Claudio Lotito once described himself as ‘the worst president in the history of Lazio.’ Although the quip was made in jest at a charity function, the joke wasn’t lost on the Ultra who gather in the Curva Nord every other Sunday, who would actually agree with his statement.
Claudio Lotito was born on May 9th 1957 in Rome. He was raised in the Ciampino area of the city, and attended Ugo Foscolo Albano Laziale state school. A lover of arts and particularly literature, Lotito decided to concentrate on studying education and graduated with honours. Despite his qualifications, its was the cleaning, sanitizing and CCTV industries that made the Lazio patron his money. He is the head of a small industrial empire, owning companies such as Snam South Lazio, Coopservice Scarl, Roman Junior Security. Lotito has around 6,000 employees working for him. A religious man, Lotito told Gazzetta dello Sport on his arrival at Lazio: ‘I come from a very religious family: here in my pocket I have the Gospel and the Rosary. I carry them with me always. What I did, I built with my hands, but it was divine providence put me on the right track.’
Lotito’s links with the almighty are ironic given he was greeted like the messiah upon arrival in July 2004. After the heady days under the ownership of Sergio Cragnotti when i Biancocelesti were buying stars such as Pavel Nedved, Christian Vieri and Marcello Salas for huge sums but also incurring huge debts, Lazio were close to liquidation before Lotito invested some 18.3 million Euros in the club. The patron at the time said: ‘I arrived when Lazio was in a coma. Now I must bring it back to life.’ Just like Jesus, Lazio rose from the dead, but Lotito’s new methods caused many Lazio fans to lose faith, and like Judas they turned on the man they followed, beginning a rivalry between the president and the Ultra that has carried on to this day. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of any forgiveness from Lotito.
Rather than investing in players and looking to make money through higher league positions and cup runs, Lotito insisted that contracts be lowered and new signings made through free transfers and loans. But what angered the Lazio Ultra most was that Lotito took away the offer of 800 free tickets for the ‘Irriducibili’ group, and also the money given to finance choreography on the Curva. The group rebelled and when a consortium involving Lazio legend Giorgio Chinaglia were trying to buy the club in 2006, a group of capi-ultra (leaders of Ultra groups) were caught sending menacing phone calls and making death threats to Lotito to sell to the investors. All four were later jailed for their involvement in the crimes.
The Lotito question has even split Lazio fans. Ultra still hate Lotito, but normal ‘casual’ fans have come round to his ideas, particularly as now Lazio seem established as a European chasing side. The patron even noted on his transfer strategy: ‘After years of watching our finances, I now understand we can invest in one excellent player each transfer window rather than two or three average ones.’
Despite his serious demeanour, Lotito hasn’t been without his more comical moments. He was involved in a punch-up with Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis over a dispute involving TV money during the 2010-11 season. Lotito’s plans involved Lazio receiving more TV money than Napoli, something that angered the film-producer. Reports from the time suggested De Laurentiis had hit Lotito on the nose and arm before being pulled apart by Adriano Galliano and Pietro Lo Monaco, sporting directors at Milan and Catania respectively. Although Lotito denied the event, many eye-witness accounts say otherwise. Two presidents of big clubs rolling around fighting on the floor is something perhaps only acceptable in Calcio.
As well as having handbags with other presidents, Lotito decided to insult the owner of his teams stadium and get himself banned from his own clubs games. The Lazio president criticised the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) and it’s president Gianni Petrucci by saying ‘It is an extortion that we must pay two million euros rent to play in our stadium. If we had the finance, we’d move tomorrow.’ For his troubles, he received a €30,000 fine with a further €50,000 suspended. He was also banned from the stadium for two months, something the Irriducibili found ironic given they had their free tickets taken away.