Italy Face Sale of the Century
Byline: PAUL HAYWARD
THANKS to a federal prosecutor, last night's World Cup semi- final was a vast open market for scouts wanting to feast on the best Italian produce.
The corruption crisis sweeping Serie A is likely to end with Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio demoted. With an exodus of household names from those clubs imminent, managers from rival countries stampeded to Dortmund the way they might a Milanese fashion house for a sale. Scandal of the century.
Everyone must go.
Thus far the match- fixing imbroglio has had a galvanising effect on the Azzurri but here in Dortmund, 13 members of Marcello Lippi's squad jogged out to face Germany knowing they may need removal vans before the summer is out.
Few will want to risk being trapped in Italy's equivalent of our Championship and League One, while the clubs themselves face crippling wage bills on top of massive falls in revenue.
Yesterday Stefano Palazzi, the federal prosecutor at the tribunal, recommended that four of Italy's biggest names be excluded from Serie A for the 2006- 07 campaign. He also called for points to be deducted, culprits to be suspended and two league titles to be taken away from Juve. And to think England's critics thought the WAGs a distraction.
With a commendable disregard for the sensitivities of Italy's World Cup squad, the country's judiciary is pursuing the villains with all the zeal of a big Mafia trial. And for once there is no danger of these proceedings dragging on and on.
By July 27, Italy must submit their European entries to UEFA. At the current pace, predators can be sure the market will be flooded with Italian aristocrats well before the start of the Premiership campaign.
Seven of last night's starting XI faced the drop, as well as six more on the replacements' bench. Among the targets for Europe's elite were Gianluigi Buffon, the world's most expensive goalkeeper; Fabio Cannavaro, a certainty for the team of the tournament; Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo, the pistons of Milan's midfield; and Gianluca Zambrotta, arguably the world's most accomplished full back.
On last night's early evidence, Gattuso and Pirlo would make a stupendous double- signing.
They exhibited supreme authority in front of Italy's back four.
This unprecedented dispersal of thoroughbred talent is bound to excite Premiership clubs, though the politics of Italian football are so complicated that the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and even Chelsea may be wary of buying players who may want to return to Serie A as soon as their old employers are promoted.
Of the 13 choice cuts, only Alberto Gilardino is on the right side of 25, but Pirlo (27) Buffon, Gattuso (both 28) and Luca Toni, Mauro Camoranesi and Zambrotta (all 29) are in their prime. All would appeal to cashrich English clubs keen to add Italian cunning, as the pre-Abramovich Chelsea did with Roberto Di Matteo and Gianfranco Zola.
I t's not just home - bred luminaries who will be on the catwalk. At Juventus, who may fall two levels, France's Patrick Vieira could be back on the market, along with Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. …