For the second time in five days, Gennaro Gattuso’s image graced the front cover of Gazzetta dello Sport. On Saturday, he was seen serving up a big plate of spaghetti to Andrea Poli. Gattuso had invited the Milan midfielder to a restaurant that he owns in Gallarate, to the north-west of the city, after learning through media interviews that they shared a mutual admiration.
On Wednesday, though, the story was rather different. “Ringhio defends himself,” ran the headline above a stock photo of Gattuso in his playing days. One day previously, his home had been searched as part of the ‘Last Bet’ match-fixing investigations, which have been ongoing since 2011.
He was not the only person under scrutiny. In total, eleven current and former footballers’ homes were raided on Tuesday, while four other people were arrested on match-fixing charges. Gattuso, unlike that latter group, has not yet formally been accused of any specific offence, but as the most famous face linked to this latest stage in the investigation, his story inevitably dominated the headlines.
Gattuso’s powerful reaction might also have helped to intensify the spotlight. “If they proved this stuff then I would be inclined to go out into the piazza and kill myself,” he told TV reporters. “This is not who I am.”
At first he denied having even placed a bet in his life, although he would later backtrack on that statement, telling Gazzetta that he made a few wagers in 2002-03, before players were banned from doing so. But as he would rightly stress, having an occasional flutter was quite a different thing than rigging a game.
“In my life, I have never, and I mean never sat down with people to fix matches,” he told Gazzetta. “I have never thought in even the furthest part of my brain about throwing a game because, first of all, I don’t even know how you do it. I don’t ever play with my friends, because I don’t even know how to lose a meaningless little game. Anyone who knows me knows how I think.”
It was a characteristically passionate response, although even the player’s tone quickly became the source of conjecture, with both his defenders and his detractors extrapolating far more than they reasonably should. “Everyone close to me is telling me to stay calm,” continued Gattuso. “You tell me how a person can stay calm when they know 100% that they never did anything of the sort.”
He had been drawn into this investigation after prosecutors in Cremona obtained phone records for two of the men arrested yesterday—Francesco Bazzani and Salvatore Spadaro, who are alleged to have acted as the middle-men between bettors and footballers in a series of matches dating back over several years. Ever since the investigation began in 2011, investigators have been searching for that missing piece of the puzzle, the ‘Mister X’ (or perhaps ‘Misters X and Y’) who were in position to negotiate with all parties and orchestrate a result.
Key to the case against Bazzani and Spadaro is evidence that they contacted players and other football club employees by phone before and after matches that are under investigation. Gattuso’s name came up when it emerged that he had received 13 text messages from Bazzani over the course of a year and a half. But as the player himself has pointed out, he did not respond to any of them.
The pair had certainly met, with Gattuso characterising Bazzani, a professional bookie, as someone who knew “half of Serie A”. But according to the player, the only things they discussed were tickets and shirts for giveaways.
Early indications are that the people who matter might be inclined to believe him. Corriere dello Sport’s Andrea Ramazzotti wrote on Thursday that: “investigators do not consider Gattuso’s role in the betting scandal to be a central one”. It was suggested that he might not be required to stand trial.
He would not be the first the first player to be exonerated in this investigation after having his name dragged through the mud. Domenico Criscito was infamously dropped from Italy’s Euro 2012 squad after a high-profile dawn raid on his bedroom at Italy’s Coverciano training facility last June. The case against him was subsequently dismissed without any charges being brought.
Herein the danger in rushing to judgement. Gattuso has not yet even been charged with an offence, and yet might reasonably argue that his reputation has already been massively tarnished by events over the last two days.
Giancarlo Abete, president of the Italian Football Federation, spoke out in support on Wednesday, saying that: “I will only take this into consideration if there were to be a judicial ruling, which I hope will not happen, against him. Knowing Gattuso, and knowing his behaviour and his style, it seems impossible to me that he would be involved.”
Abete went further, stating the need for “prudence” in waiting for the Last Bet investigation to run its course. “In terms of clear-cut situations,” he added, “there is not a lot to see at the moment”.
Not everyone would agree with that final assertion. In fact, many people found it surprising that Abete would make such a comment, given that 53 football clubs, as well as 144 players, managers and other team employees, have already been sentenced by the sport’s disciplinary body for offences unearthed by the Last Bet investigation. Penalties have ranged from fines to suspensions and points deductions.
And while judgements must be held until all trials are completed, Tuesday’s arrests were accompanied with some damning allegations by the chief prosecutor, Roberto Di Martino. Of the 30 matches now under investigation, four took place in 2013 (you can see a full list here). The implication is that, after a brief hiatus following the initial round of arrests in 2011, the people attempting to fix matches went right back to work.
If true, that would be a damning indictment of the game’s ability to police itself, allowing such a thing to occur so soon after the warning flags had been raised. It seems a far more pressing concern for Italian football than the question of whether one high-profile individual was or was not involved.