29 December ~ A year ago Bologna were celebrating their centenary. Former players Roberto Baggio and Beppe Signori were among those attending a special shindig at the Renato Dall’Ara, one of Italian football’s most iconic stadiums. Promoted back to Italy’s top flight the season before, and with female president Francesca Menarini overseeing proceedings, the rossoblù seemed a progressive, modern club, waving the flag for a proud city where few locals can be seen in Juventus scarves or Inter shirts.
However, during the summer, with relegation just avoided, Menarini (together with her father Renzo) decided to sell up after less than two years. Serigo Porcedda, a 51-year-old Sardinian, took over the presidency in July after buying up 80 per cent of the club, with the Menarinis keeping the remaining 20 per cent. After a few months it became apparent that there was little, or no, money behind Porcedda’s grandiose claims (which, somewhat inevitably, included plans for a new stadium).
Alarm bells were already beginning to ring during the summer, when the club failed to pay an outstanding tax bill. No matter, insisted Procedda. Wages hadn’t been paid. Porcedda apologised, said he was embarrassed and asked if everybody wouldn’t mind just waiting a bit longer for the Sky Italia television rights payments to kick in.
This went on for a while. Players were owed wages from July, which together with that tax bill amounted to a debt of €10 million (£8.5m). Finally, he was charged by the Italian football federation (FIGC) and interviewed by the carabinieri (“These things happen,” he shrugged afterwards). The club were then docked a point for the unpaid taxes and, amid growing discontent among both player and supporters, Porcedda made a succession of unsubstantiated claims that he was talking to potential buyers. There was now serious concern that the Sardinian had no money at all, no backers and, with the passing of every week, a mounting debt of Portsmouth-sized proportions.
Eventually, Porcedda was forced to hire local finance group InterMedia to find a buyer. A deadline of December 27 was set. There was talk again of a mysterious “anglo-Arab” consortium and a Russian bid. Massimo Zanetti, head of Segafredo coffee company, who sponsored the club’s shirts in the 1980s, then entered the frame. With captain Marco di Vaio announcing in a press conference that the players were now suing the club for unpaid wages - “It’s a gesture that none of us wanted to make and we’ve waited until the last minute” - Zanetti appeared the only valid option.
News broke on December 17 that a deal had been agreed and that Zanetti would now indeed be taking over, denied later that day by InterMedia. Porcedda had gone AWOL. A coffin was left at the club’s Casteldebole training ground, adorned with the message “Adesso basta porci” (Enough pigs now), a play on Porcedda’s name. Less subtly, a pig’s head was then skewered on to the gates.
In a press conference on December 23, after five long and at times quite surreal months, Zanetti was formally announced as the owner. The players will be paid, there’s talk of a big name coming in during the January transfer window and rumours of Arrigo Sacchi featuring in some sort of technical consultancy role. Housewives’ favourite and light entertainment celeb Gianni Morandi is to be an honorary president; supporters will be involved too, with fans paying €100-200 each to be members of one of four designated associations set up by Zanetti to raise €5m and have a say in the running of the club. It seems Bologna’s survival has finally been assured. Off the pitch, at least - that relegation battle still beckons. Matthew Barker