Alfa Romeo Metaphor III

Enrico Pucci

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View attachment 241578If my Alfa Romeo is a metaphor for my life, you feel ever bump in the road but it corners like nobody’s business. When it’s running that is. My life bottomed out as the world’s economy collapsed in 2008 and 2009. The end began as my knees gave out. From a central midfielder for Bologna FC 1909 with a beautiful wife, luxurious apartment and all the trappings of the high life, I’d tumbled to dead broke, divorced, deeply in debt to the mafia and working for a pittance as a youth coach for my club. Eventually, the Alfa broke down and sat in my mechanic’s lot as I didn’t have the money to get it running.

And, yes, to answer any question right up front, I did have actual ties to the Camorra. They are Napoli’s crime syndicate. I was just a dumb, awestruck teenager when I met her. How was I supposed to know that she was the daughter of a mafia boss. He seemed so nice, so sophisticated and I was too naive to notice the signs that something might be off. And by the time I did notice, we were married. He’d loaned me money starting in 2008 to help prop up my failing restaurant. Never ever under any circumstances borrow money from the mafia.

I eventually landed a job as a manager and was gaining experience as well as winning. I got fired from my first job in Spain but got a job managing in London for a fourth division club. I got them promoted and was close to the play-off positions when my past connections with the mafia caught up with me. I was accused of fixing a match for the Camorra while managing in Spain.

I was guilty, but they had no proof. When the Camorra offers you an opportunity to eliminate some of your debt, you can’t refuse. Well, I suppose you can if you have a death wish. I don’t. The charges were eventually dropped but not before AFC Wimbledon sacked me.

It all worked out fine in the end. I’d gained a girlfriend of mind-boggling beauty. A year after we’d met, Gwen’s modeling career took off. Her image was plastered on billboards all over London. She had always wanted to live in Italy and followed me there when Bologna gave me a job managing their youth team.

Bologna got relegated amid protests and death threats against the club President. It was an utter disaster. The faction opposing the President forced him to accept me as the new manager.

So I had my dream job and life had been roaring along splendidly. To continue into the realm of tenuous metaphor, I’d been feeling the Alfa’s power and giving it the gas. I got us promoted and my second season in charge had gone well. We’d flirted with the top of the table through November but went ice cold through the winter.

Honestly, who would want to drive a convertible in winter.

We had enough points by February to avoid relegation and ended up tenth in Serie A. It was a solid first season back in the big time.

But before I could head out on my vacation, I got called into President Albana Gauraldi’s office. He demanded to know my plans for stopping the poor form he’d seen through 2016 and demanded that I stop conducting all the club’s transfers. He further demanded that I cede much of the control over to his Director of Football Roberto Savoia.

Savoia was responsible for putting the 2013/14 squad together that got my beloved Rossoblus relegated. I have no respect for the man and little time. Savoia demanded a wish list of players I wanted to sign so he could consider signing them. What both angered and scared me is the club’s war chest was going to be formidable. Savoia couldn’t negotiate his way out of a paper bag and I didn’t want to lose out on players because an idiot did the negotiating. I wanted to challenge for a European spot and Captain Asswipe and President of the Death Threats would ruin it all.

I lost my temper. Words were exchanged. I said that the club’s good financial health was largely due to me not them. The basic point I got across was they had brought the club to it’s knees and I was in the process of rebuilding it. I stormed out of the meeting. I am still an employee of Bologna. I’m still the manager. I haven’t read online that I’d been sacked.

Yet.
 
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Enrico Pucci

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View attachment 24157716 May 2016

To bring you all up to the present, I’m on vacation in Cadiz, Spain. This city will always hold a special place in my heart. It was my first manager’s post and I always go here to relax as soon as the season ends.

This afternoon I’m foregoing my siesta and walking into a posh hotel in Cadiz. And not the posh hotel in which Gwen and I are staying. My agent Luca called me yesterday and told me that Claudio Lotito and Igli Tare wanted to fly to Cadiz to talk to me, I said something to the effect of ‘sure, what the ****.’

So here I am riding in an elevator up to the penthouse suite in this posh hotel to meet with these two men. Most of you who do not know Calcio may not recognize the two names I mentioned. Igli is a former teammate of mine at Bologna. I’m certain that none of you know that little piece of trivia. He was at Bologna from 2002 to 2004. He’s now a Director of Football for Mr. Latito. Claudio Latito is the entrepreneur who saved Lazio after Cragnotti family were forced to give up control of the club. He’s been pouring money into the club.

