As if Fiorentina needed any more distractions approaching a game against Genoa that could well determine whether or not the Viola play in Serie A next year, multiple outlets (including the New York Times) have claimed that the club is on the verge of a sale that will be finalized on Monday. Should this widely-reported rumor prove true, it will ring down the curtain on the Della Valle era in its 17th year.
If the hype is to be believed, the new buyer is Italian-American businessman Rocco Commisso, who will purchase one of calcio’s most iconic sides for just $150 million, or less than half of the €300 million price the DVs had reportedly set. The optimist will see this as a cagey operator grabbing a top property in Italian football at a discount; the pessimist will see it as rats exiting a sinking ship.
The truth of the matter is probably somewhere in the middle, and only time will tell which of those two beliefs is closer to the truth. For now, though, we’re going to focus on Commisso and try to figure out who exactly he is and what sort of owner he would be. Since nobody here at VN offices knows him personally, let’s engage in some conjecture.
We’ll start with the basics. Commisso is a 69-year-old Italian-American. He was born in Marina di Gioiosa Ionica, a small town in Reggio Calabria, just north of the toe of the Italian boot. At the age of 12, he moved with his family to New York City and eventually graduated from Columbia University, earning a BA in industrial engineering and an MBA. He also captained the school’s soccer team and earned a tryout for the US Olympic team in 1972.
After college, he embarked on a lucrative career in business; Pfizer, JP Morgan Chase, the Royal Bank of Canada, and Cablevision are among his former employers. He eventually founded cable company Mediacom out of his basement in 1995 and took it public in 2000. He eventually bought back all the shares of his venture in 2011, the better to keep the estimated $1.9 billion annual profits under his control. He remains the president and CEO of Mediacom, which is the 5th-largest cable provider in the US despite its consistently abysmal ratings among customers.
Throughout his career, though, he’s maintained a serious interest in football. Until 2017, that interest was mostly confined to Columbia University, which named its soccer stadium after him in 2013, following his close involvement in the program over the previous 3+ decades. More notable, though, was his purchase of the New York Cosmos in 2017. The iconic American side, notable for employing the likes of Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, and Giorgio Chinaglia in the 1970s and 1980s before folding in 1985.
Despite a brief resurrection in the NASL from 2013-2017, the team now plays in the independent National Premier Soccer League, which is not exactly a world-class organization; several attempts to bring the outfit into the MLS have failed. The Cosmos’ official company line is that the NPSL will take off later this year as a rival to MLS, but it’s honestly pretty hard for anyone who’s even remotely informed about the American professional soccer scene to believe that.
He’s previously dipped his toe into Serie A too; he was supposedly in negotiations with Yonghong Li to buy AC Milan back in 2018, and claims that Pescara, Palermo, Catania, and Reggina have all approached him to buy their respective clubs in the past, although he’s obviously turned them all down.
For the Fiorentina fan, there are two pretty big stumbling blocks to stanning for Commisso all the way. The first is an issue of support: the media mogul went on record as recently as last year to describe himself as “a loyal fan of Juventus since my youth,” which won’t inspire much confidence in Tuscany. Indeed, Commisso talked of his interest in becoming a minority shareholder in the Bianconeri, ostensibly to help bankroll them, but insisted that he didn’t have any interest in running the club because he respected the Agnellis’ work too much; he compared his interest to Muammar Gaddafi’s in the the Juvenuts. So besides the obvious problem with his Juve infatuation, we can also worry about his choice to set up a parallel between himself and one of the most brutal dictators of the past 100 years, which is, uh, not great.
Secondly, there’s the issue of the team he already owns. The Cosmos aren’t exactly thriving out there; from what I can glean, they mostly play friendlies against local American sides, with the recent and notable exception of a clash with St. Pauli. They haven’t really played in a league since the NASL folded (sorry, “entered hiatus”) in 2017. It’s enough to make one wonder if Commisso’s purchase of the team name was purely a business decision and not really in the best interests of the organization. While he likely wouldn’t treat Fiorentina quite the same way, given the difference in global clout between the Viola and the Cosmos, his stewardship remains a bit of a question as well.
The fly in the ointment, of course, is relegation. Should the planets align and the Viola be sent down, there’s no telling what, if anything, about this purported deal would change. Given his claims to have turned down opportunities to buy numerous lower-level clubs, it’s hard to imagine he’d stay engaged if the Viola trickled down to Serie B, so a win, or at least a point, could wind up being crucial to the team’s sale.
For the fans, it’s really a question of the devil you know—that’s the fratelli Della Valle—or the devil you don’t. Rocco Commisso certainly has the assets to sink a lot of money into Fiorentina and return the club to its usual place amongst the Champions League chasers. We have no idea if he’s willing to make it happen, but at this point, it’s painfully obvious that something needs to change. There’s a non-zero possibility that Commisso could revitalize the Viola, and it’s hard to find a fan who would reject that, even if some of the baggage he carries seems a bit, well, iffy.