When Lyon coach Remi Garde handed in his team-sheet before last night’s Champions League Group D match at Dinamo Zagreb, hearts sank among the French press pack following the game. “Some of us were asking if it was still possible to catch a plane home before the game kicked off,” said L’Equipe’s top writer Vicent Duluc.
To reach the last 16, Lyon had to win, needed Real Madrid to beat Ajax, and had to make up a seven-goal differential to overtake the Dutch champions. It looked like Garde had decided to prioritise Sunday’s Ligue 1 match against Lorient. He left Lisandro Lopez, Cris, Kim Kallstrom and Ederson on the bench. One journalist joked that Yoann Gourcuff starting showed how far down the pecking-order he has slipped.
At half-time, Lyon were drawing 1-1, with Dinamo reduced to ten men, and Ajax were losing 2-0; then came what the French press are calling ‘The Miracle of Zagreb’ and the rest of Europe, well, something very fishy. Lyon, who had managed two goals in the previous five games (both against Dinamo) scored six goals in 28 minutes, Bafetimbi Gomis with four of them (he broke Mike Newell’s record for the fastest-ever hat-trick, and joins an esteemed list that includes Marco van Basten, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Simone Inzaghi, Dado Prso, Andriy Shevchenko and Lionel Messi to have scored four in a Champions League game).
In the end, Lyon won 7-1, Ajax lost 3-0 (and had two goals disallowed). It took no time at all for the Dutchmen to cry foul. “I was told the goals came quickly and easily, normally it’s not that easy to score so many,” said Ajax boss Frank de Boer. He called for a Uefa investigation, and by Thursday morning, the French gambling regulator ARJEL had opened an inquiry into the game.
That was welcomed by Lyon sporting director Bernard Lacombe, who said: “The club totally approves of this action and we regret that comments have not been confined to the sporting aspect of an incredible achievement both for Olympique Lyonnais and French football.” He added: “I don’t give a damn what the Ajax manager says.”
The Spanish press went strongly on the conspiracy theory line. Madrid-based AS newspaper wrote: “The Croats spent the second half losing the ball stupidly and making bizarre gestures”, while Sport wrote, “It was suspicious, bizarre and weird”. Both papers pointed out that Zagreb defender Domagoj Vidal, at fault for the third goal after an inexplicable slip on the edge of his area, appeared to wink at Gomis and give him a thumbs-up after Lyon’s fifth goal (which could of course mean anything). Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas shrugged off the Spanish suspicions, claiming their reaction was in response to former tennis player Yannick Noah alleging that Spanish football has a doping problem.
The Croatian press has since reported that Vidal was seen leaving a betting shop on Wednesday afternoon clutching a betting slip there is a picture sweeping the internet of Vidal leaving ‘A Shop’, clutching ‘A Piece of Paper’, but that’s hardly forensic.
On Thursday afternoon, Dinamo responded with an official statement on their website: “It’s scandalous and malicious to proclaim the Champions League match between Dinamo and Lyon as suspicious.” Uefa’s Betting Fraud Detection System showed no irregular betting patterns around the match, so there will be no Uefa investigation, while Betfair announced that only £11 had been staked on the 1-7 correct score, at odds of 549/1.
The man running Dinamo Zagreb, Zdravko Mamić, sacked coach Krunoslav Jurcic after the game, despite meeting with him for lunch on the day of the match to discuss long-term plans, not to mention Dinamo being six points clear at the top of the league.
Mamić was investigated, but cleared, of match-fixing by Uefa after Dinamo’s 3-0 Champions League loss to Arsenal in August 2006, and a 2009 Europa League loss to Poli Timisoara. Uefa also punished him after he celebrated a Champions League qualifying win over Ekranes by giving a Nazi salute.
In Croatia, Mamić has had regular brushes with authority ever since the Croatian FA gave him a lifetime ban (since forgotten, rather than overturned) for attacking one of its directors. Jonathan Wilson, author of Behind the Curtain: Travels in Football in Eastern Europe, wrote in The Guardian that Mamić has also allegedly assaulted a Dinamo director who overlooked him for the job as sports director, opposition players Miko Ceka and Miljenko Mesic, and, with crutches, the director of the city planning authority, who rejected his plans for a city-centre skyscraper (after that fight, the plans were approved).
How Mamić responds to the Croatian media’s reports on the Lyon game could be interesting. He has a famously prickly relationship with them, mainly because they disapprove of the conflicts of interest given his role at Dinamo and the players’ agency he owns, which is officially run by his son. Previous clients include Vedran Corluka, Luka Modric and Eduardo da Silva, whom he suing for over £600,000, for 20 per cent of his earnings since 2007.
Mamić laid into one Croatian journalist after he asked about his agent/club official status. In front of the TV cameras, Mamić called him “a liar, a monster and an idiot who never takes a shower”. His approach was similar on a live TV debate, when the editor of weekly magazine Nacional questioned Dinamo’s involvement in a match-fixing scandal. Mamić talked about all the positive things he had done in business before claiming that he knew journalists in the Nacional offices perform fellatio on each other every day. Another rant in 2007 directed at journalists, the media in general, and finally YouTube, ended with the words, “I’m going to stick YouTube on my dick”.
Mamić’s immediate task is to find a replacement for Jurcic, who was only appointed after the vice-president fell out with previous coach Vahid Halilhodzic. The two men had to be restrained from punching each other during a half-time bust-up and soon after, Halilhodzic stepped down claiming Mamić had insulted his mother.
Mamić may not be in football for much longer anyway. Last week, he told Jutarnji List that he would stand in the next round of local elections. “I’ll have to go into politics out of desperation,” he was quoted as saying, “because the guys in charge at the moment don’t have a clue.” If Mamić wins and has to leave his post at Dinamo (of which there is no guarantee), it’s not all good news for Uefa: the favourite to replace would be his sporting director. He just happens to be Mamić’s brother, Zoran.