The Diversification of Calcio

Italy has always struggled with foreigners. Not only do they have a word for foreigners (stranieri,) but they also have a special word for those of Italian heritage who were born outside of Italy (oriundi.) To this day, many Italians and those who are actually oriundi themselves are against oriundi representing the national team, even if oriundi like Camoronesi (2006) and Monti, Demaria, Orsi, and Guaita (1934, 1938) helped to lift World Cup trophies for them. From 1966-1980, Serie A banned all foreign players, as they perceived them as detrimental to the development of the Italian players. Diversification?

Stranieri... but one played in Serie A, and the other... is that a knife in the back?

If Italy struggle with foreigners, please don’t tell any of them that five of the 20 Serie A clubs are now under foreign owners. Bologna is owned by Canadian businessman Joey Saputo, Inter is owned by Chinese businessman Zhang Jindong, Milan is owned by American hedge fund Elliott Management, Roma is majority-owned by American businessman James Pallotta, and Fiorentina are owned by the American (who was actually born in Italy) businessman Rocco Commisso. (Who cares if he was a lifelong Juventino and also tried to buy Milan?) That is 20% foreign ownerships in their precious Serie A. So how does that play out?

Italian is known for crazy owners who use their club ownership for political gain and break all the rules, including sleeping with minors, financial and transfer improprieties, making deals with mafia members, and making racist and sexist comments in the media. Bans, fines… most of them can be appealed in the Italian no-justice system. They all have friends in high places, anyway, or they are the friends in high places. They are above any perceived law, and they have no qualms about the effect of their lawlessness on their club. It is a special kind of crazy in a special kind of league that is (off the record) closed to stranieri.

After 7 years of ownership changes, Inter seem to have a good mix of Italian and Chinese
even if Conte is old enough to be Steven Zhang's father

Except now, Italy needs outside money. Italian owners cannot keep up with the inflated transfer markets and accompanying fees for competitive players. So they have welcomed the money, but do not seem to be as welcoming of the owners. Foreign owners have this strange idea of making a profit. They bring business strategies that actually work in other countries, and expect them to be accepted by the League. Their no-nonsense approach, along with having made their money legally, does not fit in with the dysfunctional Italian family that is the Lega Serie A.

Recently, we have been reminded of the differences between Italian and foreign owners with drama that has no violins, no cappuccino, and no tragic love story. Just business. Foreign owners disagreeing with their club’s directors. At Milan, Gazidis fired Milan legend Boban for outing his plan to remove the last bit of Italian from the foreign owned and run club. At Roma, Pallotta was reported to have a large row with Petrachi, his sporting director, this weekend, whose job at Roma is still at risk as of this writing. Both Boban and Petrachi played in Serie A, they know the league well. Their CEOs and owners do not. Rather than trust in those who know, these foreign owners consider these decisions a business move. Hire, fire, move on. Or, for many foreign owners so far, buy, get a jersey with your name on it and then sell… or default on your loan.

Pallotta needs to learn the rules of crazy

But this is not the business world, it is Serie A. It took fourteen years of no foreigners playing in Serie A for the Italians to do the right thing and diversify in 1980, and that move created the Serie A of the 1990’s for which Italy is famous. It seems like it is going to take a lot longer for them to assimilate this new fiscally responsible, business-minded wealth of foreign owners. Perhaps even longer if the foreign owners don’t learn to do a little adapting of their own. This is calcio. It is more religion than business. And it is wise to rely on the spiritual guidance of the directors who know the league, and also know calcio. If diversification is going to truly work, there will need to be some collaboration.

Pallotta tried to adapt to the crazy part, when he jumped into a fountain in Rome after Roma beat Barcelona 3-0 in the Champions League two years ago. But while it was crazy, it was crazy-wrong, as those fountains are ancient, and Romans do not take kindly to people frolicking in them. (Notice the accompanying fans did not follow.) He paid his fine and apologized profusely to the mayor. But it was no De Laurentiis leaving a Lega Serie A meeting screaming and cursing and then jumping on the back of a stranger’s scooter and riding off into the sunset crazy. That is the kind of crazy that only Italians can pull off.

The crazy exit that actually happened.

Will the Lega Serie A ever adapt to fiscally responsible and (mostly) law-abiding ownerships? Like maybe not fighting with the Italian government about games and fans during a pandemic? Or putting out the league calendar more than three or four weeks in advance of the season? Will foreign owners adjust their business ways and put more trust in the people who know calcio? Or maybe even learn the unspoken rules of Italian crazy? Until both sides can compromise, the diversification of calcio may not take hold.

This post inspired by the music of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”

Our next match is
Serie A Week 27
Lecce vs. Milan
Monday, June 22 • 19:30 CEST (1:30pm EDT)

The Diversification of Calcio The Diversification of Calcio Reviewed by Elaine on 12:27 AM Rating: 5
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