It was 12.24am, local time, when Alessandro Diamanti walked forward for the final, decisive kick and, when it was all done, sparked the match that would exsiccate English Euro dreams to ashes. Little did the Italian know that 1300 miles away he was also about to reignite a domestic feud that has been quietly smouldering for two years. Perhaps it was the deja vu that comes with another harrowing disappointment in a penalty shoot-out that prompted David Gold to take to Twitter; or else something in the ecstasy-rapted face of the screaming Diamanti as he wheeled away in celebration that pricked into consciousness- like the tea-socked madeleine- frustrations that had recently lay dormant. Within hours of England crashing out of Euro 2012 in Kiev on Sunday night, the West Ham co-owner publicly announced the club intended to sue Brescia Calcio for the £1.5million he says they are owed from the sale of Diamanti from the Italian club to Bologna FC 1909. The process will begin with a visit to the Court of Arbitration for Sport as early as next week.
The Italy international signed for the Hammers on a five-year contract in August 2009 from Livorno for £6million, before he was allowed to move back to Italy after just one season in the English Premier League. It is, though, the player's subsequent transfer to Bologna in a 50% co-ownership deal following Brescia's relegation to Serie B (an eventuality believed to have cost United a further €300,000 because of a 'survival clause') that has left the Hammers incensed. Brescia are not only receiving a £1.2m transfer fee but they are also entitled to a percentage of the player's future rights under the terms of the co-ownership agreement. In July last year West Ham United asked the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) to suspend Diamanti's player registration with Brescia Calcio with immediate effect. Due to the failure of Brescia to pay the latest instalment fee, the club also requested that the national association and FIFA impose sporting sanctions until the matter is resolved. There was at the time a swift response from the Biancoazzurri, with a official press declaration, signed by sport director Andrea Iaconi, stating: "This is pure bullshit, we're paying the installments as by arrangements. Some are still to be paid, but we will do with no doubt. This will not, in any case, prejudice the eventual selling of the player to Bologna."
An article from October last year revealed just how far the situation had escalated, with West Ham United reported at the time to be refusing to pay transfer fees for three other players they bought from overseas clubs as a direct result of the bitter dispute with Fifa. Writing in the Telegraph, Jason Burt said the club were furious that their Diamanti claim had still not been dealt with by world football’s governing body. It meant that West Ham were now themselves the subject of a formal complaint to Fifa and the Football Association because they withheld payment of €1million (£875,000) for the defender Winston Reid.
The New Zealander was signed in August 2010 on a three-year contract from the small Danish club FC Midtjylland but West Ham have, so far, not paid any money for him. The identity of the other players has not been revealed but West Ham have signed the likes of Frederic Piquionne from Lyon, Pablo Barrera from Pumas, Guy Demel from Hamburg and Ruud Boffin from MVV Maastricht in the past couple of years. It’s thought that the Piquionne fee could be one that has not been paid in full yet.
West Ham do not dispute that they owe Midtjylland money for Reid but believe that there is a point of principle at stake because Fifa have so far not dealt with their dispute. The money West Ham were owed should have been paid last July with the money they then owed paid to the other clubs in late August. West Ham therefore argue the Diamanti cash was, as that point of principle, rightfully theirs to fund the fees they owed. West Ham believe that unless they take such a strong stance they will not receive the money they are owed for Diamanti. The club has honoured all payments to other British clubs for players it has signed.
The Hammers have urged Midtjylland to put pressure on Fifa to sort out their case. Once it is dealt with they will pay the Danes immediately what they are owed. Midtjylland have become the unwitting victims of the row — as, West Ham will argue, have they — and Soren Bach, the club’s chief executive officer, confirmed to The Telegraph in a statement: "We did not receive any payment — and we can confirm that we have filed a complaint to Fifa and the Football Association over an unpaid transfer fee for the sale of Winston Reid." It’s understood that the total amount being withheld is equivalent to what West Ham are owed by Brescia.
