The Italian Betting Scandal - a story of addiction, snitching and plea deals

Published on 29 October 2023 at 16:00

Italian football's reputation has been smeared by past omens of illegal misdemeanours and corruption such as the 2006 Calciopoli scandal to Juventus' recent 15 point deduction for financial irregularities. The latest revelatory story is the illegal betting scandal engulfing three Italian internationals; Nicolo Fagiolo, Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo. Renowned as the 'King of Paparazzi' Fabrizio Corona a divisive and controversial media figure broke this salacious speculation on the 2 August alleging Juventus midfielder Nicolo Fagioli had a "severe gambling addiction". Here we see how the scandal unfolded and what the repercussions mean for each of the players clubs.

How it started with Nicolo Fagioli

Investigative journalist Corona who was well-known for his involvement in the 2007 Vallettpoli extortion racket; was interviewed by Turin prosecutors. He exposed a gambling cult at the epicentre of Italian football, alleging that "at least 10 footballers, chairmen and five to six agents" are embroiled in underground gambling dens. AS Roma pair Stefan El Shaawary and Nicolo Zawelski and Juventus defender Federico Gatti were exposed by the Sicilian, but all three have denied rumours and are threatening legal action. Nicolo Fagioli was one of Corona's victims, and shortly afterwards the 22 year old was investigated by Italian prosecutors surrounding illegal betting sites and gambling addiction.

The midfielder's lawyers confirmed Fagioli was being fully co-operative and transparent with the investigations and it was later revealed he had been fined £12,500 and agreed to a plea deal. His settlement included a reduced eight month football ban due to his open communication during the investigation, in which he implicated former AC Milan midfielder Sandro Tonali. Fagioli admitted that international teammate Tonali had first introduced him during a U21 Italy camp to these illegal betting sites, something Tonali scrupulously denies.

In a shocking confession Fagioli admitted to his gambling addiction which had generated extortionate debts of up to £3 million, where he informed the authorities of the mental trauma and depression he had endured. He told a story where debt collectors threatened to break his legs and how he had borrowed money from former teammates Federico Gatti and Radu Dragusin. His compulsive addiction included betting on Serie A, Serie B, Serie C and Lega Pro football games.

The scandal further puts Juventus under the spotlight, with suggestions they covered up their players illegal betting something they vehemently deny. Fagioli had made a breakthrough at his boyhood club featuring six times in Serie A this season and received his international debut last year. The eight month ban and subsequent impact of his personal struggles becoming a viral display could risk de-railing his promising career. For Juventus the doping ban for Paul Pogba and loss of their brightest prospect in Fagioli risks the club further declining down Serie A under Massimiliano Allegri.



What happened next - Sandro Tonali's involvement

Tonali was first implicated, in early October when him and international teammate Nicolo Zaniolo were dismissed from the Euro 2024 qualifiers Italy squad due to investigations with Turin prosecutors. Newcastle signed the 23 year old for £60m in July, supposedly oblivious to what the players agent Giuseppe Rossi called a "betting addiction". The midfielder admitted to using illegal betting sites and even informed the FIGC that he had made bets on his own teams (AC Milan and Brescia) when he was not playing. 

He featured for Newcastle in their 4-0 demolition over Crystal Palace last weekend in a stadium full of support and love for the Italian following his illegal betting revelations. In his cameo appearance in the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund, fans held up banners in support of their star player. However, later that afternoon he was officially banned for 10 months by the FIGC and sentenced to a further eight months of therapy treatment where he has to complete 16 days in amateur sports associations and federal territorial centres. The recent signing was fined £17,380 and faced a longer sentence than Fagioli due to him not handing himself in.

This is a huge blow for Newcastle who are on a five game unbeaten streak in the league and are aiming to progress out of the group of death in the Champions League. It is inevitable the Magpies will be in the transfer market for a new midfielder in January with Saudi Pro League star Ruben Neves and Manchester City outcast Kalvin Phillips linked with a move to the North East. Tonali cannot return to football until August 2024 after FIFA extended his ban worldwide, which means he will miss Italy's Euro 2024 campaign if they qualify. 

Eddie Howe has seven players injured currently, and the addition of Tonali's absence could threaten their bid to exceed last season's fourth place finish. Newcastle are reportedly exploring avenues to reduce Tonali's wages during his ban, in what is a monumental financial blow to the club who signed Tonali this summer to strengthen the quality in their midfield. 


Read More: Footballs Weekly Roundup #6


What will happen to Nicolo Zaniolo?

The Aston Villa loanee has been uninvolved in the media exposure of the Italian betting scandal, while Italy teammates Fagioli and Tonali have both been issued severe bans. On Friday the former AS Roma attacker flew to Turin just hours after his club's 4-1 Europa Conference League win over AZ Alkmaar to co-operate in investigations. His lawyer Gianluca Tognazzi admitted the 24 year old had conducted illegal betting unintendedly but only on blackjack and casino's not sport. If this is the case, it is likely the playmaker will only be issued a fine and can resume playing at Aston Villa. The West Midlands club play Luton Town this weekend, where they are looking to extend their unbeaten home record to 12 games. Aston Villa have a buy-out option to permeantly sign Zaniolo from Galatasaray for £40m next season, and it could become automatic if certain clauses are passed. The Italian has featured 11 times for his new club since joining on loan, but is yet to score his first goal.

This illegal betting scandal is not over yet, with other high-profile footballers linked and investigations ongoing. The question is who will we will see next involved in this 'gambling addiction' frenzy?

Written by - Lewis Eadie

Instagram - @the_beautgame1

Twitter - @The_BeautGame1

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