Monday, 11 September 2017

Lotito and the Morality of Numbers

Lotito basks in Lazio's Supercup win against Juventus
In their Sunday edition, La Repubblica previewed Milan vs Lazio as a match between two clubs at the opposite ends of the financial spectrum.  It was a case of a deficit vs. surplus.  Milan had closed the transfer campaign at -165 million euros, and Lazio at +37 million euros.

To a degree, La Repubblica were buttressing what Lazio owner and president Claudio Lotito had told  Il Messagero  in an interview a couple of days earlier.  In issuing a thinly-veiled attack on Juventus, Lotito also branded Keita Balde Diao's behaviour as 'extortion.' Juventus knew the player's contract was running out in 2018, and that Diao only wanted to play for them, so they duly exploited that fact when low-balling Lotito, who refused to sell the player at any other price than the one he had in mind.  As it turned out, Diao went to Monaco for more than thirty million euros, twice what Juventus were offering, thus vindicating Lotito's summer-long intransigence.

Tellingly, the Lazio president also boasted about his club's books, pointing out that Lazio would close the financial year with a 14 million euros profit.  It was the kind of money-minded response that rankles the Lazio support, many of whom still remember the headier days of Sergio Cragnotti's ownership, during which Lazio, most notably, won a Scudetto in 2000.

Lotito is a different president, one who has not privileged financial health over sporting success, but one who has always sought a fine balance between the two.  Cragnotti's, of course, is a cautionary tale.  When his company Cirio was in ruins, so were Lazio.  Lotito operates as the antithesis of that approach, a counterpoint to excess.

La Repubblica, then, were not just laying bare numbers down to highlight disparities in accounting, but were also making a familiar argument more subtly, namely that fiscal responsibility is also a moral one, and that Lazio in a way were already moral victors before a ball had been kicked at the Stadio Olimpico.   That they crushed Milan 4-1 with Lotito beaming in the stands, vindicated once again, was according to this line of reasoning a just conclusion.

Milan CEO Marco Fassone has already once forcefully defended his club's finances against Roma owner Pallotta's charge of "madness" this past summer.  Milan are in transition, looking to get back to where they were, and have spent with a plan in mind.  But fairly or unfairly (mostly unfairly) the numbers will permeate everything that they do this season. 200 million euros spent means you can't lose 4-1 to Lazio.  That sum subsumes all other considerations like whether the defeat is due to geometry (3-5-2 vs 4-3-3) or chemistry (Montella's insistence that the team has yet to gel).

Lotito's Lazio, on the other hand, can be a paradigm for Serie A's middle class, one that is simply not content to eke out an existence, but to flourish despite the spending of clubs above them.  It's not an easy task to achieve the ideal balance between finances and success.  Take Fiorentina, as an example.  The Viola were rescued by the Della Valle family years ago, but just suffered a miserable season, and lost key players over the summer like Borja Valero (Inter), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), and Nikola Kalinic (Milan).

In contrast, Lotito has kept or introduced Lazio's key elements, while offloading players without whom the club can still win.  Lazio have already won the Supercup this season against Juventus, and the way they dismantled Milan suggests they are genuine contenders for the Champions League places--and all that without spending much.

Players like Ciro Immobile, Sergej Milinković-Savić, and Lucas Levia were the stars on Sunday, and didn't cost hefty sums.   Simeone Inzaghi, a former Lazio player and youth team coach, the man now being lauded as one of the best coaches in Italy, was hastily appointed at the helm when Marco Bielsa resigned after just two days, two summers ago.

Lotito was defiant in the face of protests then as well, insisting that Inzaghi was the right man for the job because he reflected the club's values.  His methods have been proven right once again, and he also has the numbers to show for it.

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