Police in Italy have arrested dozens of suspects in what is being described as the biggest match-making scandal to hit Serie A for years.
Investigators in Rome, Naples and Bari swooped at dawn to detain over 40 individuals believed to have links to the murky but lucrative world of internet dating.
“What we’re dealing with here is a vast criminal network bent on matching likeable but lonely players with suitable partners,” said police spokesman Salvatore Acquedolci.
“Previous match-making incidents have been treated as isolated cases, but we’re now able to reveal the extent of this professional match-making network, which is wider and more sophisticated than any of us imagined.”
Match-making has been widely reported in Far East football markets for some years, with a steady stream of allegations and claims about hush-hush trips to singles bars and club-sanctioned speed dating nights.
But this is the first big case to hit a major European league. Thirty-two dates stretching back to 2009 are understood to be under suspicion, with the consequences likely to be wide-reaching. Several players are understood to be among those arrested, though their identities have not yet been publicly revealed.
“Footballers are especially vulnerable to unscrupulous match-makers,” said match-making guru Dr. Tom Clemence. “If you’re a lonely young player, and someone comes to you saying they’ve got an amazing new matching algorithm that they want you to try, it can be hard to resist.
“Players get lonely and bored, and trust people they shouldn’t, and before you know it we’re looking at a series of rigged dates, which is a very worrying development for fans of honest, old-fashioned courting.”
Charges are expected to be brought next week, with fines and points deductions the likely result of a guilty verdict.
UEFA showed their determination to crack down on illegal match-making in 2011, when Turkish giants Fenerbahce were thrown out of that season’s Champions League after they were caught posting in the ‘Casual Encounters’ section of Istanbul Craigslist.