"Facing Real Madrid in the Champions League for us is like going to university," Antonio Percassi said on Monday. “We must face it with humility, remembering that we are a provincial team that plays with another that has made the history of football.”
Antonio is the president of Atalanta de Bergamo and his son Luca is the managing director. Both were club players. This Wednesday, the Percassi clan, the Bergamo pole of construction, textile and cosmetic companies, will act as host in the brand new box of the Gewiss stadium, recently acquired and renovated by the club after an investment of 40 million euros, made with part of the 370 million that since 2015 entered with the sale of players. "The most important thing are good scouts," warns the patriarch. Its international recruitment network has turned the sports city of Zingonia into one of the leading factories of Italian football talent, as well as a huge source of wealth. Their participation in the Champions League for the second year in a row reveals a particular phenomenon.
The family-run and “provincial” model, as the Percassi say, has become a competitive advantage capable of withstanding the depression that has plagued Italian football since the 2007 financial crisis. Where giants like Milan, Inter, Roma or Naples do not arrive, Atalanta arrives, transformed into the brightest exponent of a current that also includes Sassuolo or Udinese.
Udinese Giampaolo Pozzo was the pioneer. "We were innovative in creating an international network of scouts when there was no Internet and access to player information was limited," says Magda Pozzo, daughter of Giampaolo, graduate in Business Administration and director of Udinese. “In the beginning, scouting was the key to our economic growth, because no one had a scouting network like ours and this created a trend among small and medium-sized clubs.”
Since 2007, the year of the beginning of the great recession, Udinese played twice in the Champions League , bought players worth 300 million euros and sold for 554 million. With the income, the Pozzo family transformed the club into a business attraction center that brings together the gigantic network of medium and small companies that are part, not only of the economic engine of Friuli, but of all of Italy.
“We innovate in recruitment and we continue innovating in all the activities of the club to overcome the traditional view that the football business depends on the results on the field ”, warns the administrator. “We were the first to own a stadium, together with Juventus. The first who believed that the stadium should become a social center for activities that transcend the game. When my father thought about it it was a new concept; 15 years later everyone says that having a stadium is the future of the economic sustainability of football ”.
” We will be able to maintain the income prior to the pandemic ”
” In 2007 we were recognized for scouting , and in 2015 for the stadium; and now clubs like Atalanta have replicated our strategy more successfully than we have, ”concludes Magda Pozzo. “The pandemic is a tragedy but we must see it as an opportunity. We were focused on match day billing and now we have discovered that you can grow in another way, increasing the audience and the sense of belonging through digital channels. It is no coincidence that since last summer we have closed important agreements with large companies such as Renault or Ryanair. Studies said that we would lose 30% of the turnover; and that it would take us six years to get it back. That's probably true for the big clubs. If we act imaginatively, we will be able to maintain our pre-pandemic income. ”
Professor in the Department of Administration and Technology at the Faculty of Economics at Bocconi University in Milan, Alessandro Minichilli is part of a team that has spent years studying companies Italian relatives. "They tend to close to foreign capital," he observes. “Not only is control familiar, but management is too. Two-thirds of our small and medium-sized businesses are family-run. This, in the complexity of a globalized world, implies the risk of a limit, but it can also be an advantage in times of crisis. “In difficult moments they are more elastic. They resist blows better, recapitalize themselves and protect their workers more. This gives them one more march compared to multinationals ”.
"Our model is familiar in calcium too, " says Minichilli. “Football clubs are the parable of the Italian business world: they are not very open to foreign capital. They feel they can manage small companies, like Atalanta, well. With inferior financial means compared to others, they make up for it with organization, efficiency, passion … It is a trait of the Italian industry entrepreneur. So, proportionally, we have few truly strong multinationals. This also happens in football: on the one hand we see clubs that with this model achieve great performance; but we don't have many teams like Manchester United , or PSG, with a multinational imprint both in capital and in management. ”
After the boom of the 80s and 90s, the old calcium is regenerated from deeper cultural roots than football. The Atalanta that receives Madrid is the manifestation of a survival phenomenon.