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Resurgent, but the Old Lady remains tainted by her sins

The 2005 scudetto was one of two stripped from Juventus.

The 2005 scudetto was one of two stripped from Juventus. Picture: Getty Images
The 2005 scudetto was one of two stripped from Juventus. Picture: Getty Images

Picture: Getty Images

Serie A is still a place of refinement, but there is no mistaking the air of fading grandeur. The homecoming of Mario Balotelli to Milan last month brought a familiar surge of global prominence to the league that was once the preferred destination of the game's greatest names, but most Italians wearily accept that other countries have monopolised the glamour and elitism. For too long, corruption was the dominant topic of Italian football and the distress of the scandals has not been wholly eradicated.

A prolonged bout of cynicism is inevitable after the discovery that Luciano Moggi had painstakingly constructed a network of influence to favour his team, Juventus. The Turin club were not the only perpetrators in Calciopoli – Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina were all punished for various misdemeanours – but Moggi was considered the central figure and Juventus, where he was general manager, remain most closely associated with the wrongdoing.

In 2006, they were relegated to Serie B then stripped of two titles, and the rehabilitation process was essentially completed last season when they won the Serie A title for the first time since then, but Calciopoli remains a malign presence for the Juventus team that face Celtic in the Champions League tomorrow night.

The club were contrite at first when demoted. New executives were put in place and there was even talk of suing Moggi and the previous senior management. Extensive phone-tapping evidence showed the full extent of the way favours and pressure were used to manipulate refereeing appointments and other elements to benefit Juventus and the other guilty clubs.

However, that remorse could not survive the sense of indignation among Juventus supporters, though, and there is now a lingering antagonism. Last year, for instance, the club were embroiled in an argumentative saga about whether or not this season's jersey would carry a third star in recognition of a 30th championship victory. The two stripped titles mean the record books show Juventus have won 28, but supporters continue to refer to 30 and a decision was eventually made for the shirt to bear two stars but with the phrase "30 sul campo" (30 [won] on the pitch) beneath the badge. The stadium and the club's administrative headquarters do bear three-star logos, though.

"The conspiracy theory won out, the idea that everybody was as bad as one another," said John Foot, the academic and author of Calcio, a history of Italian football. "I don't believe it at all, but you could see why it would have some kind of hold over the fans. Very quickly it became an angry reaction, although not so much to Serie B, which the fans saw as a humiliation. This conspiracy theory has a powerful hold and it's part of the way the people who are in charge of the club now – it's always been under Fiat's control and is back under the charge of the Agnelli family – are very much on a par with the fans and saying, 'we've won 30 championships'."

Many Juventus supporters believe their club became the scapegoat for Calciopoli and that the punishments were imposed to benefit Internazionale, who were awarded one of the two stripped titles despite having finished third in 2006 behind Juventus and Milan, who were docked points.

Inter and Juve are traditional rivals, but there is a further strain of hostility now. There are no direct parallels to the recent traumas of Scottish football, since the SPL's commission is still deliberating on whether or not Rangers' use of employee benefit trusts represented a breach of registration rules and so title stripping is only one of several potential outcomes, but there are relevant aspects.

"One of the mistakes was to give one of the championships to Inter," Foot said. "Most people didn't understand why and it inflamed the situation and gave the conspiracy theory more strength. [But] if you look at what Moggi was doing, the evidence is overwhelming. He built up a network of people in the football federation who were doing his bidding.

"Little things, like bookings, were all done in their favour and those little things made a difference over a long period. It wasn't like somebody giving a penalty when the player was outside the area. It was much more subtle and that's what made it so hard to prove."

Criminal proceedings are ongoing, although Moggi has not served any time in prison despite receiving a five-year sentence during the initial court case. The appeals process can be interminable, but Juventus are no longer directly implicated since they served their punishment. It was a short period of exile and despite several high-profile players having left at the time, Juve have returned in a stronger state.

Much of that resurgence would have happened anyway, since the club have long been committed to the concept of building their own ground. They moved into the Juventus Stadium in 2011 and now retain all of their matchday income and no longer have to rent their home from the local authority.

The appointment of Antonio Conte, a shrewd and accomplished manager, was more pivotal in the immediate fortunes of the team but even so, Juventus as a whole have regained their status as Italy's most formidable club.

"They're very well run, and if you leave aside [Andrea] Agnelli's stance on Calciopoli, he's a very good president," said Foot. "They reinvented the whole club, but the legacy is there – it's very bitter in Italy, worse than ever, because of what happened in 2005 and 2006. The hatred over that period is really strong. It's very complicated and political."

FEATURE Juventus back at top but Calciopoli still haunts the Italian game, writes Richard Wilson

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