Igli opens the door and I’m shaking hands with my old mate and Mr. Lotito. They had just sacked former Bologna manager Stefano Pioli and wanted to talk to me about taking the reins.

“Thank you for meeting with us, Enrico,” Mr. Lotito said. “Please let’s get comfortable and talk.”

“I’m honored and humbled that you want to talk to me,” I said as I sat down.

“After you beat us 4-3 last September, I asked Igli about you,” Mr. Lotito said. “You impressed me that day. Your side didn’t look at all intimidated and you made us look bad. My first thought was that I really didn’t like playing against your club. Your men fought, kicked, scraped and had us down 4-2 except for that late penalty.”

“As you know, we’re in Europe because we’ve just won the Coppa,” he continued. “But Stefano isn’t the man to lead the club and, aside from that marvelous Coppa victory over Milan, the run to the end of the season was poor.”

“Igli suggested you as soon as we considered Stefano’s position,” he concluded. “I’d like to hear what you have to say about Lazio and how you’d lead it.”

“Well, first of all you’ve got a solid foundation,” I began.

Despite thinking through all the possible opening gambits, I was grasping for straws about what I ought to say.

“I think you just need to add the right pieces of the puzzle,” I said. Yeah, great opening play moron. You sound like a fkn TV pundit. “Your squad should be challenging for European places and be positioned to take advantage when The Grand Old Lady eventually slips up.”

“Okay, that’s well and good and I’ve heard that from plenty of media who’ve interviewed me,” Mr. Lotito said. “But you are not a seasoned manager. I like to get straight to the heart of the matter. Why should I hire an inexperienced, young manager such as you.”

“Well, to be blunt, Igli must have said something or we wouldn’t be here,” I said. “You know full well it’s a risk to hire me. Sure, I got Bologna back into the Serie A and, yes, we just concluded a pretty good first season back. That’s because Bologna put their faith in me. You’ve probably read about the row I had with Guaraldi or you wouldn’t have set up this meeting.”

“I’m very clear with everyone I work with,” I said. “I pride myself on making it clear what everyone under me needs to do. From youth coach to physio to star player to a promising young player. I want players who are hungry. You’ve got a core here who want more. I could see from our matches against you last season that some don’t have the attitude I would want.”

“Take Antonio Candreva as an example,” I said. “On bad days, he looks like the lone light of hope in the squad. Keita is nasty when he’s on his game. I hate playing against him and I think I could get more out of him. You just need a younger version of Klose and you’re set offensively. Your midfield is solid but I’d rework the defense. Abdennour is a beast, I’d love to manage him. The rest, I’d ease them out over the next couple of years. You don’t need a keeper, though. Berisha is fabulous.”

“The reason I built a good squad with Bologna is scouting,” I said. “We knew every single bit of relevant information about a player. For the most part, I have built a squad of fighters. We’ll do everything we can to thwart your skilled players. And we can find a little skill of our own to hurt you.”

“I hope you can look past my inexperience and trust me that I can do the same for you,” I concluded.

I swear I saw Igli smother a smirk. I hope that’s a good sign.

“Why would you consider leaving Bologna?” Mr. Lotito asked. “No pressure and I’m guessing you’ll eventually win your battle with Guaraldi. Albano is no fool. He’ll see the light.”

“Yes, but I have to fight that battle,” I said. “It may take a season or two. But you’re in Europe. You are running the club intelligently and you’re very careful to make sure that the club is financially sound. Also it’s a big step for me and I want it. I could build a squad for you that could challenge on two fronts. If the best salesman is a broke one, a hungry manager with a point to prove is the best kind. Would Juve or Inter or AC Milan ever offer an American their manager job. I doubt it. I’ve been battling to prove I belong since I arrived as teenager in Bologna. I’m still fighting that battle.”

“So you think you can handle a Serie A campaign and Europe?” Mr. Lotito asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I would need two squads. The priority would be Serie A. I would rotate a lot more for the European fixtures. There are new ways of measuring a player’s fitness I’ve introduced at Bologna that I would bring to Lazio. Plus yoga, acupuncture and chiropractors will keep your players in better shape. I’m a stickler for a good diet and I go on and on about it until the players relent just to get me to shut up.”

“So I think I can balance the squad rotation,” I said. “And I’ll be honest, the early stages of the Euro Cup aren’t that challenging.”

