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  • Writer's pictureSimon Basten

Goodbye Mr. President

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Gian Marco Calleri, Lazio president from 1986 to 1992, passed away on March 8, 2023.

Paul Gascoigne (left) with Gian Marco Calleri (right). Official SS Lazio Photo

We owe a lot to Gian Marco Calleri. Without him there would probably be no Lazio, there would certainly be no Formello training ground, and none of the Lazio we so adore today. He rescued Lazio at the gates of hell and took them to safety and laid the foundations of the modern club.

Born in Busalla near Genoa on January 10, 1942, Calleri, before becoming an entrepreneur, was a promising centre forward. He played in the youth team of G.S. Bacigalupo then moved to Novara (1958-1960) in Serie B and later for Monza. In November 1962 he signed for Lazio and played in the reserves team. He did not make the A team but he did play a few friendlies and actually scored a goal for Lazio on March 27, 1963 in a match against the Inter B side. News about his football career from then onwards ends here.

In 1975 he starred in a film, but his acting career was brief. In 1983, together with his brother Giorgio, he bought Alessandria and was President until 1985.

In 1986, the Calleris and entrepreneur Renato Bocchi purchased Lazio and Gian Marco Calleri became President.

The events leading to the Presidency

The story is a long one. After Giorgio Chinaglia became President in 1983, he realised that there was a 13 billion lire debt (approximately 6.5 million euros). Not having any money and with no possibility of acquiring US partners from a world that had seen US Soccer fail and go bust, his plan was to play it safe in the first year and then sell Bruno Giordano and Lionello Manfredonia in his second to eliminate the debt and start building the club. The plan failed and the two Lazio golden boys stayed. This, plus some disastrous decisions by Chinaglia (the return of manager Juan Carlos Lorenzo for example) contributed to Lazio’s relegation to Serie B. Giorgio was however optimistic that new US partners could provide the necessary capital to solve Lazio’s financial problems, but no money came in and he was forced to sell to Franco Chimenti and his group on December 2 1985, with Lazio on the verge of bankruptcy.

Chimenti did not have the money to continue and looked for partners. In came the Calleri brothers. The duo owned a number of companies including Mondiapol, an Italian security firm, and had had an experience with the ownership of Alessandria.

Lazio were safe at least financially. Meanwhile the team, which was favourite to go back into Serie A, had enormous problems and started to fall behind, at one point even risking going down into Serie C. After a defeat against Cagliari in March 1986, Chimenti got manager Gigi Simoni to sign a new contract, without asking the Calleri brothers, who, angry because this was a decision which had to be made by all the owners together, decided to leave Lazio and wanted their money back.

The frantic search for partners was dramatic but farcical. Every Tom, Dick and Harry with 10 euros in the bank looking for five-minutes of notoriety turned up in Chimenti’s office.

Chimenti gave up and Lazio were technically bankrupt. The Calleri brothers at this point stepped in again and bought out Chimenti, but they needed a partner since the financial situation was terrible. In came Renato Bocchi, Roman entrepreneur, who bought 51% of the shares with 49 % remaining with the brothers. Financially safe, Lazio also avoided relegation.

Everything was OK now. The new owners could start to take Lazio back to where they belonged, Serie A. However another dark cloud appeared.

The -9 Season

On May 2, 1986, Armando Carbone, right hand man of Italo Allodi was arrested. Allodi was a well-known figure in Italian football and worked for a number of clubs, including Juventus and Inter. In 1986 he was working for Napoli. Carbone told the magistrates that there was a match fixing association with clubs at all levels involved. Numerous clubs were investigated: Bari, Napoli and Udinese in Serie A, many more in Serie B and C. Plus Lazio.

Why was Lazio involved? Carbone was a good friend of Claudio Vinazzani, a Lazio player. Vinazzani had played for Napoli for seven years before joining Lazio in 1983. He did like to bet but never on matches where he played.

In Italy one could not legally bet on the result of a single game or on the scores of multiple games. There was just the Totocalcio where one had to guess the result of 13 games. There was however an illegal betting system called Totonero run by illegal bookmakers similar to how legal bets were organised in the UK. Lazio had already been involved in the 1980 scandal and, despite a total lack of proof or wrongdoing by the club itself, since four players had been involved, Lazio were relegated to Serie B.

If there was basically nothing in 1980, in this case there was even less. There was a telephone conversation between Carbone and Vinazzani where the former asked whether the Lazio player was interested in “buying” a Lazio win against Palermo. Vinazzani’s answer was vague and nothing happened. The vagueness in the response was an indication of Lazio’s guilt, according to the prosecution. For this Lazio were sentenced to relegation to Serie C on August 5.

A difficult summer for the Lazio fans, but a very difficult summer for the new owners, Calleri and Bocchi. “If Lazio go down to Serie C, what are we going to do?” they must have asked themselves. It would have been the end of Lazio; the new owners would probably have backed out. Lazio fans mobilised, there were demonstrations and protests. It was simply not possible to relegate Lazio for nothing.

The appeal started on August 21 with many Lazio fans outside the Hilton hotel in Rome waiting to see what would happen. Carboni should have testified but the court refused to have him present. The decision to be made therefore had to be based on the material provided in the first court case. Hence, the written declaration from Carboni saying that Lazio had nothing to do with the match fixing and that he never fixed a match for the Biancocelesti could not be used.

