ROME – Less than six months into his tenure as Fiorentina owner and president, Rocco Commisso is already starting to grapple with Italy’s infamous bureaucracy as he attempts to build a new stadium for the club.
First, Commisso’s plan to overhaul the existing Stadio Artemio Franchi was rejected by the city committee that protects cultural monuments.
Now he is awaiting approval to build a new ground, perhaps near the city’s airport.
“Too long, too many bureaucracies, too many different wings of the government that have to impose themselves in the decision-making process, which is screwing Italy left and right,” Commisso said during an interview with The Associated Press this week.
But Commisso, who also owns the New York Cosmos, is not one to sit and wait.
The Italian-American cable TV magnate recently purchased private land on Florence’s outskirts to build what he says will be the biggest training facility in Serie A – at a cost of more than 50 million euros ($55 million).
It’s been a whirlwind half-year for Commisso, whose motto is “fast, fast, fast.”
“This ‘fast, fast, fast’ that I’ve been quoted on revolves around the fact that I know the bureaucracy in Italy and I know that it’s killing Italy from an investment perspective,” Commisso said in a lengthy phone interview from New York.
“We need to do this as fast as possible. One, because of my age. And two, because I’m not going to wait 10 years” to build a stadium, added the 69-year-old Commisso. “I already told (the city), ‘If the price is not right and the timing is not correct, I don’t want to do it.’
“I came out with this two plus two thing. Two years to do the training center and we will get that done. And then an additional two years to finish up the stadium.”
Amid reports that Roma president James Pallotta – who is Italian-American like Commisso – is preparing to step aside after more than five years of frustrating bureaucratic delays over building a new stadium in the capital, Commisso was asked how long he’s willing to hold on to Fiorentina.
“Forever. I have to deal with the consequences of the stadium. Forever. For as long as I’m alive. And then my family will decide whether they want to stay or not,” Commisso said. “But I want to stay here forever. I already made the decision – no more Italian investment, no more teams.”
Commisso, who attempted to buy AC Milan last year, said he still gets calls from “very well known people that own big teams in Italy” asking him to purchase their clubs.
“And I say, ‘Leave me alone. My answer is no, no, no, no.’ I’m very happy where I am. My wife said to me, ‘If we buy something, let’s buy it in a beautiful city.’ So I’m very happy with the city of Florence.”
The training center in Bagno a Ripoli will expand over 25 hectares (more than 60 acres) and include 10 fields – some artificial turf, the others grass – and will provide housing for the club’s youth teams.
There will also be two mini 2,500-seat stadiums, one of which could be expanded to 5,000 seats if required.
All of the club’s teams will train there, and the Fiorentina women’s team and youth squads will play their matches inside the center.
“It’s going to be the first time in the history of Fiorentina, which goes back to 1926, that Fiorentina will have something of its own, that it can call its own property,” Commisso said.
A formal announcement on the training center is scheduled for next week.
Fiorentina was the first major Italian club to establish a women’s team when it began in 2015 and the squad has already won one Serie A title, two Italian Cups, and one Super Cup.
Commisso was in attendance when the women’s team was beaten by Juventus in last month’s Super Cup.
“There’s growth to be had with women’s soccer,” Commisso said. “They’re going to have their own facility within the training center. They’re going to be treated like gold.”
Capturing the tourists
Commisso is making it a major goal to attract the millions of tourists who visit Florence annually to also come and watch Fiorentina.
“The beauty of Florence is that it’s not that big and there’s only one soccer team,” Commisso said. “How do we get the tourists to come to Florence, watch a game and go back home knowing there’s a team in Italy that they should be rooting for going forward?”
Americans are by far the largest segment of tourists in Florence, with more than a half a million visitors yearly.
Perhaps with the American visitors in mind, a Fiorentina float took part in New York’s Columbus Day parade last month.
This season’s Serie A has been marred by racist incidents including discriminatory chants aimed at Fiorentina fullback Dalbert Henrique, a Brazilian player who is black.
“I was pretty forthright in condemning what should be an absolutely unacceptable thing in the stadium,” Commisso said. “Now even the other presidents are stepping up, and the league is stepping up. There’s a new climate, there’s a new way of dealing with these things happening in Italy.”
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