“Igli will have around 30 million euros available to spend,” Mr. Lotito said. “How do you propose to build the squad for Europe and Serie A?”

“First of all, I think I could get 15 to 20 million extra by selling some players I don’t like who still have a high transfer value,” I said. “Secondly, I’d assess what squad needs we have and where we can fill them with a Bosman signing or without spending much. Honestly, I already have that list ready but for Bologna.”

“There are a number of teenagers and young men with spectacular talent that I want,” I said. “They cost in the 5 to 15 million category. After a few seasons, one of the insanely rich teams will pay 30 million for them. In the meantime, they could win some hardware.”

“I’m not really interested in signing an experienced veteran,” I continued. “You’ve got a squad full of experience. What you need are difference makers. Finally, if you look through my Bologna squad, you’ll see that I got quality players at good prices. But I’m guessing that was one of the qualities you already noticed.”

I’m certain this time that Igli suppressed a smirk.

“Considering you pushed Bologna’s Director of Football to the side, would you have a problem working with Igli?” Mr. Lotito asked.

“Igli? No,” I said. “You probably already know we were teammates. Igli and I would make a great tandem.”

“What about philosphies?” Mr. Lotito asked. “What mindset can we expect from you?”

“I know that the Biancocelesti play quite directly and with the players you have, it makes sense,” I said. “There will be times when I want to control the game and slow down the pace. Like when we’re winning. But generally, I like high pressing, attack-minded calcio. I would want to sign a good number of young players with huge potential.”

“Mainly, my goal is to win with a financially sound squad,” I concluded. “I’ll figure out how to win in whatever budget I’m given. Eleventh place last season is a joke with Lazio’s midfield and forwards.”

“Are there any requests you would make of the board and me if you became manager?” Mr. Lotito asked.

“I would request that you improve the club’s youth coaching system,” I said. “Any club your size should be looking to improve the coaching quality for the kids. You’re going to attract some of the best and brightest from the area. They should be getting the best training available.”

“I don’t have any further questions, Enrico,” Mr. Lotito said. “Igli, do you have any questions?”

Igli Tare shook his head no.
 
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Enrico Pucci

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View attachment 2415765ish, later that day

“Wow,” said Esteban after I’d told him about my day over drinks and tapas. Esteban was my barber when I lived in Cadiz. We’d become good friends and stayed in touch.

“I know,” I concurred.

“Will you have to decide tomorrow?” Gwen asked.

I shrugged. Then I translated for Esteban.

“It works like this,” Esteban said. “Lazio will contact his agent, Luca. Luca will laugh at them, tell them to **** off and to come back when they have a serious offer. Then Luca will go to church and light a few candles and pray he didn’t make Lazio so angry that they will abandon the negotiations.”

I smiled. Then I translated.

“The next day Lazio will contact Luca again and he will be more polite and make a counter offer,” Esteban continued. “This time it will be Lazio’s turn to laugh, tell Luca to **** off and insist that he get serious about the negotiation and consider their serious offer.”

My mobile bleeped in my pocket. I pulled it out. It was a text from Luca letting me know that they’d already made a first offer which he’d rejected out of hand. Both Esteban and Gwen laughed when I told them this.

“Are we going to move to Rome?” Gwen asked.

“I ... uh ... well ... um ... I have no fkn idea,” I blathered.

“I’d like to live in Rome,” Gwen said. “If that helps make your decision any easier.”

I leaned over and smooched her cheek. Then I translated for Esteban.

“What ever happened to those American owners who were going to save Bologna?” Esteban asked.

“No idea,” I said. “The serious offer never materialized. I guess I saved Guaraldi’s ****. And how does he thank me?”

“What I wonder is how Lotito and Tare knew to set up the meeting,” I said. “This isn’t the first time Lazio seemed to know what was going on inside the club. It’s like someone is feeding them information. If this wasn’t Italy and I wasn’t as paranoid as I am, I’d just shrug it off, but you both know me and I can’t.”

 
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Enrico Pucci

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View attachment 241575"I don't know," I said out loud for the umpteenth time that evening as we strolled home after our late dinner. "I just don't know."

"Well, my dear Italian-American slab of uncorrigated, locally-sourced free-range worry ..." Gwen said.

"Wait, what? That doesn't even make sense," I interrupted.

"... what are the reasons you should stay?" she said.