On August 27, Lazio had to play Napoli at the Olimpico for the Coppa Italia. Minutes before the match, the Italian State Television, RAI, announced that the sentence had been confirmed. An over zealous member of the court had leaked the news. This ultimately saved Lazio. The court could not confirm the previous sentence otherwise it would have lost face. In the end Lazio stayed in Serie B but with a docking of nine points. This was a very heavy burden with only two points for a victory, but it at least meant that the new owners could continue.

Lazio did so well at the beginning that by early 1987 they were closer to promotion than relegation. Then the stress took its toll and the team physically and mentally collapsed. Before the last game of the season, Lazio were second from bottom on 31 points together with Taranto, on 32 there were Campobasso, Vicenza, Sambenedettese and Catania, with Modena on 33. With Cagliari already relegated, there were three places left. The last game was Lazio-Vicenza on June 21.

Official SS Lazio photo

In Giuliano Fiorini’s words: “We went onto the pitch for a brief walk two hours before the game. What we saw was incredible. Two hours before the match, the stadium was completely full”. A packed stadium. All the love and support the team could get. But with seven minutes to go, it was still 0-0. Gabriele Podavini got the ball and shot. It was more of a desperate attempt than an actual goal possibility. He miskicked it but the ball reached Fiorini who turned on himself and scored. People driving on the nearby Tangenziale at the time of the goal felt the bridge tremble like in an earthquake. More than 50 spectators felt ill at the stadium and some had to be taken to hospital. There were tears, lots of tears.

Final verdict: Lazio, Campobasso and Taranto needed a playoff to determine who would join Cagliari, Catania and Vicenza in Serie C.

In Naples on June 27 Lazio played their first game against Taranto and lost due to a goal in blatant offside. Then Taranto and Campobasso drew 1-1 on July 1. This meant that Lazio had to beat Campobasso to stay in Serie B. They did thanks to a Fabio Poli goal. More tears but it was finally over. The new ownership could now go back to work in normal circumstances.

A baptism of fire for the new President.

Return to Serie A and consolidation

Having escaped possible relegation, Calleri’s first decisions for the 1987-88 were to sell Fiorini and Poli plus -9 heroes Podavini, goalkeeper Giuliano Terraneo and Daniele Filisetti. This would become a typical Calleri move, that is, to get rid of fan favourites. But the new players had an excellent pedigree. SIlvano Martina and Paolo Beruatto had had a good career at Torino, Paolo Monelli with Fiorentina and Giuseppe Galderisi had won three scudetti with Juventus and Verona and had even played for Italy. Lazio were able to secure promotion to Serie A after three years, not without difficulty, thanks also to Monelli’s goals.

For his first year in Serie A in the 1988-89 season three South American players were signed, relatively unknown (pre-internet days) defender Nelson Gutierrez (River Plate) and Abel Dezotti (Newell's Old Boys) plus better known, promising forward Ruben Sosa (Real Zaragoza), plus good solid players Claudio Sclosa and Andrea Icardi. But Monelli was sold. In July 1987 Calleri had a fall out with manager Eugenio Fascetti and sacked him. He replaced him with Giuseppe Materazzi. Lazio were not exceptional, had a few problems during the year but managed to stay in Serie A which was the main objective.

In the summer of 1989 a few more -9 players went and in came Pedro Troglio and Amarildo. Another little step in improving the team. Lazio finished not far off a UEFA Cup qualification and the club actually made a profit, probably for the first time in their history. Bocchi slowly reduced his share in Lazio and the Calleri brothers become majority owners.

In 1990 Calleri chose legend Dino Zoff as manager and Lazio gained international recognition and visibility. Furthermore, Karl-Heinz Riedle was signed and the Biancocelesti now had an interesting attacking duo. Somebody had to go in order to balance things from a financial point of view and Lazio said goodbye to Paolo Di Canio. However, Lazio failed to qualify for Europe and were disappointing. A further step forward was needed.

Gazza and sale

In the summer of 1991 Lazio bought Paul Gascoigne. A massive deal for Dino Zoff’s side, but unfortunately Gazza’s dangerous tackle in his final match for Tottenham caused a very serious injury to the English player that would keep him out of the game for over a year. In his place Calleri signed Thomas Doll. In 1991 Lazio bought the plot of land for its new training ground near Formello. Unfortunately, Calleri’s brother Giorgio died on February 7 1991. He was the financial brains of the duo and behind the economic security of the club.

Lazio continued to miss out on the European Cup qualification, but the accounts were OK and the club was financially solid. This attracted the interest of Rome entrepreneur Sergio Cragnotti who bought Lazio and became President on March 12, 1992.


Calleri though never left the world of football. In 1994 he purchased Torino and was president until 1997 when the club ended up in Serie B. He would try again with another club in 1998 in the Swiss League, Bellinzona. He sold it in 2001. In 2003 he tried to purchase Genoa and Lazio again a year later but failed. At that point he retired.

He may not have been the greatest president of all time, but he was just what Lazio needed at exactly the right time. Calleri cleaned the Lazio shop, gave it economic stability, attracted interest and invested in great players. He was not a tycoon, but he was a good manager.

We must never forget that if we are still supporting the team, going to the stadium, watching the games on TV, it is thanks to Calleri.

Goodbye Mr. President. And grazie for everything.


Vincenzo Cerracchio. Controstoria della Lazio. Historica Edizioni, 2016


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