Thursday, 3 March 2011

Gaddafi: Italian football's unlikely teammate

As we all know, football is officially The Most Important Thing In The World™. So forget about all the deaths, the huge oil price hike and the uncertain global political future; how does the argy bargy in the Middle East affect the beautiful game?

Well, for one thing it's making the future for Juventus a little bit foggy. Lafico, the Libyan state investment authority, is the club's second largest share-holder with a 7.5% stake (worth in the region of 13m). As tension has risen in the North African country so, conversely, the price of shares in La Vecchia Signora has fallen by around 3%.

Any hopes the club might have for a quick and tidy divorce are unlikely. Juve's spokesman Marco Re recently said he had 'no idea' what Lafico would do with its shares. Not that that seems to bother the club's president Andrea Angnelli, who only yesterday said: "We are not worried. There is nothing we can do."

Maybe be his concerns are focused on Juve's uncomfortable financial position. Their figures for the first half of the 2010/2011 season which were released a few days ago show a decrease in revenue of 29% compared to the same period last season, while operating costs rose by 16.8%. All this led to a net loss of €39.5m compared to a profit of €14.2m for the same period a year earlier.

Hey, Tony, my team play in black and white too.

These dire financial results can mainly be explained by the club's failure to qualify for this season's Champions League, something that seems likely to happen next season too as I bianconeri are currently seven points off fourth place.

While it's hard to see how Juve's cosy relationship with Gaddafi's regime helps their stated objective of reconciling "the professional and business side of football with its ethical and social role," the club's reliance on the Libyan money was re-emphasised only last week.

Then, Re defended Gaddafi's record as an investor, saying: "They've always supported the company, for example they fully participated with the recent capital increase in 2007." Well, that's OK then. Maybe we should all just leave the nice man alone.

The best Juve can hope for is that Gaddafi sells his stake (although he may have other things on his mind right now) or that Libya's international assets are frozen. Yet the Italian government has been thwarting efforts to impose financial sanctions on Gaddafi by ensuring that Libyan Government-controlled cash is not covered by a European Union-imposed asset freeze.

This is perhaps unsurprising as Italy is Libya's key trading partner and the Libyan government holds about €4bn of shares in a number of major Italian firms including 2% of Fiat; 2% of defence company Finmeccanica; 2% of energy group Eni and as much as 7.4% of the bank UniCredit.

The latter effectively runs AS Roma, after the club's parent company Italpetroli  had to sell shares in the club to pay off its debts, and is now overseeing its sale to American investors. Lafico was one of the 23 initial bidders for the giallorossi late last year and Libya's Central Bank still owns a separate, 4.9% stake in the club.

Shit dad, no fans...

Libya's interest in Italian football has been driven in a large part by Gaddafi's third-eldest son Al-Saadi who is president of the Libyan Football Federation and has vainly tried to buy a professional career.

Not only has he been a Juve board member but he also played once for Perugia (after the manager refused to play him for several months) and once for Cagliari. Following this, he signed  for Sampdoria's for a season although he didn't play.

Al-Saadi has the dubious honour of being the worst player ever to have graced Serie A as it seems he lacks the killer instinct needed to be a striker. But perhaps this isn't surprising, while his brother Saif al-Islam was warning that 'rivers of blood' will soon be running through the cities of Libya, Al Saadi has  made no comment about the whole revolution thing and is instead courting Mickey Rourke to star in a film he's producing.

It seems as the effects of recent events in the Middle East continue to reverberate around the world, Roma, and Juve in particular, are learning that when you dance with the devil you have to wait for the music to stop.

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