Pitchside

Ex-Chelsea star lifts the lid on ‘disgusting’ Italian football

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Chelsea fans will remember Samuele Dalla Bona. A promising blonde midfield player brought over from Italy at around the same time as another youngster, goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini. It looked for a time like he had a bright future at Stamford Bridge. He left for AC Milan at 21. Bigger and better things awaited him. Or so it seemed. You can count the times Dalla Bona got to run out in the red and black shirt on one hand. His career has been an itinerant one, largely spent on loan at some place or other up and down Italy up and down the leagues.

At 33, Dalla Bona is now without a club. He had an offer from Melbourne Heart in the A-League. Vince Grella, the former Australia international and ex Parma and Torino player, got in touch on their behalf. But Dalla Bona had to turn them down for personal reasons. He is now seriously contemplating retirement. Opportunities closer to home in Italy appear to have dried up. And in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport last week, Dalla Bona appeared disillusioned by it all.

He admitted to making his fair share of mistakes and to losing his way. The death of his father Luigi three years ago, to whom he was very close, hit him hard. “My head was no longer in it. I became depressed. And, basically, I stopped playing.” Regrets, he has a few. “If I could go back [in time] I would have stayed [in England] forever,” Dalla Bona revealed. “Football here is disgusting. Especially everything that’s around it.” Elaborating, he added: “There’s too much hypocrisy. If you stay out late or release an unauthorised interview clubs fine you. If you sell games, they soon forgive you.”

That raised a few eyebrows. As did Dalla Bona naming names. One example he gave was of player on the books of a Serie A club who is taking home the kind of “minimum wage an ordinary worker would dream of” while still serving the ban he received for his implication in the Calcioscommesse scandal, a ban that isn’t due to expire until next year. Another was of player who, entering the final 10 days of his suspension, managed to get signed by a team in the Lega Pro Prima Divisione.

Stories like theirs are met with incredulity by Dalla Bona. “Meanwhile, there are 10s of players without work who have never fixed a game,” he claimed. “I earned well in my career, but there are people who struggle to get to the end of the month. [Simone] Farina, [the former Gubbio player] who reported [an offer to fix a game to the authorities] has had to stop and has gone to work in England [at Aston Villa]. So you ask yourself: why be honest when it’s always the sly ones who make a career for themselves [in this business]?”

As you can imagine his words caused quite a stir. They struck a chord in particular with Torino forward Riccardo Meggiorini. After reading the interview in La Gazzetta, he wrote a message of solidarity on Facebook commending Dalla Bona for telling “many truths.” Meggiorini concluded by writing that: “... on Saturday I will play against Lazio’s [captain Stefano] Mauri. Arrested some months ago and now back on the pitch, it’s a disgrace... Who makes mistakes should pay out of respect for those who go to the stadium.”

To recap, when the Calcioscommesse scandal broke Mauri was one of the players facing serious allegations. They related to a couple of games Lazio played at home to Genoa and away to Lecce towards the end of the 2010-11 season. Arrested, he even spent a week in a jail cell.

Cleared of the gravest charges, Mauri was still banned for nine months for failing to report the attempts to fix the aforementioned matches. Absolved of one of those on appeal, his suspension was reduced to six months and he returned for the Rome derby at the beginning of February. Throughout Mauri has always protested his innocence. And so it’ll come as little or no surprise then to learn that Meggiorini’s comments got a reaction from him.

After considering legal action with his lawyer Matteo Melandri, the 34-year-old instead decided to put out a statement on his blog. “The thing that hurts and disgusts me the most,” he wrote, “is seeing the lack of respect on the part of my colleagues. Instead of taking it into account that, notwithstanding the arrest, all the accusations made against me over the last two years have been dropped, I am still considered a criminal. Only myself and the people close to me know what I’ve been through. They are things that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, not even you… dear Riccardo Meggiorini.”

It soon provoked a climbdown. Torino’s club secretary Pantaleo Lengo, ex-Lazio, suggested Meggiorini make a public apology, which he did. A fine was also reportedly under consideration. Not that the measures taken were to Mauri’s complete satisfaction. A week after the Maxi Lopez-Mauro Icardi handshake controversy, Serie A had another. Before the game at the Olimpico on Saturday, Mauri refused to offer his hand he Meggiorini. He couldn’t even stand to look at him. When Mauri scored, inevitably, in a thrilling 3-3 draw he celebrated with an angry silence. Meggiorini, some argued, had done his team-talk for him.

All this, however, shouldn’t detract or distract from Dalla Bona’s experience. He wants to stay in the game. He has done his UEFA B licence. He still wants to contribute. The question is: Will the blonde boy who used to play at the Bridge get another chance?

James Horncastle (@JamesHorncastle)

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