Leading Italian club Napoli has taken action to protect its players and their families following a spate of attacks that may be Mafia-related, Yahoo! Sports has learned.
The Camorra crime syndicate, which wields significant control in the southern city of Naples, is thought by authorities to be behind a worrying series of burglaries and gunpoint robberies suffered by members of the Napoli squad over the past several months. Napoli is based in Naples.
Star forward Edinson Cavani's house was burglarized while he was away on international duty in his native Uruguay, and his agent, Claudio Angellucci, was mugged soon after. In November, Marek Hamsik's pregnant wife, Martina Franova, was forced from her BMW by a gun-toting carjacker. Only a week later Ezequiel Lavezzi's girlfriend, Yanina Screpante, took to Twitter to reveal an incident where two assailants robbed her of a Rolex on a Naples street.
Police connected the crimes to the fact that Cavani, Hamsik and Lavezzi are three of the club's highest-profile players, with all having attracted transfer attention from wealthier sides, including the English Premier League's Manchester City.
"The short space of time over which this has happened leaps out at you, which is why we are looking at these incidents with a certain interest," said Naples chief of police Luigi Merolla in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
A Napoli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to Yahoo! Sports that preventative measures are now in place. "Steps … to safeguard the wellbeing of our players have been [implemented]," said the official. "We do not want to take any chances."
[Podcast: More insight on Napoli robberies]
The Camorra was thought to be closely involved with Napoli during the side's glory days in the late 1980s when Argentinean superstar Diego Maradona led them to two Serie A titles. And when several Camorra members turned informant in the mid-1990s, it was revealed that the Mafia had thrown wild parties involving call girls for Napoli players.
A more serious allegation was that the team deliberately lost a Serie A, and therefore the championship, in 1990, at the behest of Camorra-controlled bookmakers.
Both Napoli and the Camorra suffered a downturn in fortunes for well over a decade. The soccer club experienced financial crisis and bankruptcy, and fell all the way down to the third-tier Serie C before bouncing back and claiming a place in this season's Champions League, where it will face Chelsea in the round of 16 in February.
The Mafia group lost power when many of its senior members were jailed, but has since sought to reassert control over Naples and other parts of southern Italy, law enforcement officials say. Napoli's return to soccer strength seems to have piqued the interest of Camorra and it retains close ties with many fans organizations.
Hard line fan groups, known as "ultras," have issued threats of violence in an attempt to secure free tickets. After supporters caused severe damage to a train en route to a game in Rome in 2008, more than 200 of the people questioned were reported to have had criminal ties.
The Camorra's interest runs deeper than free tickets and it is believed the organization wants to gain control of a share of the club's profits in exchange for "protection," a common Mafia racket.
Napoli chiefs are concerned that talk of Mafia threats will hinder the club's ability to recruit new players – one of the major reasons it has sought to keep details of the security provided to its stars silent.
Club president Aurelio de Laurentis recently insisted that his players are in no serious danger and that the wave of crimes was a mere coincidence due, in part, to the recession.
"Naples is no more violent that Milan or Rome, which I would call the real crime capital of Italy," de Laurentis told the Daily Mirror. "I would like to tell (Screpante) that during a recession she shouldn't go around with a Rolex on his wrist."
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