It has been a strange month for now-former Barcelona striker Luis Suárez. Though the Uruguayan has now officially signed for La Liga rivals Atlético Madrid, the move only came after a bizarre saga with Serie A giants Juventus, involving a suspect Italian citizenship test.
First, the context: To join Juventus, Suárez needed to acquire EU citizenship, because the reigning Serie A champions were full on the designated non-EU player slots. (Juve’s two non-EU spots are presently taken by Brazilian midfielder Arthur and the USMNT’s very own Weston McKennie.) That requirement wasn’t necessarily a huge obstacle. The striker’s wife, Sofia Balbi, has an Italian passport, which makes Suárez eligible for immediate citizenship under Italian law, without waiting the customary ten years to establish residency. To attain citizenship, Suárez would need to pass a written and oral examination of his command of the Italian language, administered by the University For Foreigners in Perugia. That is where things got weird.
The Perugia Prosecutor’s office and the Italian F.A. have both opened investigations into Suárez’s successful test, under the suspicion that he was tipped off as to what was on the test beforehand and that the results of the test were agreed upon prior to the Uruguayan actually taking it. In a statement, prosecutor Raffaele Cantone said that it was evident Suárez had only a rudimentary knowledge of Italian prior to the test:
The investigation has shown that the topics covered in the test were previously agreed and that the relevant score was agreed before the test had taken place. This, despite the fact that during the course of distance learning with university professors, he had only displayed a basic understanding of the Italian language.
The university was already under investigation for what colonel Selvaggio Sarri called “less than transparent activities.” Using wire-taps, the police were able to hear a conversation from a university official, citing the size of a potential Juventus contract as a reason to rig the test for Suárez: “It’s not that he should pass, he has to pass, because we can’t ruin a €10m per season deal over a B1 diploma.”
The need for “intermediate” knowledge of Italian is a recent addition to the country’s naturalization process, designed to make it harder for immigrants to gain citizenship. The level needed to pass, called B1, was introduced by former interior minister Matteo Salvini, as a measure to curb immigration. The change faced resistance when it came into law, and although the circumstances behind its passing do not apply to Suárez, a rich athlete, it is what seems to have prompted the irregular test.
The other issue in play here is that Suárez was able to take the test with an expedited wait time, due to the pending transfer. Even after establishing residency, the process for an average person usually takes up to four years. Speaking to The New York Times, immigration activist Fatjona Lamçe highlighted the case as a symbol for what is wrong with the current system:
In a short time, Luis Suárez can take the test and be in the position to become a citizen. That’s how long it takes to make all the checks and complete the process. It showed the decision to make the process take four years is a political one.
Despite the combination of sketchy factors, the Perugia Prosecutor’s office is not investigating Suárez or Juventus for any wrong-doing. Instead, its focus is on the university itself: “There was no external pressure, it was an initiative led by those working at the Perugia university.”
But all’s well that ends well, and this matter will not hamper any of the clubs or players involved in the transfer saga. The still-Uruguayan has signed with Atlético, while Juventus are close to signing Álvaro Morata, and everyone is happy. This isn’t the first time Suárez bit off more Italian than he could chew, but it is hopefully the last.