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Whatever the source, Italy is suddenly awash in cash, and entrepreneurs have become almost as celebrated as soccer stars. In a recent poll, 69-year-old Gianni Agnelli, chair of Fiat, was voted the man that women most wanted to have an affair with. Coincidentally, Agnelli is the owner of Juventus.
Agnelli and other owners have bid boatloads of lire for star players, and in the past decade, 135 foreign mercenaries have been imported, at a cost of $200 million. Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard came from Holland, and Ramon Diaz, Diego Maradona and Claudio Caniggia from Argentina. Top players from Brazil, Uruguay, Germany, Sweden and, more recently, the Soviet Union have done the same. Not surprisingly, Italian League clubs won all three of this year's European cup titles.
The teams and fans aren't the only ones who have benefited from the imported stars. The players' arrival has also been a bonanza for journalistic bottom-feeders, who sift through sludge searching for scoops. Even the dreariest domestic details are big news. Several years ago, when England's Mark Hateley was playing for AC Milan, his daughter got her finger caught in a door. Reporters churned out updates—not because the little girl was badly hurt but because Hateley might have to visit her in the hospital, which might make him miss practice, which might affect his fitness, which might....
Although many players object to the press's snooping into their private lives, some are willing to use it to sow the seeds of disinformation. At one time there were persistent rumors that a well-known foreign star was gay. When a woman filed a paternity suit and claimed publicly that the player had seduced, impregnated and abandoned her, there were equally persistent rumors that she had been paid to do so by his team. Far from undercutting the star's popularity, these accusations enhanced it.
During the derby, Roma's Rudi V�ller, from West Germany, was the best player on the field, and every time he broke away, the CUCS chanted, "Vola, tedesco, vola!" ("Fly, German, fly!"). This was usually just before a Lazio player cut him down with a tackle from behind.
The derby was hard fought and close, with flagrant fouls and a spirited scuffle among a dozen players. Lazio fans soon concluded that their team was being cheated by the officials and started to climb the 15-foot Plexiglas barrier that rings the field. Guards beat them back with truncheons, and the Diehards responded by heaving rocks and fruit. Then somebody set fire to a pile of trash, and the guards waded into the stands, cracking heads. This started a stampede of troublemakers who knocked over bystanders and sent them tumbling down the concrete stands.
On the field, the action continued as if nothing had happened. Occasionally, someone would make a plea for peace over the PA system, but it didn't have any effect. During halftime a recording of the theme from Chariots of Fire came on. However, the music was drowned out by the thunder of police spotter helicopters hovering overhead.
In recent years Italian soccer has been increasingly plagued by similar spasms of violence. Last spring, a Roma fan was severely beaten and then died of a heart attack at the stadium in Milan. Around the same time, in Florence, a 14-year-old boy from Bologna was hideously burned by a Molotov cocktail thrown into his train as it pulled into the station before a game. As if that weren't enough, the Florentine tifosi began chanting "Burn, baby, burn" during Fiorentina games.
Last November, Fiorentina's star forward, Roberto Baggio, visited the boy, who was still hospitalized five months after the incident, and promised to try to curb fan violence at the next Fiorentina-Bologna match. Baggio met with some fans and told them if he heard their gruesome chant again, he would walk off the field. His threat worked temporarily, but the fans erupted again last month when the owner of Fiorentina sold Baggio to Juventus for a record $13 million. Fifty people were injured and 15 arrested in a clash with police at the club's headquarters. The fans had also planned to firebomb the Azzurri's camp near Florence, where Baggio was training for the World Cup.
In January, when Roma visited Bergamo, the hometown tifosi unfurled a cruel banner: LIONELLO, TOO BAD YOU DIDN'T GO TO HELL. The taunt was aimed at Lionello Manfredonia, a Roma player who suffered a heart attack during a match in Bologna three weeks earlier. In late February, Naples fans were greeted with strident abuse in Milan, WE ARE TIFOSI, YOU HAVE TYPHUS, read one banner, HITLER, DO WITH THE NEAPOLITANS WHAT WAS DONE TO THE JEWS, screamed another. To drive the nail deeper, gangs of tifosi waved flags emblazoned with swastikas.