Claudio Lotito, Serie B and the row engulfing Italian football

Last month saw a major row erupt in Italian football, with the Lazio owner Claudio Lotito making some disparaging remarks about a number of Serie B clubs. Adam Digby sat down with the President of that league to discuss those comments, as well as a number of other topics relating to football on the peninsula

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The Independent Online

A column in respected Italian newspaper La Repubblica revealed a number of recorded phone-calls in which Claudio Lotito engaged in conversation with Pino Iodice, a director of Lega Pro side Ischia Isolaverde. The original column is available here, as Lotito – who also acts as the Serie A representative to the Italian FA – discusses league President Maurizio Beretta and Lega Italiana Calcio Professionistico Mario Macalli.

“Do you think Maurizio Beratta decides things in the Lega Serie A?” Lotito begins by asking. “Do you know what he decides? Nothing. And the President [Macalli]? In a year and a half, nothing.” The two men then go on to discuss the possibility of minnows Carpi and Frosinone – currently flying high in the second division - winning promotion to Serie A, Lotito clearly saying that would jeopardise television revenue.

“If Carpi come up… if teams come up who are not worth a cent, in two or three years we won’t have a penny. I’ve done well in selling the TV rights, we brought in €1.2 billion thanks to my skill. I managed to find an agreement between Sky and Mediaset, which in ten years no one had been able to do.

“If in three years we have Latina, Frosinone, who would buy those rights? They don’t even know where Frosinone is.”

The Lazio President issued a statement in response, saying that “the system is in trouble,” before claiming innocence in the matter. “I didn’t put pressure on anyone, I just raised the issue,” he continued, admitting that he had indeed said the things alleged by La Repubblica.

Serie B President Andrea Abodi told The Independent that he has since spoken to Lotito, expressing that the two men “have a very different idea of sport and football.” Abodi added that television revenue of course plays no factor in the final table, adding that “in Serie B, promotion and relegation are determined only on the field and our clubs know that very well.”

For his part Iodice, who was responsible for the recording obtained by La Repubblica, told Radio Ies that there are more recordings to follow, revealing that “there’s another one in which Lotito threatens me” before making clear his opinion of the Lazio President.

“Unfortunately, many things in football are decided in secret rooms. I left it to La Repubblica to publish the conversation to give everyone a shock. I hope some decisions are taken, and some influential football people get involved. This is a black mark against Italian football.

“I hope there are weighty interventions, the delusions of omnipotence that this character has are sending Italian football down the drain. If you’ve heard Lotito’s words, you’ve heard his arrogance, he’s an individual who believes he is the totem of Italian football, the one who can make or break you. I am preparing a dossier, to which I will attach this recording.”

Carpi too spoke out against the matter, issuing a lengthy statement of their own, while Roma President James Pallotta also weighed in, slamming his cross-town rival for "trying to take credit for the most Italian recent ‎media deal." What Lotito’s words fail to do, is look more closely at the recent problems in Serie A, and particularly those of the division’s rock-bottom club Parma as they head for bankruptcy.

With players unpaid since July and bailiffs making regular trips to the club’s training ground to seize goods, the once-mighty club seem certain to be headed into liquidation. “The Parma situation is a very complex and serious one,” Abodi told us. “It’s important that the same risks are avoided from now, building on this experience. In this regard, by the end of March new rules on financial fair play will be approved.”

Similarly, while the likes of Milan and their cross-town rivals Inter struggle after years of mismanagement, Serie B has provided the top flight with a number of brilliantly run clubs. Sassuolo earned promotion in 2013, comfortably staying up and dazzling fans with some wonderful attacking play from Eusebio Di Francesco’s team.

The Neroverde are in great off-field shape too, owners of their stadium and possessing a number of highly talented youngsters. Empoli and Cesena have impressed this term, and while Lotito may scoff at these minnows, President Abodi was quick to highlight their strengths as he told us:

“These three clubs - and I must also add Hellas Verona – are proof that Serie B can set examples of good management. I think this is the result of a combination of factors: the quality of the people working at the clubs and the management model of the League, which helps clubs who interpret it properly to improve and grow. "

After the recording of Lotito was revealed, Juventus director general Beppe Marotta said that other countries “are laughing at us” and said that the Lazio president was setting a bad example for young people who followed his words. Abodi could only nod in agreement with this, telling The Independent that “one of the principal guidelines of our Association is ‘Respect, for strong competition on the field and hard collaboration in the League.’ It's therefore essential to set a good example with behaviour and language suited by owners and managers.”

Finally, the President moved on to discuss the future of Serie B and how a project named ‘B Futura’ would help to further improve the quality of clubs emerging from the second tier. Dedicated to the infrastructural development and working with a number of partner companies, the project has become a dedicated company which is owned 100 per cent by the League and has begun work on three feasibility studies with clubs and local councils.

It is hoped that this will help the redevelopment and improvement of the division’s stadia, but also the training centers as the club’s look to develop young talent. “We are not only wanting to improve stadiums – ‘the home of football’ – but also the "home of the future of football," Abodi told us, a bold aim but one which can only serve to further improve the overall quality of Serie B.

With the top flight enjoying resurgence as all six of its clubs earned positive results in Europe, proof that, no thanks to the Claudio Lotito, Italian football has started out on the road to recovery. It is good to know that, thanks to men like Andrea Abodi, there is also much fine work being done behind the scenes to ensure that its eventual success can be sustained.

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