MILAN (AP) – Former Atalanta captain Cristiano Doni regrets his role in Serie B match-fixing last season but insists he was trying only to help his club.
Doni was among 16 people arrested across Italy in December in an ongoing investigation into match-fixing and illegal betting on games. He spent five days in solitary confinement, then released on house arrest.
He has admitted to helping change the outcome of Atalanta's 3-0 win over Piacenza as well as a 1-1 draw at Ascoli, but says those are the only two games he had a hand in and any allegations he caused Atalanta's relegation from Serie A are completely unfounded.
''That's blasphemous,'' Doni said in interviews published on Saturday in Italian newspapers, including Gazzetta dello Sport and La Repubblica. ''I bled for the Atalanta shirt. Even the mistakes I made were made because I wanted to take Atalanta back up to Serie A. It was an obsession for me. I would have done anything. Indeed, I did do anything. I betrayed the sport.
''I still don't understand really why I did it. I was an imbecile and there is no justification. I asked myself so many times in my cell. Relegation scarred me, I felt like the first person responsible. Look, I have never sold a game. Isn't there at least a difference in this? Between someone who does it for money and who does it for the love of his own team?''
Most of the suspect games involve Serie B or lower league teams, but several Serie A matches are also under investigation.
Atalanta defender Andrea Masiello is currently giving evidence to the Cremona prosecutors over match-fixing involving his former team Bari. He has said that he was approached on four occasions last season, before games against Palermo, Chievo, Roma and Sampdoria.
''I only hope that my story serves as a lesson to others,'' Doni said. ''I hope other footballers see what happened to me and understand. That they're not as stupid and instead do what Masiello is doing at the moment. He has been very brave and, unlike me, had the intelligence to denounce everything. Breaking this conspiracy that is devastating football.
''I regret what I did. Also because I ended up in prison. And prison helps you understand your own mistakes a lot.''
Doni feels the problem is far more widespread than previously thought and stems from a ''cultural problem'' in Italy.
''There are many who betray the sport. Too many,'' Doni said. ''It's a cultural problem. Here, it's normal not to put the boot in on your opponents, not to relegate another team if there isn't a reason for you in the standings, to have an agreement. It happens that you can be asked for a result on the pitch. I've been asked and I've asked.
''The problem assumes greater proportions when betting comes into it. But the starting point is a cultural defect which doesn't just involve footballers but also others such as referees who see everything but don't do anything, the fourth man, the federation's observers, journalists ... why has nothing ever happened all the times a player has gone into the changing room of their opponents after an 'unexpected' result?''
In June, 16 people were arrested as part of the first wave of the inquiry, and Doni was then placed under investigation.
Doni said at the time that he was innocent but in August he was banned from football for 3 1/2 years by the Italian football federation, and Atalanta - which was promoted to Serie A for this season - was given a six-point penalty.
''Those six months were hell,'' Doni said. ''I kept telling everyone I was innocent, but inside I was breaking. My wife understood something was wrong. Confessing was a release.''
Doni admits he is not sure what he will do with the rest of his life, with a return to football all but impossible.
''I wanted to be a director at Atalanta but I know that's impossible now,'' he said. ''I know that I'm finished with football. I don't know what I'll do, it's still too recent. Of course I still dream of somehow still clinging onto my world.
''Disappointing the Atalanta fans is what has most hurt me after the upset it caused my family. Atalanta for me is everything, it was everything ... I know I disappointed them, betrayed them. I don't ask for forgiveness, but just that they don't cancel out all the good things I did on the pitch.''