'Relegation acceptable' as Juventus admit guilt

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The Independent Football

In an extraordinary development in the Italian match-fixing hearing in Rome, the lawyer acting for Juventus said yesterday the club would accept relegation to Serie B next season as punishment, while Milan and Lazio claimed to have no case to answer.

Cesare Zaccone, who is defending Juve, told the judge, Cesare Ruperto: "The acceptable sanction would be that which has been proposed for the other clubs facing the same charges: Serie B with penalty points." He was gently reprimanded by Ruperto: "Don't say 'acceptable' - it sounds like you're bargaining with me."

Zaccone's observation came in response to the draconian punishments requested on Tuesday by Stefano Palazzi, the prosecutor for the Italian Football Federation. Palazzi had called for Juventus to be relegated to the third or fourth division, Serie C1 or C2, with six points deducted, for Fiorentina and Lazio to be sent down to the second division, Serie B, with 15 points deducted, and for Milan to be relegated to the second division with three points deducted. Final verdicts are expected between 20 and 27 July.

Surprise greeted Zaccone's statement. Antonio Di Pietro, a minister in Romano Prodi's government and a former magistrate who made his name during the "Clean Hands" corruption trials in 1992, said that to "pre-announce the acceptance of Serie B with points deducted is a clear admission of guilt".

Until Wednesday, the club had distanced itself from the activities of its former sporting director, Luciano Moggi, who is accused of setting up a network of referees who favoured the club in key matches. The dramatic change of strategy is probably dictated by the fear that relegation to the third or fourth division would bankrupt the club.

Juventus, who can expect an exodus of their best players, are Italy's richest club but are not bankrolled by the wealthy patrons, the Agnelli family, owners of Fiat motors. Around 80 per cent of the club's income comes from television-rights deals and sponsorship.

Juve earn €95m (£66m) a season from Rupert Murdoch's Sky Italia pay-television company, have a €187.2m (£130m) 12-year kit-supply deal with sports goods manufacturer Nike, and a €102m (£71m), five-year sponsorship deal with Libyan oil firm Tamoil. Each deal would be renegotiated if relegation occurs. Going down to Serie B would lead to a significant, but sustainable, reduction in value, but being exiled to the wilderness of the third division would render the contracts virtually worthless.

Gian Michele Gentile, the lawyer for Lazio, said that the Rome club would not be following Juventus in suggesting an acceptable punishment. "We are innocent. We have nothing to admit."

Marco De Luca, a lawyer for Adriano Galliani, vice-president of six-times European champions Milan, conceded during the hearing that his client ought to have denounced what he knew of irregularities - but that was not an offence.