Serie A has another big financial scandal

Miralem Pjanic

Miralem Pjanic
Photography: Getty Images

Maybe you were a little boy or girl until… 2006? Is that what it says here? ALRIGHT. Well, maybe you were still in high school or college at the time, and that was the last big scandal in Serie A, known as “Football City,” which saw Juventus relegated to Serie B and other clubs collecting points and money. It was about influencing match officials, although the practice of “suitcases” appearing in referees’ hotel rooms the night before a game had been no secret for decades in the Italian game. It is Italy after all. And now Serie A has another one, which may not see Juve relegated, but could very well leave another stain on the league that will be hard to overcome.

At the end of last week, Juventus received 15 points due to a ridiculous bookkeeping, although it is attractive. The relegation dropped the Turin giants from the Serie A Champions League spot to 10th, 12 points behind the top four, and it will be a real fight for them to make up that spot halfway through the season. The absence of income from the Champions League could be disastrous for a club that is probably the very definition of Icarus on the football field, chasing European glory and now falling deep into the Earth. Justice might come for Napoli too, but we’ll get back to that.

Capital gain

The heart of the scandal is “Plusvalenza”, i.e. inflating the value of players in transfers. This one from Forbes is a pretty good example as a whole, but the CliffsNotes version is that because transfer fees paid are spread over the length of that player’s contract, but transfer fees received are recorded as one lump sum, you can make up exactly what you earn and how much during some transfers

This scandal revolves around two such works by Caponijan, when Juve essentially traded Miralem Pjanic for Barcelona and got Arthur Melo in return. The latter was valued at 72 million euros, while the former was valued at 60 euros, and neither player was ever worth even close to that. But given that the €72 million that Juventus never actually cashed in could have been spread over Arthur’s contract on the books, and that €60 arrived at once (even though Barca wouldn’t actually have sent Juve a penny), Juve could record the whole thing as profit that year. They pulled some of the same shenanigans when they traded-but-didn’t-trade Danilo and Joao Cancelo to Manchester City.

There is also evidence that although Juve announced that the players took a one-third pay cut during the pandemic to help the club, the club tried to pay them under the table to keep them happy and to avoid the taxman, a bigger Italian tradition than Ferrari.

Napoli is also under fire over the transfer of Victor Osimhen and his transfer from French side Lille. Osimhen was brought in for around 70 million euros, but Napoli returned four players worth 20 million euros, although it was not a replacement. Apart from the combination of those four players, the backup goalkeeper and some young players, who played together for Lille. So how did they add up to €20 million? Again, Napoli could have spread that €70m cost for Osimhen over the length of his contract, but that €20m sale of some flotsam lying around meant that for the year Napoli could at least claim to be in the black.

I can’t correct it

It’s one thing for Juventus to be punished again, and that’s a big enough bruise on the eye. But if Napoli, maybe the best story in European football right now, must undertake some sort of points deduction that throws their Scudetto chase into chaos, Serie A’s credibility will once again take a major hit.

Although the actual football in Italy is fantastic (if Napoli don’t get punished, they will probably be the fourth league champion in four seasons, which none of the other big 5 leagues can boast), that doesn’t mean the league isn’t a total basket case. It is miles behind the Premier League, and significantly behind the Bundesliga and La Liga when it comes to TV deals, especially international ones, and sponsorships. Serie A clubs simply can’t spend like their European counterparts, and that’s exactly what Juventus and maybe Napoli were trying to overcome with their diabolical accounting tactics. Italian football has too many teams that can’t wait to fail, playing in old and dilapidated stadiums that are half full. Turn on a Serie A game and it just looks different to games in Germany or England, and that matters.

But getting the league to pull in one direction to rethink the way they run the game and the league would be the very definition of herding cats, if all those cats were wearing Gucci suits and sunglasses that cost more than your car. Italy is not the only league that has failed to get owners to band together and share their TV money like the Premier League did, turning the latter into the global force it is. But just as Barcelona and Madrid won’t relinquish their kingdoms over Spain, you won’t make Juve or Milan cede anything to the Fiorentinas and Spezias of the world.

So the league is likely to continue to drop stars to England, and it’s hard to know which entity will pay the big bucks for TV rights to a league where fans have to wonder if next week won’t bring another penalty to the leading team and turn the table into rubbish. Their contract with CBS has only one year left and brings the league just $75 million a year. The Premier League gets $450 million a year from NBC, by comparison. How will it go up? Add that up for all their TV deals.

But this is Italy, where organization and adherence to rules have always been just a suggestion instead of the norm. Anyone who has tried to cross a street in Rome under the impression that there is a light can tell you this.

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