ROME - Simone Bentivoglio, the Chievo midfielder banned for 13 months in the aftermath of the Italian match-fixing scandal, said he would have risked his life if he had reported incidents of fixing.
The 27-year-old accepted a plea bargain deal after being charged with fixing one game in addition to not reporting two instances of match-fixing during his time at Bari.
In an interview with La Repubblica, he described an “atmosphere of complete terror” surrounding Italian football and said he had felt unable to report approaches made to him, telling the paper: “I’m not a criminal who was selling matches - it is the mechanism of sporting justice that is biased.
“I love football, but I care more about my life. I have never dreamed of selling a game. I want the truth to come out, and the truth is that Italian football is a kingdom of hypocrisy.”
He described his reasons for accepting the plea bargain - regarded as proof of neither innocence nor guilt - saying: “Those around me who love me made me realise that there could be no justice, despite all the evidence that emerged in my favour and even though I had always played football in compliance with the rules.
“If I had not bargained, I would have risked a three years and six months sentence without even being able to be heard.”
Bentivoglio was asked about the matches over which he was accused - Bari’s 2-1 loss to Palermo in May 2011, a 2-0 loss to Lecce that month and a 1-0 defeat to Sampdoria in April 2011.
In the first game, he was accused of taking a bribe in order to lose, a claim he denied, saying: “I never took that money - all the testimonies agree on this. That money was never picked up, and I decided to play with maximum effort.
“I scored a goal, and I challenge anyone to watch that game again and prove that I did not play to win. What else could I do?”
Told that he should have followed the example of Simone Farina and reported the attempted bribe, Bentivoglio said: “I know this is a crime, and I take responsibility.
“However, I do not accept the hypocrisy as I told the federal prosecutor what happened in those five incredible months in Bari - January to June 2011. I wanted him to understand the truth, the surreal atmosphere that was created and in which we lived each day as players.
“We were not in a position to report things - we would have risked our lives. All we could do was continue to do our duty in the field, as I have always done. Maybe there would be was another way to get out of it, come up with an excuse to not take the field, but I’m not the type as I really love my job.
“I realise that it is not easy to accept the idea that Italian football functions in a certain way - so wrong - but certainly in Bari the conditions were the worst. It was an atmosphere of complete terror: we went on to the field and we knew that something bad could happen. We always felt that there was something abnormal in the air.”
Bentivoglio thanked Chievo for standing by him, but said he did not believe he could ever play in Italy again. “If being a footballer means having to worry about a whole series of ambiguous situations off the field, then I no longer want to be a footballer in Italy,” he said.
“I just have to thank President Campedelli and the club for allowing me to train with the team. I have nothing to hide, but I cannot even watch Italian football on TV. Sometimes I look at some international matches and I see a different world.”