Respect: Thoughts on penalties, conspiracies, Calciopoli...



Maybe I’m overthinking things at this point, but here’s something that bothers me about some of the ref conspiracy rhetoric that’s been brewing in the league: This is exactly the sort of situation where football’s next Luciano Moggi will see an opening. After all, the problem with the pre-Calciopoli landscape in Italy wasn’t that there was a single sinister individual waging a campaign of evil; the problem was a league-wide morass of intertwining favors, alliances and special considerations that made it all too easy for a clever, Machiavellian schemer to come in and exploit the grey areas of the system to his own benefit.

After the Atalanta match, Stramaccioni angrily noted that "Inter is a big club and deserves to be respected." Moratti soon added that the bad calls make Inter feel like "it has no respect." Notice the word that appears in both men’s statements -- rispetto. Respect. As any fan of gangster films knows, that notion of "respect" is invoked by someone who feels deprived of the power rightfully owed them. (Strama spells it out further when he calls us a "grande squadra" -- the fact that he would even bring that up shows that he's under no illusions that the league honors equality.)

In other words, the idea they’re expressing is not that the refs are incompetent or blind or even personally biased, but rather that the overall balance of power favors other teams, and that power imbalance manifests itself in bad calls against Inter that the refs are not appropriately inspired to atone for elsewhere.

This is even more explicit when Moratti brings up the fact that Inter has gone 21 matches without a penalty. If you ask him, he would say that he’s bringing up that number to point out the statistical unlikelihood of us going so long without deserving a PK. (Which is a valid argument.) But the very unsubtle subtext here is that we’re not getting what a club of our size and importance ought to be getting. A well-respected team, a "grande squadra," is one that gets regular penalty calls, the argument seems to say, and whether they’re deserved or not is something of a tangential matter.

When club officials start talking this way in public, it often provides a window into the way club officials are feeling in private. What worries me is that this really feels like the point at which club officials who feel disrespected will start making phone calls to people in high places who can hear out their concerns, and possibly take steps to make sure the club is being treated fairly. And it may all be perfectly innocent and righteously motivated. But when you have one club starting to do these things, other clubs will start to do it as well, because it’s only reasonable to make sure they’re doing what they can to get fair treatment too. And pretty soon, people start to get dangerously inflated notions of what "fair treatment" for their club entails, and people start to wonder if other clubs aren’t getting more than their share of this "fair" treatment, and now every ambiguous decision on the pitch starts to seem suspicious – not the result of an error in judgment, but the result of a favor being called in behind the scenes, which requires a response in kind…

You see where this is going. I'm not saying we should just lie down and take it if we're being mistreated -- but I do think it's a dicey can of worms we're cracking open here.

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