Wednesday, 16 September 2020 at
Jeroen Zoet has caught his first foreign adventure. The Dutch goalkeeper recently swapped PSV for Spezia, which for the first time in 114 years of club history enters the Serie A. The ambitious PhD student is led by the eccentric chairman Gabriele Volpi, who has earned his fortune in the African oil industry. The now 77-year-old billionaire will do everything in his power to make Spezia a keeper in Italy’s highest division. At the end of September, the very first match of the people’s club will be at the highest Italian level.
By Rian Rosendaal
Former international and former player of AC Milan and Lazio Alessandro Nesta, among others, will have sleepless nights when hearing the name Spezia. Frosinone, who has been trained by Nesta since 2019, bit himself in the play-offs in August for promotion to the Serie A piece on the Spezia of his colleague Vincenzo Italiano. Spezia won the first meeting 0-1, while Frosinone ended the second showdown with a victory: 0-1. The final ranking in Serie B was the deciding factor in terms of promotion. Volpi’s club finished in third place and the Nesta brigade had to make do with place eight. A big party erupted in Spezia, which made history in several areas. For the first time, the northern Italian region of Liguria supplied three clubs to Serie A: Spezia, Sampdoria and Genoa.
From hell to heaven in twelve years
The story of Spezia reads like a fairy tale, because not so long ago, in 2008, the club founded in 1906 was on the brink of collapse. Because of major financial problems, the modest club from Northern Italy was even declared bankrupt. Three years later, sanctions were handed out by the Italian Football Federation to former Spezia board members for committing fraud. At the time of the bankruptcy, the ailing club came into the hands of Volpi, under whose leadership a restart was made in the Serie D. The wealthy Italian at the time was the owner of water polo team Pro Recco and later also gained a foothold in the Croatian football club NK Rijeka. So he already had the necessary experience in sports driving. From then on the club went through life as A.S.D. Spezia Calcio 2008 and the road to the top was started. Twelve seasons and three promotions later, Volpi’s dream came true: Spezia will play in the year 2020/21 against clubs like Juventus, Internazionale and AC Milan and in iconic stadiums like the San Siro and the Stadio Olimpico.
The supporters of Spezia celebrate exuberantly after the promotion
“We started in Serie D and since then we have only grown, with the promotion to Serie A as a result”, said the proud Volpi last month after the diptych with Frosinone in conversation with La Gazzetta dello Sport. “The promotion comes as a surprise to me. Our team may have been even better last season, but then it didn’t work out.” Volpi shoved the credits to other people within Spezia’s organization for success. “These are for technical director Guido Angelozzi and trainer Vincenzo Italiano. We have always had a lot of confidence in Italiano, but we didn’t expect him to be able to make this team play so well. Under his leadership, the careers of the necessary talents will be launched at lightning speed”. Italiano’s feat didn’t go unnoticed. Genoa would like to bring in the 42-year-old coach, according to the Italian media. Volpi, however, is not to be trifled with. “Why would he leave? Italiano has a contract here until 2021, ed. He stays with Spezia, there’s no doubt about that”, the rich club owner left nothing to be desired.
In August there were also noises that Volpi would like to get rid of the doctoral candidate from Spezia. However, the wealthy businessman was there like chickens to clarify matters. “Here and there interested parties were informed, but that’s all. Out of respect for Spezia and the Liguria region, I will not exchange the club for people who are absolutely no better than us”, says the determined and very ambitious Volpi, who is now busy preparing for the entrance to Serie A. All the necessary money has been put into the renovation of the Stadio Alberto Picco, which opened its doors in 1919. The accommodation, which accommodates over 10,000 visitors, does not yet meet the strict requirements of the Serie A, which is why a lot of time has been spent recently on refurbishing the home port of Spezia. Meanwhile, the promoted club has decided to finish the home games in the first part of next season at the Stadio Dino Manuzzi, the stadium of Serie C club AC Cesena. Usually around 23,000 supporters will be able to watch games here, although spectator numbers will be much lower in the coming months due to the corona crisis.
In the Stadio Dino Manuzzi, on September 27th, Spezia starts the fairy tale in Serie A. That day, Sassuolo is the opponent of the men of Italiano. Volpi will undoubtedly be in the stands that Sunday afternoon with goosebumps. His investments over the years have yielded the desired result. The business success started in the seventies, when Recco-born Volpi settled in Nigeria. With the company Orlean Invest Holding he became a very big player in the field of oil in that country and Angola. The Spezia owner has certainly not benefited from doing business successfully, as his income is estimated at more than two billion euros. Volpi, also in possession of a Nigerian passport, has several luxury homes in Italy and Monaco and a yacht of no less than sixty meters long, called Givi. He reportedly laid down 75 million euros for the ultramodern boat. On the super yacht, visitors can go to a cinema, visit the gym and take a dip in the upstairs swimming pool. Is Volpi not present on his yacht then forms a large estate near Lagos in Nigeria his base.
Good contact with Lionel Messi
The billionaireship gives Volpi a place in the better social circles. “I was once the host of Lionel Messi on my boat,” said the president of Spezia in August in a meeting with La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I’m also good friends with Javier Mascherano. I would love it if Messi would leave for Internazionale, because I support that club a little. In addition, his arrival would be a big boost are for Italian football. Would I return to the stadium for the game between Spezia and Inter with him on the field? One hundred percent sure.” Volpi’s words have been overtaken by current events, because Messi decided to stay another year in Barcelona at the beginning of September. In the meantime, Spezia’s driving force behind the scenes is busy with his own project. A good quality injection seems to be crucial to survive the first year in Serie A. The Italian newspaper Secolo XIX came with the striking message that the clubless Yaya Touré would have offered herself to Spezia. The meanwhile 37-year-old midfielder would have seen something in the ambitious plans of Volpi and consorts. In addition, Jorrit Hendrix appeared on the doctoral candidate’s radar. An agreement with PSV has not yet been reached, but it is clear that they are moving with the necessary guts on the international transfer market.
– OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) August 20, 2020
Volpi’s reputation is not impeccable by the way. The elderly billionaire was sentenced in the eighties to two and a half years imprisonment for bankruptcy fraud and in 2018 his name was again in the news negatively. For many years Volpi used the Zuidas in Amsterdam as a kind of intermediate station for his business transactions. From Panama he founded a foundation in our country and the Spezia chairman was also a client of notary firm Loyens & Loeff for many years. Volpi was viewed with suspicion from the other side of the world, which was reflected in an incriminating report of more than three hundred pages of the American Senate Committee. The wealthy entrepreneur was accused of corruption and of siphoning off no less than 38 billion dollars from the former vice president of Nigeria to the United States. In May 2018 the Italian judiciary raided Volpi and two directors of his foundation in Italy. In spite of all the fuss, Volpi refused to provide openness in the Italian media. Through all the storms, he threw himself even more into Spezia, which, under his leadership as the 68th club in history, is embarking on the Serie A adventure.