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Match-fixing: Gattuso may face charges

IN the 15 months Rino Gattuso spent as a Rangers player, their supporters saw enough of him to realise he didn't shirk a challenge.

An Italian prosecutor alleges the former Rangers midfielder was part of betting ring that targeted Serie A matches. Picture: Getty Images
An Italian prosecutor alleges the former Rangers midfielder was part of betting ring that targeted Serie A matches. Picture: Getty Images

The Gattuso way was to confront an issue immediately, deal with it and ask questions later. Making tackles and winning possession came easy to him in 1997-98, as an aggressive wee terrier of a midfielder in the first flush of his career. He was 19 when he joined Rangers from Italy and 20 when he went back. Now, aged 35, he must face the most persistent and damaging opponent of his life.

By the middle of yesterday morning Italian news wires were running the story that Gattuso had been placed under investigation for alleged match-fixing. Four other people were arrested in early morning raids in Italy.

Cremona prosecutor Roberton Di Martino told Associated Press that Gattuso was allegedly part of a ring that fixed Serie A and other Italian fixtures at the end of the 2010-11 season. ANSA, a news agency, reported that Gattuso and former AC Milan and Lazio player Cristian Brocchi would face charges of criminal conspiracy and sports fraud. The revelations were part of the Last Bet operation on Italian match-fixing, which has been running for three years and spread its tentacles wide.

The four arrested men were all alleged to have helped connect fixers to players. None has any public profile. The same cannot be said of Brocchi, who won a league and two Champions Leagues with AC Milan, and especially of Gattuso, who won two leagues, two Champions Leagues and was in the Italian team which lifted the 2006 World Cup.

Gattuso was occasionally a controversial figure because of his combative style, disciplinary issues and, in 2011, touchline eruptions in which he grabbed Tottenham's Scottish coach Joe Jordan by the throat and then headbutted him at the end of a Champions League fixture. Until yesterday, though, the negative headlines had been for issues during and around matches. There was no scandal on the scale of alleged matchfixing.

"Gennaro is stunned by the news," his agent, Andrea D'Amico, told Press Association Sport. "I spoke to him and he is returning home [to Milan]. We are remaining calm and we have to be patient and see how the investigation develops. Sometimes when you are a famous player, it is very easy for your name to appear and to be a target. We will wait and see how the situation develops."

There is nothing else they can do. Gattuso will not free himself of this opponent as easily as he did any of those in a near 20-year career. The Last Bet operation has been running since June 2011, and has been a slow, complex and wide-ranging investigation. His innocence or guilt is expected to take weeks, or more likely several months, to be established. What may never be fully recovered is the reputation, untainted by match-fixing, that he enjoyed until the story broke yesterday morning.

Tony Higgins has become increasingly involved in the match-fixing issue in his role with the international players' agency Fifpro (the former Hibs and Partick Thistle striker is the vice-president of Fifpro's European division). Higgins' contempt for match-fixing does not prevent him acknowledging the human tragedy of those journeymen players who get caught up in it as a desperate means of making money.

Earlier this year he attended a conference in which a Croatian player, Mario Cizmek, described how he got sucked into corruption and was eventually arrested at home in front of his two daughters, charged with match-fixing and hauled off to jail. Higgins knows the issue well enough to recognise that Cizmek was vulnerable to the criminal gangs behind football corruption. Cizmek was nearing the end of his career, was not wealthy, had not been paid for more than a year and owed money on taxes and pension payments.

"Cizmek gave an honest account of how it had basically destroyed his life," said Higgins. "He hadn't been paid for a long time, so he was reduced into match-fixing or becoming involved in it. It destroyed his life. It destroyed his relationship with his family, his young children don't look up to him, he's blighted their perspective of him. Everywhere he goes now he's seen as someone who cheated on the sport.

"If you listen to the personal testimonies of the guys I've listened to - I've probably heard 10 or 15 players from various parts of the world - and it's just a horrible scene to get yourself involved in. You are dealing with guys who are ruthless. You can't just dip your toe in and step back out. They've got you for as long as they want. That's the reality for many of the guys we've spoken to."

The common denominator is financial hardship. Fifpro's view is that football needs international support at government and law enforcement level to target the gangs, not just the individual football people who get caught.

"Generally, up until now, it's been leagues and players which have been bereft of finances, with players not paid for a long time. They can't dip their toes into it only once, the gangs have control of them by then. Once you're caught it ruins your whole career. There is no hiding place for these guys."

Gattuso does not fit the usual template of financial hardship and he is innocent unless proven guilty. But as he was besieged by the voracious Italian media yesterday it would have felt like there was no hiding place for him either.

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

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