On 22 April 2012, chaos descended from the stands of Genoa’s Stadio Luigi Ferraris. With the troubled Rossoblu trailing 4-0 just after half-time against Siena, a gang of around 80 ultras broke into the family stand, climbed atop of the players’ tunnel and demanded the match be stopped, throwing flares and fireworks onto the pitch until, in the 63rd minute, their demands were finally met.

With Siena players and officials ushered off the pitch by the gang to warm applause, the showdown was now on between the ultras and the home players, who were essentially being held hostage on the pitch. When the leader of the mob demanded to speak to club captain Marco Rossi, nobody was especially surprised to learn that their end game in this bizarre display of fan power was the ritual humiliation of the players they believed were embarrassing their city and their club.

“We want your socks, we want you in your underpants,” came the cries from the terraces. The players, some of whom were in tears, duly obliged, terrified of the consequences of disobeying a group that had already demonstrated their capacity for violence. But as Rossi led his players away from their tormentors, one man stayed behind to confront the ultras. Walking straight towards the apparent leader of the group, Giuseppe Sculli grabbed the man by the scruff of the neck, stared him in the eye and told him, “I’m not taking it off, it’s mine.”

After the dust had settled from this bizarre incident, decried as “a chilling spectacle … right out of the dark ages” by Corriere dello Sport, came praise for the bravery Sculli had shown in confronting a gang which had overthrown any sense of order in the stadium. Asked what had inspired him to confront the Ultras instead of accepting their ultimatum, Sculli attributed his bravery to his grandfather – a move not too controversial – until you realise that Sculli is the favourite grandson of Giuseppe Morabito, the former boss of the infamous ‘Ndrangheta mafia clan.

Morabito’s is a name which resonates through the mountain passes of his native Calabria. Heavily involved in the Second ‘Ndrangheta War between mobs affiliated with the Imerti and de Stefano clans, Morabito, nicknamed ‘u tiradrittu’ or “shootstraight”, he chaired the annual crimini meetings at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Polsi. He also led an ‘Ndrangheta cell in the Sicilian port city of Messina which exerted considerable influence over the port authority and university in particular, with several explosions, kneecappings and car fires across the campus over a 25-year period traced back to individuals involved with the Morabito clan.

However, it is drug trafficking which Morabito is perhaps most famous for, establishing a huge network between mafia clans in Italy and the Balkans to smuggle vast amounts of cocaine, hashish and heroin into the country, falling upon his experience of brokering deals between the ‘Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra in Messina to establish smuggling routes through Morocco, Lebanon, Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina. When the Police’s special anti-mafia unit uncovered Morabito as the leader of the operation in 1992, he went on the run, leaving his son Francesco, Giuseppe Sculli’s father, to become the de facto leader of the operation. By now, Giuseppe had left Calabria, leaving his family behind for Turin to pursue a football career with one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Sculli remembers his time in Turin as a difficult period of his life. He describes how he found Turin to be a “hard city, somewhere very closed off for a kid”. While he missed his friends and “the warmth of the south”, Sculli persevered and impressed enough in the Juventus youth team to be called up to the Italy squads at every youth level.

However, since showing enough early promise to be handed a professional contract by Juventus at the age of 18, his career has been a less than remarkable one. While his promise was strong enough to earn 25 caps for the Azzurri’s under-21 side, where he scored a respectable nine goals, as with many young Italian talents, Sculli spent much of his early career on loan in the lower echelons of Italian football.

While still on the books at Juventus, he spent time at Crotone and Modena between 2001 and 2003 and, when he failed to impress for the Old Lady, was sold to Chievo Verona for €450,000 as part of the deal which took Nicola Legrottaglie to Stadio delle Alpi. Following the pattern of his early career, Sculli’s time in Verona was underwhelming, reflected by a paltry tally of two goals in 18 appearances over two years, before he was again shipped out on loan to Brescia, where he didn’t manage a single goal in 18 appearances before returning to Juventus.

He was again loaned out, this time to Messina and Genoa, where he finally found his home, scoring four goals in 11 games during the 2006-07 season before Grifoni made the move permanent. After four years and 114 appearances for Genoa, he was sold to Lazio for a paltry €500, before returning to the North-Western port city on loan in 2012 and 2014.

So far, non-descript. But throughout his career, Sculli has managed to court controversy, which has inevitably led to connections being drawn between him and the business of his predecessors. In 2006, Sculli was found guilty of fixing a match between Calabrian side Crotone and Messina, where his grandfather rose to prominence, on the final day of the 2001-02 Serie B season.

Sculli was banned from football for eight months. Five years later, Sculli was indicted in the Calcioscommesse scandal, accused of being part of a group of players who sought to manipulate the outcomes of matches involving Lazio, Genoa and Lecce, and was placed under investigation by the Magistrate court. During the investigation, it was found that Sculli had met with Bosnian career criminal Safet Altic who was known to have fixed matches in the past, and Italian international Domenico Criscito just hours after Genoa’s ultras had taken the Stadio Luigi Ferraris by force.

The trio had met to discuss the extortion of Azzurri legend Luca Toni. Sculli had attained photographs of his then teammate, in his words, “getting cozy with girls” while his girlfriend Marta Cecchetto was pregnant. Sculli was later cleared of any involvement in the Calcioscommesse scandal, though the episode remains a stain on his character.

But what makes Sculli’s career so fascinating is what police describe as the “awkward yet close” relationship he still has with his grandfather, who he hasn’t seen since 1992, and his steadfast refusal to distance himself from the family business. Interviewed in 2004, Sculli spoke of his continued adoration for his “kind, considerate” grandfather, who he says taught him to “behave and give respect to people, especially to the forces of order”.

The start of Sculli’s career is inescapably intertwined with his grandfather’s lifestyle, with Morabito attending every one of his grandson’s games before hosting lavish banquets for the players and families of Sculli’s youth team in Brancaleone, Calabria. The relationship the pair enjoyed through Sculli’s football did not end when the favourite grandson left for Turin.

Police believed the ties between Morabito and his grandson were so strong that ‘shootstraight’ would arrive at stadiums around the country where Sculli might be playing, despite the huge risk of being recognised and captured, just to catch a glimpse of his favourite grandson in action. This resulted in investigators themselves arriving at matches in which Sculli may have been participating, combing the stands for any trace of a man listed as one of the most wanted fugitives in Italy until he was finally captured in 2004.

Morabito remains the driving force behind Sculli’s 16-year professional career, and indeed when he won an Olympic bronze medal in Athens, the undoubted highlight of his career, he dedicated the medal to his grandfather, stating, “I know I’m his favourite grandson. That is something I will never deny.”

While Sculli hasn’t visited his grandfather since he was jailed, something which he puts down to him “being hurt by the thought of seeing him behind bars”, his actions are still, and always will be, influenced by the looming figure of his infamous grandfather. When the ‘Ndrangheta question has been raised throughout his career, Sculli has always puffed out his chest and declared his grandfather to be a great man, claiming that he is “a person respected by everyone in the country” who could open doors for himself and others “not because he was a boss, but because he was always good to people.”

As a kid he always said, “Pepe, if you do good, you will always receive the goods.” Given his rap list, it is questionable how intently Sculli was listening when his grandfather uttered those words. Accuse him of inattention if you will, but you could never accuse Giuseppe Sculli of being the average footballer.

By Simon Cripps. Follow @AI_Football