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Election farce mirrors state of Italian game

Rome (AFP) – Italian football plunged further into crisis two months after the country’s dramatic World Cup exit with the failure to elect a new federation chief amid scenes of chaos in Rome.

“We’ve managed to do worse than the national side eliminated from the World Cup, and that’s a difficult feat to achieve,” said Italy’s former Ballon d’Or winner Gianni Rivera.

The Italian football federation’s (FIGC) general assembly on Monday night was a replica of the chaos in the San Siro last November when four-time champions Italy realised that they would miss the World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years.

Of the three candidates to replace Carlo Tavecchio as FIGC president, only former Italy and Roma player Damiano Tommasi, 41, looked to have the profile to offer the promised change needed in Italian football.

But he trailed in support behind Amateur league boss Cosimo Sibilia, 58, and the president of the third-tier Lega Pro division Gabriele Gravina, 64.

The election campaign turned into one of horse trading, Tommasi refused to play ball and four long rounds of voting proved fruitless.

Tommasi was eliminated before the final round with Gravina getting 39.06 percent of the vote, Sibilia 1.85 percent, with 59.09 percent blank ballots.

“This day mirrors the state of Italian football at the moment,” said Tommasi. “We didn’t have the courage to start on the path of change. I hope that after reflection it will be realised that change is necessary.”

The Italian press were harsh in their criticism, with Corriero dello Sport blasting a “farce”, Turin daily Tuttosport lamenting “a FIGC own goal” and Gazzetta dello Sport calling it a “defeat for football”.

“It’s a black page, the failure of Italian football,” commented Juventus general manager Giuseppe Marotta.

– ‘Turning point’ –

The failure to elect a president will almost certainly mean that the FIGC will be placed under the guardianship of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) president Giovanni Malago who has called an extraordinary meeting for Thursday.

The situation has been complicated further by the approach of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

“November 10th and January 29th are two turning points,” said Gravina.

“We have shown that there is an urgent need … to admit defeat and entrust the revival of football to third parties.

“Football needs a reform, a change of political weight and to find support from CONI and the government.”

The guardianship would be a first since 2006 and the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal that rocked Serie A and Serie B and could last between six and 18 months, according to the Italian press.

The state of Italian elite football is now worrying, as shown by the inability of clubs to agree on a name for the presidency of the League and the difficulty of selling TV rights for Serie A.

Italian football is without a president for both the FIGC and top division Serie A and has no national team coach, following Gian Piero Ventura’s dismissal post-World Cup failure.

But the situation of club football in Italy looks healthier with reigning champions Juventus, currently in a closely-fought battle with Serie A leaders Napoli for the league title, reaching two Champions League finals in three years.

A budget of five million euros ($6.2m) has been voted by the FIGC in the hope of attracting a big name coach with possible candidates touted including Carlo Ancelotti, Antonio Conte, Claudio Ranieri and Roberto Mancini.

The new coach will not be in place before Italy play their first matches since their elimination, friendlies against England and Argentina in March with Under-21 coach Luigi Di Biagio stepping in on an interim basis.

But the hope is that the new coach will be in place to start the rebuilding process before the UEFA Nations League in September.

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