Meanwhile, Football Italia reports Diamanti will now remain permanently at the Stadio Renato Dall'Ara after a blind auction process, which his present club confirms was “like a poker game.” In effect, the clubs involved write a figure in a sealed envelope and the highest bid wins the full contract. “It was like a long and tiring poker game,” said Bologna President Albano Guaraldi after his €3.36m offer won. "We had prepared one envelope first, then had a second one with a slightly changed amount inside. We would’ve won with the first envelope too, but we didn’t want to run any risks. We could not and did not want to lose him. We sought an agreement with Brescia at all costs to avoid the auction. Diamanti is a player who gave us a great deal last season and will continue to help Bologna this term, next term and in future. We are aware of his value and will therefore endeavour to improve his contract."
The Italian originally arrived in east London in controversial circumstances when it was revealed by Livorno Director of Sport Nelso Ricci that his transfer fee had been partly paid by club sponsors SBOBet. After just 29 first team appearances - and eights goals - Diamanti was subsequently shipped out by new owners Sullivan and Gold in the 2010 summer transfer window, despite having been named the Best Signing 2009/10 by the club's online fanbase, and voted runner-up as Hammer of the Year by the club's supporters. It was widely suspected at the time that the unusual circumstances surrounding his signing had sparked that decision. Following his return to his homeland with Brescia, Diamanti scored six goals in 31 Serie A appearances and earned his first Italy cap.
West Ham’s frustration is all the more annoying for them given the tough stance Fifa said they were going to adopt on clubs who are found guilty of being slow to pay transfer fees. There has been the threat of points deductions as well as fines for guilty parties. Speaking in October last year, West Ham vice-chair Karren Brady told The Sun that chasing your money in Europe is hard work. "£450,000 has been due for so long we've been in touch with the Italian federation and FIFA to impose some kind of sanction, but the money still isn't immediately forthcoming. Another million plus is due and there's still no sign of the first payment. FIFA have done nothing more than yawn. It isn't as if Brescia don't have the funds. They have just sold the Italian international to Bologna. In England, our leagues would be down on us like a ton of Mike Ashleys."
The following March, Brady revealed she was still bulldogging away at the relevent authorities concerning the missing payments. Brescia have now appealed a FIFA verdict that they should pay up at once but Brady promised she would never let it drop. "Why should wheedlers and welshers from Brescia treat us as though we’re their private charity?" she asked in her Football Diary. Gold is similarly adamant they will not allow the matter to end and is now taking legal action. Speaking on his twitter site last night, he said: "We sold Diamanti to Brescia because he was desperate to return to Italy. He was then sold to Bologna. We are suing Brescia for the money."
For the fan shorn of material consideration, the cameo of Diamanti on Sunday night remains a reminder of things owed. The maverick genius that the adoring Boleyn gallery apotheosizes and deserves but all too rarely enjoys. To those watching eyes Diamanti bestrode the verdant glebe of Kiev's Olympic Stadium and elicited an undated memory as vivid as Stendhal's fragmented frescoes surrounded by the blank brickwork of oblivion. Fists clenched, veins bulging, eyes to the sky, celebrating a goal in West Ham colours. It could be a flashback to when Di Canio ruled the same rectangle of East End turf. "We share the same way to play football," Diamanti once said. "We both give everything on the pitch for the team and the fans. I always play with passion. I am a passionate man. Not just about the goals but about the football. I try to put everything on to the field."
Like Di Canio before him, the man they call Il Mago seems the embodiment of the player who from the moment he learns to walk, he knows how to play. As Galeano would have it, the player in his early years who brings joy to empty lots and in his early manhood takes flight and the stadium flies with him. The ball seeks him out, knows him, needs him. She rests and rocks on top of his foot. He caresses her and makes her speak, and in that tete-a-tete millions of mutes converse. Nostalgia, of course, has a meaning less connected with suffering and more with emotional indulgence. You can wallow in it because the territory is thick with shared memories, with mnemonic solidarity. Like the memory of a lover who came into your life and left footprints on your heart, the distance of time has diminished the flaws of the past. So it is that you forget those games when the fountain of public adulation became the lightening rod of public rancour. Diamanti, they said, one-paced, one-footed, one-trick; too lazy, too lightweight, too slow. Yet we still long for the day when we can see his like again, only better. In the words of Rupert Brooke...
"And I shall find some girl perhaps, and a better one than you,
With eyes as wise, but kindlier, and lips as soft,
but true, and I daresay she will do"
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