The Italian prime minister yesterday made a dramatic intervention in the match-fixing scandal that is gripping the country, suggesting that football should be suspended for at least two years in an attempt to properly rid the sport of corruption.
On Monday police raided Italy's training camp, interrupting preparations for next month's European Championship, as well as arresting the Lazio captain, Stefano Mauri, and searching the house of Antonio Conte, the manager of the new Serie A champions, Juventus. In all there were 14 arrests, taking the total beyond 50, including two former Italy internationals in Beppe Signori and Cristiano Doni. Many more players and club officials have been named as being under investigation.
Prime Minister Mario Monti said: "Football should be stopped for two to three years. It is not a proposal by the government but a question I am asking as someone who was passionate when football was still football.
"It's a desire that sometimes I feel inside me: that it would really benefit the maturity of us Italian citizens if this game was completely suspended for two to three years. It's particularly sad when a world which should be an expression of the highest values – sport, youth, competition, fairness – turns out to be a mass of foul play, falsehood and demagoguery."
The high-profile escalation of the scandal this week has led Daniele de Rossi, a 2006 World Cup winner, to admit that it has had a greater impact on the national squad than a similar controversy that clouded the Azzurri's preparations for the World Cup in Germany six years ago.
De Rossi was part of the side that shrugged off the Calciopoli affair – in which Juventus were stripped of their Serie A title and relegated, while other clubs were fined and docked points – to win the World Cup.
According to the Roma midfielder, the dawn raid to search Domenico Criscito's room "shocked" the squad. Leonardo Bonucci, a Juventus defender, is also expected to face questioning.
"This time is worse than in 2006," said De Rossi. "This time is more shocking as the police came to Coverciano [the training camp] and people I know have been arrested."
The affair continued to dominate Italy's build-up to Euro 2012 yesterday as Cesare Prandelli, the national coach, was forced to defend his selection of Bonucci, even though the player has not yet been charged with any offence.
"I reiterate that Bonucci has not received any type of notification from the prosecutors' office. This is why he will come with us to the European Championship," said Prandelli. "We want to play, to win and to come out clean. The similarities with that of 2006 are there but they say in the difficult times the group unites. I hope that will be the case but I don't believe in the theory that says that Italians only emerge in times of crisis. We also rise in times of calmness.
"Now the important thing is to make people understand our intention and that is to clean up football."
The arrests were made as part of Operation Last Bet into match-fixing in Serie A and Serie B. Criscito, who plays for Zenit St Petersburg, dropped out of the squad following the police action, saying that he wanted to concentrate on clearing his name.
Some of those involved will face sporting sanctions as early as tomorrow when a tribunal begins considering cases, among them those surrounding Siena and Atalanta, who were promoted to the top flight last year.
Maurizio Beretta, Serie A's president, said: "We hope it will be fast and that drastic punishments are handed out to those individuals that have stained a world that should focus on credibility and transparency."