The most fashionable club in the world
Venice—one of the most historical cities in the world, since 1987 a UNESCO world heritage site and visited by millions of tourists every year. The capital of Veneto, located in Northeastern Italy, is often mentioned in the same breath as Italy’s other major cities, Milan, Rome, and Florence. But in sporting terms, La Serenissima was not able to compete. In Venezia FC, the city’s most famous club has at least managed to return to Serie A this summer. While the club does not have a long successful history, Venezia has combined the elegance of the city with marketing and tradition.
Founded in 1907 as Venezia Foot Ball Club, the club has undergone significant name changes throughout the 20th century. From Associazione Calcio Venezia (1919-29) to Società Sportiva Serenissima (1929-34), back to AC Venezia (1934-1987), then Calcio Venezia-Mestre (1987-1989), and then once again AC Venezia (1989-2005). Then on Jun. 22, 2005, the relegated Serie B club announced insolvency. The club was first unsuccessfully relaunched as Società Sportiva Calcio Venezia (2005-09) and then, also unsuccessfully, as Foot Ball Club Unione Venezia (2009-15). Finally, in September 2015, a group of American investors took over, and the club has been in the ascendency ever since.
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Joe Tacopina, a 55-year-old lawyer from Brooklyn with Italian roots, has invested in Italian football since 2011. The 55-year-old was part of the investment group that bought Roma and was a member of the board and vice president at the capital-based club. Then, together with the Canadian Joey Saputo, he bought Bologna. Tacopina, however, fell out with Saputo and left the club one year later—investing in Venezia instead. There the millionaire recognized the potential of the club and, after reaching promotion to Serie C, installed an Italian legend as the club’s head coach.
Filippo Inzaghi, who between 1991 and 2012 played for various Italian clubs, arrived in the summer of 2016 following a disappointing start to his coaching career at AC Milan. In his first year in charge, he guided the club to another promotion, directly from Serie C to Serie B—steering Tacopina’s imaginations. “I want to achieve a third promotion in a row,” Tacopina said at the time to Tuttosport. “Venezia is one of a kind. I will guide the club back to Serie A—then to Europe.”
Another four years would pass until the club would achieve that goal. Inzaghi left the club after Venezia finished fifth and failed to win the playoffs; he joined Bologna. His successors, Stefano Vecchi, Walter Zenga, Serse Cosmi, and Alessio Dionisi, were unable to build on Inzaghi’s success—the highest finish was an eleventh place.
Venezia FC & Zanetti back to Serie A – Promotion party on a boat
In the summer of 2020, the club signed Paolo Zanetti, and with him, the success would return. “The 38-year-old is clearly the anchor that secures the success,” Area Manager Italy Jatin Dietl said. “In Monza, Brescia, and Lecce, there were several favorites for promotion, but Venezia managed to win the playoffs. The team built around striker Francesco Forte, the talented Youssef Maleh, who was on loan from Fiorentina, and center-back Pietro Ceccaroni didn’t have the individual class of their competition. But mentally, the team was strong.”
That mentality was obvious ahead of the decisive promotion match against AS Cittadella. After winning the first leg 1-0, the return match in Venice was dramatic. Federico Proia scored in the 26th minute for Cittadella. Then Pasquale Mazzocchi was sent off with a second yellow in the 36th minute. Then in the 70th minute, Mattia Aramu was sent off with a straight red card. Promotion seemed impossible. Just as the game appeared to be headed to overtime, Riccardo Bocalon scored the equalizer, and the Stadio Pierluigi Penzo turned into mayhem.
What then followed underlined why Venezia FC is more than just a traditional Italian club sponsored by American investors. All of Venice was covered in orange-black-green flags—videos of fans jumping fully dressed in the canals went viral on the internet. And the team? The club celebrated promotion on boats floating through the canals—the Venetian version of a street celebration.
— Venezia FC (@VeneziaFC_EN) June 2, 2021
“I don’t know if I will experience something like that again,” the Austrian center-back Michael Svoboda said to the Podcast CSN – der Serie A talk in June. “For a full hour, we traveled through Venice on 30 boats. It was a fantastic experience. I tried to enjoy it, even though it ended very quickly.”
Venezia FC: The most fashionable club in the world?
After 19 years, Venezia FC are back in Serie A. The biggest part in the club’s return played investor Tacopina, who freed the club of its financial constraints without turning the club into a typical investment project. Until this summer, the club never invested more than €2.17 million in new players. The club broke the record fee for a new signing when they signed American talents Gianluca Busio from Sporting Kansas City for €6 million. In Tanner Tessmann for $4 million from FC Dallas, the club signed a second American. In Mattia Caldara, a former Italian national team player, joins the club from Milan.
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Tacopina always understood that Venezia FC was a label, a vision that was also continued by his successor Duncan Niederauer, who came to power in 2020. The club created a new marketing concept to stand out in the shark tank that is European football. The club’s logo was redesigned and now includes the winged lion that is also the landmark of the city of Venice. The new club shirt also caught attention. Venezia have a cooperation with the New York-based fashion label Fly Nowhere, and the club changed its kit manufacturer from Nike to Kappa. Venezia’s new shirt caused a hype on social media. The club’s home shirt has been described as the most beautiful in the world, and GQ described the Arancioneroverdi as the “world’s most fashionable soccer club.”
The GQ article was retweeted by the club’s social media account and even pint to the very top for some time. Venezia are proud of their image and even forego the possibility of a shirt sponsor for fashion reasons. Instead, the slogan Venezia is printed in gold on the shirts. The name of the city is enough advertising.
Marketing and modernization are not supposed to get in the way of charm and tradition that have defined the club. The new, global image of the club is, however, not liked by everyone. Some fans feel the club is too preoccupied with a global image and ignores the local fans.
Serie A: Venezia FC stadium to small – Renovation underway
The biggest problem, the criticism from within the club aside, is the stadium, which will be crucial if the club wants to survive in Serie A. According to the club, the Stadio Pierluigi Penzo is the second oldest in Italy and needs to be renovated. The facility can only be reached by foot or by boat and is covered in graffiti. The club is planning to build a new stadium for €185 million, 15km outside of Venice. The club, however, needs a solution for next season as the 7,426 are not enough to meet the minimum Serie A regulations, which demand 16,000 seats.
One alternative is the Stadio Nereo Rocco in Triest. But the club wants to avoid moving to another city, and at the moment, the Stadio Pierluigi Penzo is a 24/7 construction side. “Our goal is to finish the work in time,” the head of infrastructure, Andrea Cardinaletti, said to Tuttomeractoweb.
New floodlights aside, the stadium will also receive a new stand that will provide more room for fans. But the club’s number one focus is to maintain the original charm. “Our idea is that the day inside the stadium isn’t just a trip to Venice but an adventure that overs maximum in entertainment and passion.”