Saturday, 27 August 2011


And so it has come to pass. The first week of Serie A 2011/2012 will not be played this weekend. An emergency meeting between the footballers and their trade union (AIC) leader Damiano Tommasi on one side and on the other, the presidents of the clubs, represented by Lega Serie A president Massimo Beretta and Cagliari’s Massimo Cellino (the League’s other representative Lazio’s Claudio Lotito couldn’t participate because of a ban until September over insulting the Italian Olympic Committee) was held on Wednesday, convened by Giancarlo Abete, president of the Italian football federation (FIGC).

When it came to the vote, 18 presidents refused to accept the collective contract proposed by the footballers. There are two aspects where no middle ground can be found. The first – the so-called Article 4 – is concerned with who should pick up the tab of the emergency tax to be imposed by the Italian government on all high earners. The clubs maintain that the entire bill should be met by the players and that it should be written into the contract. The second, Article 7, deals with training matters, which players should be part of the first team group should be a choice made by the training staff and the club according to the presidents. Surprsingly Cellino voted in favour of the players (as did Siena) and stormed off back to Cagliari immediately; and as expected, former Roma midfielder Tommasi held a different view,

"The presidents brought two modifications, neither of which can be inserted into the contract. The first deals with a solidarity contribution which cannot be included because it is unknown which exact form this contribution tax will take. The players have never said they don't intend to pay the solidarity tax. We expect to pay taxes, as we have always done and we are willing to pay the amount set out, however the proposal by the government is not definite.

“The other point is a request to modify Article 7. The paradox is that the Lega felt it necessary to have an interpretation of this article before the agreement was signed. When the legal interpretation was supplied they decided to rewrite the article.”

In a attempt to mediate, FIGC president Abete offered to create a fund to cover any problems with paying extra tax over the next three seasons. This proposal was dismissed out of hand by everyone, and Abete succeeded only in becoming a target of scorn from one of the more vociferous presidents, Maurizio Zamparini from Palermo. Chief of Lega Serie A Beretta’s response was emphatic when he simply reminded everyone that the presidents had dictated their precise conditions for the renewal of the collective contract the previous day and that the players’ union had to integrate the two proposals put forward by the Football League.

Union Chief Damiano Tommasi counter argued that there was a willingness from Serie A to delay the start of the championship. The player who once contemplated becoming a priest reiterated that the players had never said they weren’t going to cough up for the so-called solidarity tax, while the disagreement over who should be included in the first team squad, and the consequences thereof, was not in discussion until after December.

Tommasi perceptively concluded that not all presidents agreed on the stance being taken by the Lega Seria A, and when forced to answer by some persistent questioning from the press admitted that it was Lazio’s Lotitio the most adamant to enforce Article 7. The lack of cohesion was underlined by Palermo owner Zamparini who declared that the true anomaly was that the Lega Serie A didn’t exist but was merely a group of 20 presidents without any ties to one another, each trying to do his best for his own club.

On Friday morning, Tommasi offered last-minute hope when he proposed a stopgap deal to cover the season until 30 June, 2012 based on the agreement made by his predecessor (and AIC founder) Sergio Campana. However, it was all in vain. The reply from Lega Serie A arrived just after midday, the deadline set by the Italian Football Federation. Beretta stated that the proposal from the AIC was made to be rejected, which left the players the only option open to them if they were to keep face: to strike.

However, there is already a ray of light at the end the tunnel. Parma chief Tommaso Ghirardi admitted that the stop gap measure would have been interesting had they had a chance to discuss it, an attack on Tommasi and Beretta. Meanwhile Cagliari’s Cellino hit out only at Beretta. The differing opinions emerging from the club owners prompted Demetrio Albertini, FIGC vice president, to call on the dissenting presidents to meet and discuss a new line to take. An opening that appears to have been backed by Aurelio De Laurentiis, who tautologically admitted that talks had broken down due to a lack of negotiation and that the agreement had to be completely rewritten. Fiorentina’s majority shareholder Diego Della Valle feels the same way as his Napoli counterpart, although loathe to admit it, going as far as proposing a watchdog authority for football in Italy.

The less hard line approach by the until-now unmoveable presidents has been echoed by AC Milan CEO Adriano Galliani, who has suggested that the players forego a collective agreement this season and the clubs will not force their hand over the payment of an austerity tax – one of the stumbling blocks for the presidents, but not for the players. The Rossoneri vice president added that it was urgent to find middle ground to avoid an further strikes because the fans of Serie A deserve better.

Fans who have laid into the players on the comments pages on the major newspapers’ sites. The major argument which has upset the paying supporter (whether at the stadium or pay-per-view, the fans’ money ends up in the clubs’ coffers) is that the players earn a grotesque amount of money to do something which struggles to be called a proper job while the average worker is really making sacrifices to make it to the month’s end.

Tommasi has replied cuttingly that he is the first to know that football players have no right to raise any objections and must simply go out and perform.

Italy needs the distraction of Serie A.

There is a crisis and there requires the diversion of calcio.

The show must go on, so a deal will be found before Round 2 on September 10th (I’d put money on it but betting and football is still a touchy subject here, but that’s another scandal).

Paul Visca Riproduzione Reservata