Fabio Capello's England assistant Franco Baldini was the subject of an extraordinary Mafia-style threat in a Rome court yesterday from Luciano Moggi – the man at the centre of Italian football's match-fixing scandal.
The England manager was there to witness the threat by Moggi, whom the court's judge threatened with expulsion.
The investigation into the corruption scandal, which has already resulted in Capello's former club Juventus being stripped of two league titles, came alight yesterday when Moggi, the club's former general manager, set eyes on Baldini. In court Moggi made a gesture with his arm stretched in front of him and his palm facing towards the ground – a crass threat in Italian society that Baldini should be careful what he said or face the consequences.
Rather than back down, Baldini – the only one of the Italians in Capello's England coaching set-up who speaks fluent English – approached Moggi. He is reported to have said to him that "since you have 18 lawyers working for you, why don't you use one of them instead?" Later Moggi, who had already been banned from football for five years, apologised for his conduct in court.
The urbane Baldini, 47, whose official Football Association title is "general manager" is regarded as one of the best talent-spotters in world football. He worked for Capello at Roma where he was technical director from 1999 to 2005 and during that period was in direct competition with Moggi's Juventus when it came to signing players. Some of those players were clients, or had links to, the Gea World agency run by Moggi's son Alessandro which is a key part of the scandal and the focus of yesterday's court case.
Over the past two years Luciano Moggi has been hit with a range of allegations that have stunned Italian football. His alleged attempts to influence games in Juventus' favour have included corruption involving referees, players, managers and television executives. The trial involves six men, including Moggi and Davide Lippi, son of the World Cup-winning coach Marcello, who are accused of using threats and violence to influence games.
Capello and Baldini were both in Rome's criminal court – the Tribunale Penale – yesterday to answer questions on statements they had given earlier on the Gea agency. Capello was later told that he may or may not be charged with "reticence" – or withholding information – by the judge. It is punished, in the most severe circumstances, with a six-year jail sentence, although that outcome is highly unlikely in Capello's case.
In a statement, Capello's lawyers later said that they were "surprised" by the decision and that the England manager had passed on all the information he had. The statement said: "Mr Capello made it clear that he has never been involved in the conclusion of professional football players' contracts, and has only limited and indirect knowledge of this subject... We are confident that everything will soon be completely cleared."
But it was Baldini's performance that was the most impressive as he stood up to Moggi. Baldini and Capello first raised their doubts about the influence of the Gea Agency in 2002 when the latter gave an interview in an Italian newspaper in which he said that Roma were having problems signing certain players. In court yesterday, Baldini cited two occasions when he felt that Gea had an undue influence over players that Roma had tried to sign.
He also said that Moggi had made a thinly-veiled threat to him at a dinner for the Italian football league. Moggi had complained that his son Alessandro was having difficulties signing certain Roma players to the Gea agency. Baldini recalled that Moggi had said: "Sometimes you work a lot, sometimes you work a little and sometimes you don't work at all." The implication being that Baldini should not try to stop Alessandro, also on trial, getting what he wanted.
At the end of the hearing, Moggi asked the judge if he could make a statement. He apologised for his earlier gesture to Baldini but added that on the basis of the evidence he had heard, Baldini must be "envious" of him. The FA said that the case was a "private matter" and did not comment.
From football pitch to court of law Witnesses and defendants at Italian trial
Fabio Capello The England manager was Juventus coach from 2004-06, when the alleged offences regarding "unfair competition" were supposedly committed.
Franco Baldini Capello's England assistant was director of football at Roma from 1999 until 2005, when he left to take the same role with Capello at Real Madrid.
Luciano Moggi The highest-profile name in the 2006 scandal "Lucky Luciano", as he is often called, was fined and banned from involvement in football for five years.
Davide Lippi When the 2006 scandal broke, Davide, the son of the former Italy coach Marcello, was working at the Gea sports agency implicated in the affair.
Antonio Giraudo Like Moggi, Giraudo – former chief executive at Juventus – was fined and banned from football for five years when the 2006 scandal hit the news.