What do Calcio stars Pippo Inzaghi, Antonio Nocerino, Simone Pepe, Alberto Gilardino and Amauri all have in common? The answer is that they are all former Piacenza players. Yet Piacenza Calcio will be no more. After being declared bankrupt, the Biancorossi will end the season in uncertainty, with no-one too sure what will happen to this former Serie A club.
As early as the final stages of last season the end looked nigh. Lupi owner Fabrizio Garilli announced upon defeat to AlbinoLeffe in the Serie B play-out that he may not register the club in Lega Pro the following season. Fan power ensured that he did, but the president ended 28 years of family ownership by selling the club to Marco Gianfranceschi, someone who the Ultra didn’t take kindly to, believing him and Italiana SRL, the company he used to buy the club, to be ‘asset stripping’ and leaving the club for dead. Their evidence? Non-payment of wages and not paying taxes, leaving the club liable to points deductions and fines.
Perhaps if the season had started differently, the club situated close to the River Po could have been saved. Three defeats from their opening four games infuriated fans. Defeat against bitter rivals Cremonese at home (1-3) was the final straw for many, none more so that intimidating Ultra leader Davide Reboli, who made his first visit to the training ground of the season to question the coach and players. In a leaked video on youtube, Reboli is seen questioning the players commitment, shouting and swearing at them, stating: ‘You have to play well, you have to run. You lost the derby, the derby for us is our life! Are you capable or just good at losing or just good at jogging. We want to see results!’ It was not the last Piacenza saw of Reboli.
After the sale of the club, the Ultra’s again paid a visit to the training ground, yet this time it wasn’t the players who they wanted to question (despite a disastrous league campaign leaving the club battling a second successive relegation). Protesting about the new owners, the Ultra carried a banner reading: ‘Better to fail than have you in our way’. Reboli forcefully spoke to new Piacenza managing director Covilli Faggioli, saying ‘You’re liars, you’re criminals. We gave you a chance and you betrayed us. You’re here to take everything and leave us and the squad under-equipped.’
Faggioli insisted that the club had paid it’s taxes (it hadn’t) but that the players not being paid for three months was down to a ‘technical issue’ (it wasn’t.)
Sure enough it didn’t take long for the sage to unravel. In mid-march the club was declared bankrupt and will cease to exist as Piacenza Calcio at the seasons end. They will be allowed to finish the season, and then be sold in an auction at the end of the season. The club will have to change it’s name (similar to Fiorentina who became ‘Florentia Viola’ for a time, or Napoli, who became ‘Napoli Soccer’ for a season) and probably have to start in Serie D or lower. Should they stay up at someone’s expense (Piacenza currently lie in the last relegation play-out spot) then legal battles could ensue. Lega Pro is hardly known for it’s quickness when it comes to naming which sides will compete in it’s leagues, meaning the sage could drag on all summer.
Whatever happens, it’s a sad state of affairs for a club that was in Serie A as recently as 2002-03. Even in that relegation season, they hammered Milan 4-2 and the season before had the leagues top scorer, Calcio legend Dario Hubner with 24 goals as the Lupi finished 12th. Although it’s likely Piace will rise again, it’s by no means a certainty. Former Serie A sides such as Venezia, Messina and Perugia have all struggled in the lower leagues so investment is key. What has happened in the small Emilia-Romagna town has shaken Italian football, yet it is the consequence of not paying taxes or your players. Hopefully what has happened to the famous old club is an exception, rather than a rule.