Aurelio de Laurentiis, Expansion, and Football’s Age of Empires

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Amid all of the transfer news, preseason friendlies, and tumult with Pep and Barcelona there was an important statement made regarding the future of football. In a conversation on the Italian “Radio Marte”, Aurelio de Laurentiis announced:  

"I called Reja over the last few days and told him I intend to expand my football empire, I want to buy three clubs, including one in England, so I asked Reja if he would be willing to be the coach and he said he’s available." (Reja is former Napoli boss Edy Reja)

and with those words there was another splash of water in the bucket, a signal, in my opinion, of football’s ever encroaching era of empire building. The Pozzo family, originally owners of Udinese and now Granada and Watford came first, modestly and intelligently, and used their English and Spanish clubs to develop young players for the Udinese team. The clubs have both been successful since the partnership and Watford seems well set-up for another run at the Premiership this season. The horizontal integration of clubs across divisions, aspirations, and nations, has allowed the Pozzo family to buy more affordable young talent and, thus, increase their chance of turning a profit. They are betting on the fact that harmony can create better results than the typical discord in relations between top level clubs. 

The importance of a man of Di Laurentiis’s stature being involved with this sort of ideological project is that his ambitions place success in football over mere financial success. He’d rather retain his best players than sell them on for big profits and has built a strong Napoli side around the principal of retention, rather than the buy-low sell-high trading of Udinese. The purchase of a Premier League or Championship club would no longer be the mere experiment that it was for the Pozzo’s, but a strategy for sustained success in development and would most likely receive some of the heavy investment that he’s put into the Italian club that he loves so dearly. 

I’ve always been fascinated by resistance to the growing trend of team’s spending equalling their league position and this method of football empire building seems to be a viable alternative to spending outrageous lump sums and might be a more sustainable way to grow the game. The one limitation of the plan, obviously, is that ownership must prioritize one of the clubs over the others, because they cannot meet in European competitions. This means that Napoli would always have to be a step better than the Di Laurentiis’s English Club or visa-versa. While not prohibitive, this cap on success, is somewhat a damper to the totality of these projects.

I also must admit that I absolutely love Aurelio de Laurentiis and believe he should own as many football clubs as humanly possible. Just look at how he talks about Naples in the aforementioned interview:

"In my life I have always been in love with Naples and its culture. I want to bring this city around the world. Some of my friends say they’ve never seen the city and I wonder how that is even possible."

He’s a man of passion, not cold calculation, and a Premier League that has increasingly looked at teams as investments rather than with the love and affection of the club chairman that proceeded the media boom certainly needs more of that. Now let’s hope he’s in it for the long haul and doesn’t ride off into the sunset with a trail of Vespa exhaust the only lingering sign of his presence.