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Football News: Como 1907: A Wise Move?

Como 1907: A Wise Move?

Como 1907 FC

31 May 2023 11:10:20
Hi Ed001,

Any chance you could do an article on the Italian Serie B team Como? Somehow Dennis Wise is their club president and Cesc Fabregas moved to them from Monaco. Not to mention Michael Essiens wife once acquired their assets.

Thought they might be an interesting one to research about!

Thanks. - Taurus01


Until recently Como 1907 had been a pretty unremarkable club, the area really only being known for the natural beauty of its lake and surroundings rather than the team. It is a team that has mostly struggled, competitively and financially, in the lower leagues of the Italian league, apart from a couple of short spells in Serie A. Even the fact this is the third (or possibly fourth depending on how you count it) incarnation of the club is overshadowed by the likes of Fiorentina, who seem to be resurrected every couple of years. Yet, right now, they are probably the most curious and interesting club in Italian football.

As you can probably guess by the name, Como was originally founded in 1907 but it was not until 1949 that they reached the top flight. They spent four seasons in Serie A before relegation back to Serie B and then spent the next 20 years moving between Serie B and C. It was 1975 before they managed to return to Serie A, but it was a very short period as they were relegated at the end of their first season back and were down in Serie C1 by 1978. There they rebuilt and successive promotions saw them return to Serie A, this time for an extra season before relegation again in 1982. This time they bounced back after a couple of seasons and managed to last five seasons in Serie A, with two successive 9th place finishes in 1986 and 1987 the pinnacle of their history.

Relegation in 1989 was followed by seasons mostly spent down in Serie C1. Their return to Serie B in 2001 was marred by a violent incident involving captain Massimiliano Ferrigno, which caused him to receive a three-year ban. They immediately won promotion again to Serie A but spent the entire season marooned in the bottom two places and crowd violence led to a ban from playing games at their Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia home. They quickly dropped again into Serie C1 the following season, which caused financial difficulties. In December 2004 they were declared bankrupt and no investor was successful with a bid to take over so the company was liquidated. The liquidators discovered that former chairman Enrico Preziosi, who had been one of the unsuccessful bidders, had been the main cause of the bankruptcy. Preziosi had been busy transferring the club's assets, including player contracts, to his new club Genoa, which left the club with nothing.

A new entity was admitted to Serie D as Como for the 2005-06 season and they began a gradual climb back up the divisions to reach Serie B in 2015 via the play-offs. Serie B was a disaster, they were last from the start of the season until the end, used three different head coaches and 41 different players in an attempt to turn things around. Relegated again, they were once again out of business due to money problems and they were put up for auction. Despite the difficulties, the team were steadied under head coach Fabio Gallo and bankruptcy trustee Francesco De Michele, finishing 7th in Serie C1. This is when things got interesting.

First off, just a few days after her husband Michael Essien had signed for Indonesian Liga 1 side Persib Bandung, Akosua Puni Essien bought the assets in the auction for €237,000 to become the first foreign businesswoman in Italian football. The training centre and Calcio Como brand were not included in the price and instead she chose the name FC Como and applied for the team to join Serie C for the 2017-18 season. Instead a different company was admitted to Serie D.

On 4th April 2019, just ahead of Como's return to professional football by winning Serie D with an all-time points record, UK-based media and entertainment company SENT Entertainment Ltd bought the club. SENT were owned by Indonesian tobacco billionaires, the Hartono brothers, Indonesia's richest men, who also owned online-TV streaming company Mola. The buyout was led by Mola representative Mirwan Suwarso, who planned to use the club as a means of bringing in the cream of Indonesian players for an ongoing reality TV show 'Dream Chasers: Garuda Select'. They already owned an academy in Loughborough for the show, which had ex-England, Nottingham Forest and Sampdoria defender Des Walker as the coach and former England and Chelsea midfielder Dennis Wise as a mentor. However their plan quickly turned out to be impossible when it was discovered that Italy bans teams below Serie A from signing anyone from outside of the EU.

That changed the plan, unsurprisingly, though not so much that they dropped their plans for a reality TV show following the club's progress as Suwarso explains: "We just thought let's roll with it. It's no longer a project to suit Indonesian development but actually grow the football club itself. That has become the sole ambition. We took it from Serie D to C then as we got into B, we started to prioritise growth in the infrastructure. We bought an academy, we're bringing in more professionals to try to push it to Serie A and beyond." And the new reality TV show, Como 1907: The American, followed Michael Gandler as he worked as CEO of the club and tried to build it up. Dennis Wise was brought over as technical advisor to help, though he soon replaced Gandler as CEO (and the subject of season 2 of the show) with a clean slate to build a club that would be a big part of the local community.

