LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Monza race to restore the Berlusconi brand

Home of Grand Prix now a Serie A city for the first time

Barnaby Gard takes a spin around Berlusconis new U-Power Stadium in Monza

Few owners get a second chance in football. Then again, there are few owners quite like Silvio Berlusconi and Andrea Galliani. Their high-profile 30-year spell in charge of AC Milan transformed the Italian game forever.

The golden age of Berlusconi ended with Milan’s last Champions League win of 2007. By the time he sold the club a decade later, he was deeply mired in political scandal and legal strife.

Aged 85 and 77 respectively, the pair then did a surprising U-turn in Monza, underachievers not only overshadowed by many teams in Lombardy but by a different sport altogether, Formula 1.

U-Power Stadium/Alan Deamer

In 2018, the most successful ownership in Italian football history acquired a club which then held the record for the most seasons in second-tier Serie B without promotion.

But, after 40 unsuccessful campaigns dating back to 1951-52, this May the Biancorossi overcame Pisa in a heart-stopping play-off in the shadow of the Leaning Tower. It took seven goals, a last-gasp equaliser, extra-time and untold drama, but Monza had at last reached Serie A.

For Berlusconi, Monza allows the four-time PM, still an MEP, to revive his profile just as Italy has taken a huge swing to the right. This is a man whose experience solidifies a belief that football, politics and power are all intertwined.

For locally born Galliani, it’s personal. His second chance stems not from trying to repeat success, but to correct failure. As he himself says, “I was at Monza for ten years. And then I went on loan to Milan for 31″.

U-Power Stadium/Alan Deamer

Consigliere to charm-driven commander Berlusconi at Milan, Galliani is now re-united with the hometown club that gave him his first route into a lucrative career in football. Galliani had watched from the stands as vice-chairman when Biancorossi lost 2-0 to Pescara, squandering the chance to break free of Serie B in a 1979 promotional play-offs.

This time round, the pair soon made their intentions clear by renovating Monza’s functional Stadio Brianteo. An investment of €5 million, later €9 million, has improved the infrastructure. A pitch-side advertising system with LED screens was installed to increase visibility of sponsors. One is Japanese video game manufacturer Konami in a deal that would be hard to imagine without Berlusconi’s pull.

In September 2020, it became the U-Power Stadium. Monza had just gained promotion out of Serie C, with one clear goal: Serie A. Big-name signings followed. Former bad boys of Milan Mario Balotelli and Kevin-Prince Boateng came and underdelivered.

U-Power Stadium/Rudi Jansen

Next season saw a change in transfer tactics and management. Former Milan midfielder Cristian Brocchi was out and seasoned lower-league manager Giovanni Stroppa was in. Boateng and Balotelli continued their football elsewhere and in their place came a squad built on humility and stability, made up of veteran strikers, unsung players on an upward trajectory and those spat out by Italy’s giants of football.

A fourth-placed finish in 2022 meant the dreaded raffle of Serie B play-offs. Their opponents Pisa, owned by UK billionaire Alexander Knaster, had been the only Serie B club to outspend Monza in the previous two windows.

The two-leg battle of the Serie B billionaires commenced with 2-1 home win for Monza, a late consolation for Pisa giving the Nerazzurri the momentum they needed to take an early 2-0 lead in the decider. Amid laughable defensive errors and thunderous shots against the woodwork, Monza pulled two back but fell to a 90th-minute strike to send the tie into extra-time.

U-Power Stadium/Alan Deamer

Journeyman centre-back Luca Marrone was then given the freedom of the penalty box to thump in a vital header. Monza’s aggregate lead was doubled by Danish international Christian Gytkjaer, who pounced onto a dreadful back pass to slot the ball home and send the Biancorossi into Serie A.

More than four decades after that play-off loss to Pescara, Galliani looked on as Monza fans swarmed the pitch – and began to plan out his strategy for survival.

With Monza losing their first five games straight, the bald supremo quickly brought in ex-Italian international Raffaele Palladino as head coach. A solitary Gytkjaer goal at the U-Power Stadium duly saw off Juventus, the shock win followed by a 3-0 mauling of Sampdoria. On October 22, Monza face…  AC Milan at the San Siro.