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Jan 31

“Lotito`s way”

I ran into a very intersting article by Luca Manes on goal.com about Lazio president Claudio Lotito. Here  it is and worth reading.

 Lotito’s Way

Last Saturday’s gruesome dismantling of Palermo was a big boost for Lazio’s hopes to reach Champions League qualifying stage. Despite selling a world champion asset like Oddo to Milan and having to come to terms with massive financial troubles, the Biancocelesti are very much alive and kicking. Much of the credit has to be given to colourful chairman Claudio Lotito, even though many Lazio supporters wouldn’t like to admit he’s doing a good job.

“Unfortunately referees are human beings too” is one of Claudio Lotito’s most celebrated quotes, idiosyncratic and a sign that he sees the world as an infinitely improvable place – as he also views his Lazio.

Since his 2004 Lazio takeover, the charismatic exec hasn’t hesitated to express his particular views on football matters, mostly without the self-censoring filter that many chairmen adopt. “I’m here because I want to make this environment [speaking about Italian football] a more moral place” is another nugget that many journalists latched onto. It’s no wonder the local media fell madly in love with him: Lotito’s such a character that in Italy there’s a stand up comedian impersonating him in a famous TV programme. His quotes are quite often very funny – both intentionally and unintentionally – and are also peppered with Latin words and idiomatic expressions that are not always 100% correct – and all the more amusing for it. Not to mention his mobile phone ‘fetish’, as he’s fabled to carry a small arsenal of cellular phones with him at the same time: the sound of the Lazio boss ‘ringing’ in several different tones is a common occurrence. Despite all his wacky habits and bizarre mutterings he was instrumental in saving the cash strapped Lazio, reaching a favourable agreement with the Italian IRS – the taxman demanding to claw in what the Biancocelesti owed. This allowed Lazio to pay back 170 million Euros in outstanding taxes in instalments over 23 years. Ca va sans dire (That goes without saying) that he’s a strong supporter of a cautious way of spending money (and has got some good friends among Italian politicians).  Tightwad or Prudence personified?  It’s a matter of opinion. To be honest, despite his self appointed role of “great moralizer” and his intention to “clean” Italian football (by the way, ironically enough, he owns a big cleaners company), Lotito got involved in the Calciopoli scandal. It has to be said that at the beginning Lazio was in hot water too.  The Biancocelesti were ignominiously dumped down to Serie B, where they would play an unprecedented derby with newly promoted Frosinone (a nice city some 50 kilometres from Rome). Later judgments limited the Lazio punishment to a 3-point deduction and deprived them of the chance to play UEFA Cup, but Lotito could be relatively happy with those developments, his ban has been recently lifted as well and the worst avoided. Even though Lazio had to dribble many unforeseen difficulties, last summer Lotito managed to some good, coveted players: Ledesma, Makinwa and Mauri.  This allowed him to make the deepest cut of all. This was getting rid of the cumbersome – yet idolised in some quarters – presence of Di Canio, not on the same wave length of coach Delio Rossi and of the rest of the management, while Liverani and Dabo were offloaded to Fiorentina and Man City. After a slow start Lazio gradually improved in form, reaching a peak with the 3-0 win in the Rome derby that hit favourites and sworn enemies AS Roma in the solar plexus. Now the team looks set to fight for a Champions League spot.  They’ll have to battle for the major continental competition without their habitual skipper, though. World champion defender Massimo Oddo has been recently traded to AC Milan. Lotito got the money he requested (nearly 8 million Euros) which was quite a good profit considering that Oddo is no spring chicken – 30 – and he was eager to play at San Siro. That was also a key factor in the exec’s decision to let the right-back go without a tussle with the Rossoneri.  “One must feel a Lazio player 24 hours a day” was Lotito’s quote on the story, a sign of an all-embracing concept of a team that he wants to nurture. So Lazio could earn the manna from heaven that the millions of Euros an opportunity to play in the CL gives. As Milan and Fiorentina are both weighed down by heavy points deductions and other teams are playing quite inconsistently, the Biancocelesti really have got their best chance in years. You would think Lazio supporters are over the moon with everything regarding their team, but that’s far from being true. They appreciate the team spirit, the efforts players are making and the ability of Rossi to coach them, but they actually hate Lotito with a passion – well, not all, but a sizeable swathe. The Olímpico is more than half empty (a couple of weeks ago for the Lazio-Milan game just 28.000 supporters bothered to show up, in a stadium with a 70.000 people capacity). Ultra groups (notably the Curva Nord Irriducibili – The Indomitable North Curve) don’t agree with the way Lotito is running the club and probably would like to have the same ‘fringe benefits’ they were supposed to have enjoyed during the Sergio Cragnotti golden era. Last year they supported a possible takeover launched by former Lazio superstar Giorgio Chinaglia and some unknown Hungarian businessmen. A lot of speculation went on but no real offer was made, and in the end last October Chinaglia and other eight men were hit by an arrest warrant for extortion. It turned out four of the arrested were capitifosi (leaders of organised or uniformed fans’ groups) who made some physical threats to Lotito and his family to force him to sell Lazio to Chinaglia.  Scary stuff. Waiting for a final word on that unpleasant story, we can just remember that fans show their discontent by not singing at the Olimpico or not even turning up en masse. And that’s another adversity Lotito and his side are trying to overcome. Will the tifosi biancocelesti (the Black-and-White faithful) ‘forgive’ their chairman if the Champions League anthem is blaring from speakers at the Olímpico and the team in powder blue is really a contender? Nobody knows, but we’re looking forward to a brand new Lotito quote – in all its marvellously surreal originality – to celebrate that achievement.  Could this be the season that the Romans are led back to greatness by a real General or will Lotito fall on his own sword?  We’re approaching the denouement…

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