To that end they have set up a foundation to help good causes in the area, as Suwarso explains: "We're not the Abu Dhabis, we're not the Qataris, we're not PSG. I look at Leicester and how the ownership is ingrained in the club, working together with the community. I really like that. We've been helping the community since we started. During Covid, we tried to make sure we could help the hospitals provide free testing and stuff like that. That's how we do business, it's the ethos of the group: build the community first, be a part of the community and grow together. If everybody benefits from our business, the sky is the limit." In fact the club and its owners gifted a local hospital a six-figure sum during the Covid pandemic and all profits from last season's kits was given to local good causes. A local cinema that was to be closed was provided with the funding to continue and they have also promised not to release new kits every season to save the fans' money. Added to that, they are working on having all their suppliers from the local Lombardy area by 2025.

It is also what led to them getting a new handyman, as Wise tells it: "You'll see Abi about, I saw him down the street, he was homeless, and he was cleaning the paths. It was spotless. I stopped, asked him what his name is. We needed a maintenance guy and I thought he'd be alright but I needed to find out a little more. So I said come to the stadium at 3pm. He thought I was crazy at first, didn't know who I was and wasn't sure if he should tell me his name. We checked him out, make sure that he's OK. He's now been here just over a year and he helps, always smiling. I don't pre-judge someone who needs help. There there for a reason. He's a very nice guy, very hard working. We need to help the place and this is what the owners want to do, involve the community. Building the stadium will give jobs to the community, grow the club." That is the step they are in the middle of, rebuilding the stadium, except for the perimeter wall of the main stand, which is a protected historical monument. The training ground is also being improved, with stage 1 of that plan completed already. The fans have been involved at every stage, even helping to paint the stadium during its rebuild.

The way they are running the club has also meant that they have managed to attract a name that would otherwise have been beyond them as a Serie B club, when in the summer transfer window of 2022 former Arsenal, Barcelona and Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas signed for them after being released by Monaco. He was offered big money to go to the MLS but found himself attracted by the project at Como and joined as a player-coach and shareholder: "The MLS was not part of my plans. I wanted to remain in Europe and I believe this is the right project for me. I wasn't interested in money, I wanted to join a long-term project that I would be enthusiastic about. I'm very ambitious and I would like to help Como return to where it deserves, that is in Serie A. I'm here to play and to win games. I see a long-term future with this club. Como offered me not just a two-year contract as a player but a long-term project. Last season at Monaco was rather difficult but the past is in the past and now I'm looking ahead. The important thing is that I'm here. I'm not only here to play but to give a helping hand off the pitch in what will be a long-term project."

Wise was actually working on a deal to sign a former Tottenham Hotspur academy prospect called Louis Binks when he asked Binks' agent, Darren Dein, if he knew of any creative midfielders that are available: "Darren said, 'Hear me out, what about Cesc?' 'Ok, right, yes please. What do we have to do?' Darren got me on a Zoom with Cesc to explain the project. After I sold it, he wanted to be part of it. It's not often you have a World Cup winner but a humble guy and he has loads of questions about the project, who wants to learn and be part of it long-term. I was open to a lot of suggestions and we spent an hour chatting. It was great. An hour later I had another call with a player. I won't name him to disrespect him but he played in the Premier League and is now in the Championship. But he didn't come on the call. It was his agent and his first question was how much are you going to pay him. First of all the player should be on the call. He wants three years, he's not getting it. I killed the deal in two minutes. If it's about money, no. It's about if you want to come here and understand where the club wants to go."

Fabregas was not the last big name to become involved as legendary former France and Arsenal forward Thierry Henry has also become a shareholder, also stating that it was the way it is being run that attracted him: "I have been waiting to get involved in a project like Como for a long time. A club with ambition but most importantly one that holds the same values as me - that the club and its local community both need to thrive. When I spoke to the team here and they told me about the community initiatives already in place and the ambition to ensure that as the club prospers so does the community, I knew this was the perfect opportunity for me."

According to Suwarso, the idea behind bringing in the likes of Fabregas, Henry and Wise is to use their knowledge and experience of the game to help the club achieve its ambitions: "We don't look at their reputation, what we're trying to bring is their experience. If you want to do something you have to learn from the best, that's the way we see things. Whatever they have can only benefit us, otherwise it would just be amateurs trying to be professional in a professional world. I think in the beginning there was extreme scepticism. They were saying 'who the fuck are these people?' and 'why did they pick Como?' I'm like, dude don't you know your place is really nice? It's a stunning place, it really is. It's one of the most scenic locations in the world."

The next step will be to return to Serie A, though Suwarso believes there is no limit to how high the club can aim in time: "I wouldn't mind replacing Juventus. I think Fiat is a great company, but we're bigger than them. If the owners are willing, we'll be vying for the Champions League in the next quarter century." A big step for a team that was mired in midtable mediocrity in Serie B last season, but in time, with the huge backing behind them of two of the richest men in the world, there really is no reason to believe it is an impossible dream.

Written by Tris Burke June 14 2023 09:38:51


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