"I have deep roots in Bologna," I replied. "There's a lot more work to do. Someone has to save the club from Guaraldi. I'd like the club to have a better foundation before I leave. Um, well ... I'll have a huge transfer kitty. Less pressure, low expectations."

"But Savoia ..."

"I know, but Savoia," I said completing the thought.

"Okay, why should you leave?" she asked.

"Savoia," I said. "I'll have to win the fight against those two. I think I will, but the fact that i have to fight this fight. And another reason is that I'm ****** off and Lazio's offer caught me at a weak moment."

"So why Lazio?"

"Bigger club, higher profile, fewer players will say no to me when I ask them to join," I said. "I not only get along with the Director of Football, I trust him. Live in Rome. You would like living in Rome, or near Rome. Better training facilities. I think we could have a shot at winning the scudetto this season or next. This is a bigger challenge."

"Okay," said Gwen.
 

Enrico Pucci

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View attachment 241251Friday, 20 May 2016

Igli had suggested we check out Filip Dordevic's home in Cesano. It's not too far at all from Lazio's Formello training facility. Filip was now plying his trade with Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga and hadn't sold his home, yet. We could rent it for what his mortgage was. It would be pretty pricey on my income alone. Thankfully, Gwen pulls in far more than I do. She was initially put off by the amount but eventually decided to at least take a look at the place.

View attachment 241253 View attachment 241252
Gwen had programmed the GPS and we followed it's from the hotel. We got off the highway just past the exit for the training ground and started winding through hills and valleys. We pulled up in front of a walled property with gate. I pulled in the driveway.

"Should I get out and wave the fob over the sensor over there?" Gwen asked lifting up the key fob we were told would open the gate.

"Yeah, seems like ... whoa," I said as the gate started to open. "I guess that was enough."

We were both struck speechless as we drove along the tree-lined driveway which led up to the house.

View attachment 241261"It's ****ing immense," Gwen spluttered as we climbed the steps up to the front door. "It's got to have a dozen or so bedrooms. ****ing 'ell. How many people did the bloke have living with him?"

"Just his wife, I guess."

Then we arrived at the front door.

"Ooh," Gwen said. "I love it already."

We wandered through a couple of the rooms until Gwen saw a double door leading to a small patio on the back side of the house.

"Footballers have no taste. The decor is hideous, but I could tolerate it because of this," she said as she unlocked the doors and flung them open.

View attachment 241260 View attachment 241258

View attachment 241257 View attachment 241256

I pulled out my mobile and pulled up the email from Igli.

"Hmmmm ... somewhere out there, the nature reserve starts," I read. "3 floors. You were right, 12 bedrooms. 8 bathrooms. This place comes with a cook, maid and lawn and garden service."

"So we get to keep it?" Gwen asked.

"I guess."

"What about all our furniture and stuff back in Bologna?" Gwen asked. "How do we get it all here?"

"We pay a moving company," I said. "It arrives here and we tell them where to put it."

"So we can get rid of some of that hideous furniture?"

I nodded.
 

Enrico Pucci

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View attachment 241170Later that day ...

"Enrico," Igli Tare noted as I walked into his office.

"Igli," I stated as I sat down.

"So here you are, I got my man," he said.

I nodded.

"Let's get right down to it," he said. "How's the girlfriend? Not crazy like the ex-wife?"

"Thanks be to Blessed Mary, no," I replied. "Leaves glasses of wine unfinished all over the house. Not interested in any drugs aside from caffeine. Makes more money than I do. Couldn't be better. How are the wife in kids?"

"They are quite good," he replied.

We caught up for a while on a wide variety of topics before it finally returned to the real reason I walked into his office.

"So you got a list or two for me?" Igli asked.

"**** yeah," I said and pulled out my lists and handed them to him.

"Really?" he asked then burst out laughing. "You really wrote it on a napkin?"

View attachment 241172View attachment 241171

"I don't have any Lazio letterhead, yet," I said. "And my Lazio email account isn't set up, yet. I used two napkins. The buy napkin and the sell napkin."

"You're too much."

"Okay seriously, how are we going to work together?"

"Depends."

"On what?"

"How involved do you want to be?" Igli said. "I would think that for Verratti, you doing the negotiation. I've never heard of this Sevcik player. Is he young? Okay. I would think the allure of a big Italian club after him would be enough and he's ours."

"I'm willing to help," I said. "I'm willing to fly out to talk with any player. I agree that I'd probably make a bigger difference with a higher profile player. Let's just make sure we talk often."

Igli nodded.
 
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