Italian footballer Fabio Pisacane, who plays in the third tier of the country's professional structure, has taken a stand against match-fixing, refusing to help alter the outcome of a match in exchange for money, and going public about his ordeal. “Fabio Pisacane took a brave stand against match-fixers. Congratulations. I take my hat off to you and all players who have the guts to say ‘No’,” was the assessment of FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter on his Twitter feed.
One such man is Naples-born Fabio Pisacane, currently plying his trade in central defence for Ternana, who top the standings in the first division of the Lega Pro in the third tier of the Italian game. It was this 26-year-old defender, who one day dreams of playing in Serie A, that helped shed light on the practice of betting within football when he spoke out to lawyers at the Italian Football Association (FIGC) about former Ravenna sporting director Giorgio Buffone. The latter had contacted Pisacane with a view to fixing the result of the match between Ravenna and Lumezzane, where the centre-back was playing at the time, in exchange for €50,000.
To the player’s eternal credit, his answer was no and, whatever his footballing future holds, he has proven his honesty and shown an entire nation that he is a true great. Not someone who considers himself a hero, but “just a very normal lad, who was able to refuse to do something that was very wrong”, Pisacane was quite simply unwilling to betray or tarnish the sport he has loved since he was a child.
“I started playing when I was little, for a small neighbourhood team. From there I moved to Damiano Promotion, which is an important youth side in Naples,” he told FIFA.com. “That was when I understood that, if I kept on fighting hard, I was in with a chance of achieving my dream (of becoming a pro). And four months later, when I was 13, I was transferred to Genoa.”
Pisacane continued to progress through the youth ranks of Il Grifone, before making his Serie B debut with the club at the age of 18. “It was an incredible feeling,” he said. “To make my Serie B debut with Genoa at just 18 years of age was unbelievable. I can remember it all as if it were happening right now: I came on to replace Baldini in a game against Catanzaro, after he picked up an injury.”
Subsequently, like many young players, you were sent out on loan to gain experience...
Fabio Pisacane: Yes, I played on loan at Ravenna, Cremonese and Lanciano before ending my association with Genoa. Then I joined Lumezzane, in a joint-ownership deal with Chievo, and I had a very good season which led to me signing for Ancona in Serie B. It was their sporting director Larini (currently sporting director at Udinese) who insisted they sign me.
This reads like the start of a career on the rise, yet something went very wrong along the way didn’t it?
I started 23 Serie B games for Ancona, but the club went bankrupt at the end of that season, which is why I ended up back at Lumezzane, in the Lega Pro. But I still continued to give it my all and was having a very good season, until one morning I received a phone call.
The infamous phone call from Ravenna’s then sporting director Buffone?
It was the morning of 14 April, I’ll never forget that day. There I was, hearing from the man who’d been sporting director at Ravenna when I was there early in my career, but he wasn’t calling to say hello. It was three days before the game and he was offering me money in exchange for helping his team take the points.
He offered you quite a sum [50,000 Euros], to tip the balance of the Lumezzane-Ravenna game in favour of the latter, right?
I was stunned. I told the Ravenna director that I wasn’t the kind of guy he was looking for. As soon as I got to the training ground I told the club and my coach what had happened, and we decided to tell everything to the lawyer at the FA. Those weeks weren’t a very easy time for me.
Unfortunately Ravenna, and Buffone in particular, tried to defend themselves by denying everything and trying to discredit me. And at that time there was no evidence: it was the word of a young footballer against that of a director with 20 years’ experience behind him. I endured some very anxious days, fearing that the fans wouldn’t believe me and public opinion would go against me. I was afraid that the truth would never be known. I must thank my girlfriend and my family for always sticking by me, and especially the whole board at Lumezzane and coach Nicola for supporting me throughout, for making it clear to me that I didn’t need to worry, that I was in the right and that the truth would come out.
That was indeed the case a few weeks later, during the Last-Bet investigation which uncovered the match-fixing scandal.
One morning in June, shortly after waking up, I read the news that the Cremona public prosecutor’s office had arrested several people for match-fixing. It was like a weight off my shoulders. The truth had come to light and finally everyone knew what the situation was really like. Meanwhile, Ravenna had already been docked seven points and Buffone had been banned for three years. However, until the Cremona public prosecutor’s office opened their investigation, not everybody had seen things so clearly.
Now you’re considered to be something of a hero, so how do you handle that situation?
I can assure you that I don’t feel at all like a hero because of what I did. I’m just a very normal guy who was able to refuse to do something that was very wrong. True, it’s very hard to resist the temptation. In the lower leagues in particular, where you don’t earn much money, a lot of players might succumb, which in fact has happened. I’m thankful that my family taught me values such as responsibility and honesty, because that helped me avoid giving in to temptation. However, I’m convinced that, in life, you have to forgive those who make a mistake. But, for that very reason, it’s only fair that guilty parties pay for what they’ve done and that then, afterwards, you have to show humanity, give them a second opportunity to get back on track and trust that they won’t make the same mistake again.
Thanks largely to the case in question, you’ve become quite a well-known figure. Does it bother you that more people associate the name Pisacane to the match-fixing situation than with your playing career?
I’m pleased that people appreciate what I did and how I behaved, but I admit that I’d like to be recognised and appreciated for my footballing ability too. Not many people know about me, because I’m playing in the [Lega Pro] first division. That’s why I always believe I can achieve more and reach the very top, in order for people to value me as both a player and a person.
What’s your greatest ambition?
My dream’s the same one I’ve held close to my heart since I was a boy: to play in Serie A. I know it’s not easy, but I’m still young. Right until the time comes for me to hang up my boots, I’ll keep working towards it with everything I’ve got. Having a dream helps you to improve, and I’ve no intention of giving up hope. I’d love the day to come when I could say: ‘I’ve done it, I’ve made my dream come true!’ Through hard work, dedication to the job and sacrifice, I’ll get there.