Napoli chief denies 'ultra' decided Cup final kick-off
Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis denied claims that a hardline "ultra" fan effectively decided that a violence-marred Italian Cup final against Fiorentina at Rome's Olympic Stadium should be played on Saturday.
However De Laurentiis admitted that talks held just before kick-off between a leading "ultra" supporter, club captain Marek Hamsik and police were a "sign of responsibility" that allowed the match to take place.
The Cup final, won 3-1 by Napoli, was marred by pre-match shootings and sporadic episodes of violence, with reports from domestic news agency ANSA claiming three Napoli supporters suffered gunshot wounds while another from Rome was hospitalised with injuries.
One of the Napoli fans, a 30-year-old, was shot in the back and had to undergo delicate surgery to have a bullet removed from near his spinal cord. His condition was described by doctors as "critical but stable".
Two other Napoli fans, a 43-year-old and a 32-year-old, suffered bullet wounds to the right hand and arm respectively.
Reports said the Roma fan who had been hospitalised was being interviewed by police to determine if he played a role in the shooting.
There were conflicting reports of who fired the first shots but with almost 30,000 fans from each club arriving in a capital already boasting two other clubs, Roma and Lazio, the potential for violence was never far away.
After news of the shootings filtered through to Napoli's fans in the Curva Nord (North End), the match was delayed and no official reason given.
Hardline "ultra" supporters often hold great sway within major clubs and discussions between dozens of officials and Napoli's players were held pitchside before Napoli captain Hamsik was ushered by officials to speak to a leading "ultra".
A report in Spanish-language newspaper Mundo Deportivo later alleged the ultra in question was the son of a Camorra mafia boss.
Asked after the match of his opinion on that particular fan's influence, De Laurentiis told reporters: "What fan? Who was the fan that decided the Cup final should be played?
"I think they decided to play the match because they couldn't have done anything else. Even if we were late we fulfilled our obligation."
De Laurentiis, however, added: "The fans give their hearts and passion to the shirt right to the end. So to talk with those groups without the police present seems to me a sign of responsibility both on the part of the organisers and the fans."
The incidents before and during the encounter have left their mark on a league which is already suffering with some of the sport's major stars opting to play elsewhere.
Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Montella warned that Italian football's reputation had taken another knock.
"It's not the first time I've seen this. I experienced it when I was playing at Roma," said Montella, referring to incidents during a 2004 Roma v Lazio derby when fans rioted and demanded the match be called off after false rumours spread that suggested a young fan had been killed by police before kick-off.
"But unfortunately this is what Italian football is like. And it's a shame because there's a risk that players, including Italian players, will opt to play elsewhere.
"A Cup final should be a spectacle, a sporting event that everyone can celebrate."
Italian Senate president Pietro Grosso said: "A football match shouldn't be about battles between two sets of supporters.
"I'm saddened to see that this kind of thing is still going on."
Several reports, including one from Gazzetta dello Sport, suggested the clashes in the hours leading up to kick off were caused by fans of Roma fighting with those of Napoli.
"These incidents are simply unacceptable," said Maurizio Beretta, the president of Lega Serie A which also organises the Cup competition.
"We appeal to the fans who are here for the final to treat it as it should be -- an evening of sport and football and not one that should give rise to episodes of violence."