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Greed Party Assumes Power in Italy

September 15, 2002|MIKE PENNER

At last, someone devised a defensive strategy to take Gabriel Batistuta, Christian Vieri, Rivaldo and Hernan Crespo out of the game and hold them scoreless for weeks.

Sweeper system? Zonal marking? 5-4-1?

Try: This season delayed until the greedheads who run the sport finally figure out how to split up the television money.

Italy's 2002-03 professional soccer season finally kicked off Saturday, two weeks after initially scheduled. In the interim, the nation's fans had to bide their time awaiting the final result in a much bigger sport: arm-wrestling over television rights.

Now that that dispute has been resolved, Italian fans have been able to return to the originally scheduled squabbling--starring players, coaches and the men who own them--which never fails to provide first-class entertainment.

Inter Milan opened its season with a 1-0 home victory over Torino, which was minor news compared to what Inter opened its season without: Ronaldo.

Brazil's World Cup hero had been Inter property until August, when Ronaldo, angling for a move to European champion Real Madrid, forced the issue until the soap opera became too absurd for Inter President Massimo Moratti.

"He got big-headed," Moratti told the newspaper Repubblica after agreeing to sell Ronaldo to Real for $43.7 million. "After the World Cup, he changed. He believed that he had become King again. Ronaldo only thought of himself, in his personal interest. I'm happy he went because of this.

"I believe he did it out of self-interest and nothing else. He went to Real for a fistful of extra coins. It's a ridiculous choice on this level."

According to Moratti, Ronaldo contributed some coins of his own to complete the deal. Moratti told Spanish television this week that Ronaldo paid $5.4 million "out of his own pocket to compensate for the lost sponsorship money.... We came out very well economically."

The other half of Ronaldo's soccer-playing household, wife Milene Dominguez, accompanied her husband in her own Italy-to-Madrid transfer. The 22-year-old Dominguez, a star player for the Italian women's team Monza, was sent to Atletico Madrid this week for $310,000, a record for a female soccer player.

Ronaldo, recovering from a minor knee injury, has yet to play for his new team. He expects to make his debut during Real's Sept. 25 Champions League opener.

His Name Is Rio

England international defender Rio Ferdinand felt the fallout from another controversial transfer when his new club, Manchester United, visited his old one, Leeds, on Saturday.

Ferdinand, the former Leeds captain, made a $45-million move to United during the summer upon his request, a transaction equivalent to treason in the minds of Leeds supporters. During the summer, Leeds fans unfurled a banner that read, "Rio's Scum, And He Knows He Is!" Heading into Saturday's match, Ferdinand braced for the worst, especially after Leeds striker Alan Smith predicted the Elland Road fans would "hammer" Ferdinand during the game.

"Obviously, in an ideal world, you would like the fans to give you a good reception and hope they remember the good times we had together," Ferdinand told the Manchester Evening News last week. "But I am not naive enough to think that is going to happen, because I will be playing for Manchester United and I will be doing my utmost to make sure United get the result the players and our fans want."

Elland Road is far from an ideal world. Traditionally home to some of the most surly fans in England, the Yorkshire stadium lived up to its reputation during Leeds' 1-0 victory. The home fans taunted Ferdinand with chants of "Judas" and "Rio, Rio, what's score?" and booed every time he touched the ball. Police made 11 arrests during the game for "breach of the peace, drunk and disorderly [conduct] and disorder" and were investigating claims that United goalkeeper Fabien Barthez hit a fan by throwing a bottle into the stands.

According to several media reports, Barthez, angered after Harry Kewell's 66th-minute goal, picked up his plastic water bottle and kicked it through his goal net, eventually hitting a spectator.

Earlier, Leeds Manager Terry Venables had urged the team's fans to ignore Ferdinard because "Rio is not with us any longer. Let's get on with our lives."

Penalized for Being Good

It's a good thing Pele retired when he did, because there are referees in Brazil now awarding free kicks against players who dribble too well and play too creatively.

Strange but true: In Wednesday's Brazilian championship match between Coritiba and Santos, Coritiba forward Jaba was penalized near the end of his team's 4-2 victory after taking the ball near the sideline and toying with it awhile, lifting his foot over the ball a few times as if he were able to take off dribbling, only to remain in place.

Referee Leonardo Gaciba cited Jaba for provoking the opposition and awarded a free kick to Santos.

"The rule says that a player cannot endanger a player or himself," Gaciba told the sports daily Lance. "[Jaba] wasn't being objective, so I awarded a free kick to protect him. If somebody had broken his leg, they will say that I was not clamping down in violence."

Former World Cup referee Jose Roberto Wright harshly criticized Gaciba for his decision.

"What Leonardo Gaciba did was absurd," Wright told Reuters. "It can't happen. What he in fact did was to stamp out the skill of the player and not the violence of the opponents.

"Can you imagine what would have happened if the referee had given a free kick every time Garrincha lifted his foot over the ball?" Wright added, alluding to the Brazilian soccer legend. "There wouldn't be any football left."

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