change the current sporting justice system, because sooner or later any of the clubs could find themselves forced to prove innocence when guilt is assumed.