Bribery and fraud cause chaos in Serie A

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The Independent Football

The Italians have two words for what is going on in Serie A presently. Calcio caos ("football chaos") is how they neatly sum up the state of play in the league that was, not so long ago, admired throughout Europe for its exacting nature and success in Continental competition.

But match-fixing and financial ineptitude have dogged Italian football for too long as well and both those demons reared their ugly heads this summer. As a result, with two weeks to go until the start of the new season, Serie A is missing two teams from its 20-strong complement.

They were lacking three sides until yesterday when Messina, who finished seventh but were demoted for financial reasons, were reinstated. However, things have not turned out quite so well for Genoa or Torino and both those teams, who ended last season thinking they had secured promotion, will remain outside the élite.

Torino are the local enemy of Juventus but while the Old Lady won Serie A last season, their city rivals will have to feed off scraps in Serie B once more. Despite winning their promotion play-off, a failure to guarantee their £25m debts, partly thanks to a fraudulent bank draft, mean they will remain in the Second Division.

However, Genoa were the worst culprits, found guilty of match-fixing in their last Serie B fixture in early June. Just days after victory against Venezia meant they finished as champions, the Venezia general manager was stopped by police, driving away from the Genoa headquarters, and was found with €250,000 (£174,0000) in cash, a reward for ensuring his team lost that last game. It later emerged that Genoa, nine times league champions, had tried to fix their penultimate match but had failed to do so and so their 10 years in the wilderness will continue as they have been demoted to the Third Division.

As to who will finally fill those vacant two places in Serie A, it is thought likely that Treviso and Ascoli, who were the losers in the promotion play-offs, will be the ones to benefit.

The strife is not restricted to the smaller fry in Italian football, though, as Roma, champions in 2001, have been ordered by Fifa, the sport's world governing body, that for this season they cannot buy new players and can only sell staff for cash. This is punishment for tapping-up Phillippe Mexes, the French defender, from Auxerre more than two years ago.

But life goes on as normal as possible for Italy's big three of Juventus, Milan and their neighbours Internazionale, who have all made the biggest signings. Juve snapped up Patrick Vieira, Milan swooped for Parma's hot young striker Alberto Gilardino and Inter, without a league title since 1989, have gone for Walter Samuel and Luis Figota.

Yet even before the summer's scandals broke out, one of the most outrageous things to hit Italian football in recent times came in the shape of Milan's defeat in the Champions' League final, proof that no one in Italy is immune from calcio caos.

Serious buys in Serie A: Big names with a lot to prove

* PATRICK VIEIRA (Juventus, midfielder)

Just when it seemed as if the French midfielder, 29, would have a summer free from transfer rumours, along came Juventus with a £13m offer that Arsenal could not refuse. He played for Milan for one season, leaving in 1996, but returns to Italy a giant.

LUIS FIGO (Internazionale, midfielder)

The first of Real Madrid's "galacticos" to leave the club, after five years and one Champions' League success, the Portuguese winger turned down Liverpool to join Italy's perennial under-achievers.

WALTER SAMUEL (Internazionale, defender)

Another to move from Real Madrid to Inter but, unlike Figo, has a lot to prove. He spent one unhappy season at the Bernabeu, and while the Argentinian was supposed to be a rock, he crumbled under the expectations. However, Inter still paid £11m for his services.