Call-girl scandal threatens Inter's image

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The Independent Football

The fact their team are 11th in Serie A is galling enough for Internazionale fans, but now they are having to stomach revelations that some of their players have been involved with prostitutes.

The fact their team are 11th in Serie A is galling enough for Internazionale fans, but now they are having to stomach revelations that some of their players have been involved with prostitutes.

At least five players were identified by Milan police in the company of call-girls after a club dinner two weeks ago.

The off-field scandal comes as another blow to the image of the club, one of the symbols of Italian football glory. To further the embarrassment, it has emerged that Inter's latest signing, the Uruguayan Alvaro Recoba, has been using a false European passport.

"Inter, what a hammering," screamed the front page headline of the newspaper La Gazzetta. "I don't answer the phone any more," complained Inter's president Massimo Moratti after the red-light parties and the passport scandals broke on the same day. "Footballers are supposed to set an example both on and off the field."

The involvement of the unidentified Inter players came during an inquiry by Italian police. Last year they identified a website which ran adverts for cars, holidays and a section on "personal encounters". One click on the town you were in and a list of women and photos appeared. Another click and they were clad in little more than their mobile phone numbers.

"We strongly suspected that it was a cover for a prostitution ring. So we put the site owners under surveillance. Hordes of beautiful young women passed through their office. Phone taps established it was clear the owners knew the girls were prostitutes, which is essential for prosecution," said the police vice-commissioner, Katia Di Ruberto.

It was not any old call-girl service, though; clients were wealthy industrialists, businessmen and sportsmen. Police followed one women who had been invited to a dinner with footballers at the trendy Speakeasy restaurant in central Milan. After dinner, five of the 11 Inter players went back with several women to an apartment where they remained until 2am.

"We knew they were footballers but not who," confirmed Di Ruberto. "We didn't stop them or question them as they had done nothing wrong."

While the players face the wrath of wives and girlfriends, they need not worry about prosecution. Only those procuring or exploiting prostitutes, such as pimps, face legal charges. However, if it was proven that the players themselves did not select the women and someone acted as an agent, they could be prosecuted. The police have not excluded that someone within the club could have had the task of finding suitable company for the footballers.

The Inter fans have been quick to pick up on the sexual misadventures of their heroes. Banners hung up near the training ground read: "Today's menu - spaghetti alla puttanesca (whore's spaghetti)."

However, they may be wondering whether off-field dalliances is affecting their on-field performance given that Inter are languishing in Serie A. The Italian Football Federation has, meanwhile, opened an inquiry into the Recoba passport case.

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