Claudio Lotito phone conversation reveals problems in Italian system

icon seriea18 February ~ One of the most controversial figures in Italian football is Claudio Lotito. As well as owning Lazio, he also owns Salernitana in the third level Lega Pro. In addition, he is a member of the council of the federation and was one of the main sponsors of Carlo Tavecchio’s election as president of the Italian FA (FIGC). Tavecchio’s appointment was opposed by many, in part because of his derogatory reference to African players in a speech last July: "Before, he was eating bananas, now he’s in the Lazio first team.”

Conspicuously present whenever the national team play, often alongside Tavecchio, Lotito is supported by some and loathed by many. Those who back him think that he and he alone negotiates the TV deals for Serie A, and that without him the League might collapse. Those who loathe him think that he is an unreformed fascist. Until this season he was also hated by his own fans at Lazio for what they deemed as too hard a line with the ultras.

He became headline news on February 13 when Pino Iodice, a director of Lega Pro club Ischia, provided the newspaper La Repubblica with the recording of a telephone conversation between the two men a couple of weeks earlier. In the conversation Lotito stated that the Serie A and Serie B chief executives Maurizio Beretta and Andrea Abodi, as well as Pro League president Mario Macalli, "count for nothing". He referred to certain small Serie B clubs, especially Carpi and Frosinone, who are doing too well for his liking. He said that he had told Abodi that these clubs should not be promoted because otherwise "who would buy the Serie A TV rights?”.

Carpi is a town of about 70,000 people from the province of Modena in the north of the country. This is their second season in Serie B, and with 16 games to go they lead the division by seven points, and Livorno in the first play-off position, by eight points. Promotion is probable rather than possible. They play in a stadium that holds fewer than 5,000, but if they get into Serie A they will presumably play their home games at the much bigger Stadio Braglia in Modena. They are in many ways another Sassuolo, though with less wealthy backers, and their rise through the leagues has been a rare example in Italian football of long-term planning.

But for the likes of Lotito they have no appeal and everything possible should be done to keep them out of Serie A. The reaction from the top of Italian sport has been depressing. The head of the Italian Olympic committee, Giovanni Malagò, said that Lotito had been “unwise”. Beretta for Serie A seemed to imply that his words should not be interpreted literally. At a meeting of Serie A clubs the day the news broke it was not mentioned, though since then those club presidents who have spoken have mostly defended Lotito. But of course, like him, they are part of “the system". Many criticised Iodice rather than Lotito.

It needed a particularly trenchant journalist, Xavier Jacobelli, to spell out what should happen now. Lotito should cease to have any role within the federation and moves should be initiated to replace Tavecchio, who is totally unsuited to be at the helm of one of the most important federations in world football. With him in charge, Italy will soon be a laughing stock. There is even talk of government intervention. Whether or not your club will persuade fans in China to watch their games or buy their shirts counts for more than what you do on the field. And the sad thing is that many within the game probably agree with Lotito, but have not been caught saying what he did. Richard Mason

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