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COMMENTARY

It's an Opportunity for the Galaxy

June 20, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEOUL — Memo to Phil Anschutz: Run and grab your checkbook, there's a financial coup to be made out of Italy's miserable exit from the World Cup.

Make the check out to an unhappy, misguided and apparently vindictive man named Luciano Gaucci. You can find him at Perugia, the Serie A club that has been linked to U.S. World Cup and former Galaxy striker Clint Mathis.

Gaucci is the team's president, and he has just made a blunder that will haunt him for a long, long time.

Overreacting to Italy's 2-1 overtime loss to South Korea on Tuesday night, he has fired South Korean hero Ahn Jung-Hwan, who scored the winning goal that put his country in the quarterfinals and sent Italy home.

Worse yet, Gaucci has voiced some ugly comments that smack of racism.

According to Agence France-Presse, Gaucci told the private Italian radio station La 7 that he would not renew Ahn's contract with Perugia. Fair enough, that's his option. But listen to his reasons:

"I am not extending his contract, he does not merit it," Gaucci said. "When he arrived he was like a little lost goat who didn't even have the money to buy a sandwich. He became rich without doing anything exceptional and then, at the World Cup, he denigrated Italian football.

"I would have to pay three billion lire [$1.53 million] to extend his contract. But I won't. Ahn will never play for Perugia again.

"What do you think I would do? That I would keep a player who ruined Italian football? He should have shown his talents when he was with us. He'll just have to go back to Korea and earn 100,000 lire [about $48] a month."

No he won't. Ahn, 26, the first Korean to play in Serie A, would be a huge hit if he joined the Galaxy. He could help it on the field and, even more important, in the stands. South Korea's success in the World Cup has galvanized Los Angeles' burgeoning Korean population.

These are fans who have been largely indifferent to the Galaxy but who would become faithful followers were Ahn wearing Los Angeles colors. It's a perfect fit. All it will take is a check.

It might be that you will have to contact Ahn's original K-League club, the Busan I-cons, but certainly the folks there would be happy to see Ahn leave Perugia and the bitter Gaucci behind and join a club like the Galaxy.

And while you're at it, Phil, drop a note to Mathis. Tell him you will not be willing to trade him from the New York/New Jersey Metro-Stars to Perugia. If he wants to go elsewhere, fine, but the Italian club is no place for up-and-coming players with talent.

Not while it has a president as bitter and sour as Gaucci.

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