INSIDE STORY: Minnows Carpi FC and Frosinone preparing for Serie A

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Capri (l) and Frosinone (r) have grand plans in Serie A.

“Claudio Lotito is a great soothsayer,” said Frosinone owner Maurizio Stirpe in the hours after his club secured promotion to Serie A for the first time. “He saw it all coming.” The comment was a pointed response to the Lazio president’s claims that the wider football audience “don’t even know that Frosinone exist.” 

Thanks to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, a phone call to Pino Iodice – a director at the Lega Pro club Ischia Isolaverde – did become public knowledge, Lotito complaining at length that smaller clubs taking places in Italian football’s top flight would be bad for business. Rather than championing these underdog stories, the Lazio president instead expressed concerned that their presence would somehow affect his income.

The passionate Frosinone fans

If Frosinone’s second place finish in Serie B last term irked him however, that would be nothing compared to Carpi’s run to the league title. An even smaller club, the Emilia-Romagna minnows won the division at a canter, finishing nine points clear at the top of the table, and their response to Lotito – via a statement on the club’s official website – was even more forthright.

“Perhaps it’s true, as we read in the media, that some people don’t even know Carpi exists,” it read, “but, like it or not, we do!” The fact they continue to survive is something of a miracle in itself as, after being relegated to the fourth tier 15 years ago, they were declared bankrupt and forced to reform in the local amateur leagues. By 2002 they had earned promotion back to Serie D and merged with the city’s other club, Dorando Pietri Carpi, eventually working their way into the Lega Pro Prima Divisione ahead of the 2010-11 season. 

The club is owned by three people; Stefano Bonacini and Roberto Marani are successful entrepreneurs, while Claudio Caliumi created a locally-based womenswear brand after calling time on his modest playing career. “I’m proud and very happy,” club president Claudio Caliumi told Sport360. “I was born in Carpi and played for the club during the 1970s. I never thought we could achieve something like this.”

Situated around 20km north of Modena, the positive feelings created by the club have spread throughout the small town, one which has lived through its own difficulties recently. “Never forget that in 2012 we were struck by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake and all of us, 70,000 people together, have overcome it,” local mayor Alberto Bellelli told Il Giornale recently, adding that he agreed with the interviewer who described Carpi’s achievement as “a miracle” in a subsequent question.

That perception stems largely from a modest fanbase, with an average of just 3,020 attending games at their Stadio Sandro Cabassi home last term. Built in 1928 with a capacity of only 4,144, it has been declared unsuitable for Serie A use, forcing the club to relocate to Modena for the 2015/16 campaign. 

“The loss of atmosphere could affect us somewhat, but we hope our supporters will follow us there,” Caliumi said. “For the future, we are talking with the municipal council in Carpi to understand if we can find a way to come back soon.” 

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Their position as minnows is reinforced by the club’s most recent financial report – taken from the season that ended on June 30, 2013 – which recorded a turnover of €3.15 million (Dh12.7m). 

The playing squad which clinched the Serie B title was assembled at a combined total cost of just €1.82m (Dh7.3m), prompting co-owner Bonacini to describe them as “the Ryanair of football.” Much like the budget airline, Carpi have no intention of altering their frugal approach now they have secured their place in Italy’s top division.

“We are not changing too much,” Caliumi says. “Our philosophy will be the same, we simply cannot compete with the top clubs in terms of spending money.”

However, one investment the trio have made is appointing Sean Sogliano as the club’s sporting director. The former Torino and Napoli defender has built a solid reputation on the peninsula after time with Siena, Palermo and Hellas Verona, bringing the likes of Juan Manuel Iturbe and Luca Toni to Verona, and the 44-year-old has been busy preparing the Biancorossi for the forthcoming campaign. 

With very little top-flight experience in the squad, Sogliano has secured deals for Serbian international goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic of Udinese, Juventus midfielder Luca Marrone and Chelsea’s young Brazilian full-back Wallace. He is also reportedly working on bringing in a proven goal scorer, with Carpi linked to moves for Liverpool’s Fabio Borini and 2006 World Cup winner Alberto Gilardino, leaving Caliumi in little doubt to what Sogliani brings to the club.

“He’s our twelfth man, the right guy to keep our project going,” Caliumi said, while underlining the importance of “the experience, enthusiasm and winning mentality” coach Fabrizio Castori possesses. He also believes much can be learned from the example set by fellow minnows Sassuolo, who are heading into their third straight top flight campaign after a rise which mirrors that of local rivals Carpi.

“Every club has its own history and peculiarities,” Caliumi says. “Sassuolo is a model for us as there are some differences between us, but also some similarities such as climbing through the leagues thanks to a strong group of players.”

Unlike that duo, Frosinone’s own route to Serie A has been one of prolonged struggle, sitting between Rome and Naples with a trio of the division’s biggest clubs luring potential supporters away from the Gialloazzurri. Originally founded in 1912 as Union Sportive Frusante, they have undergone a number of name changes, ceasing to exist altogether when World War II broke out and, like Carpi, they were declared bankrupt in 1990.

Spending six of the last 10 seasons in Serie B, they have secured back-to-back promotions to reach the top flight, and Frosinone president Stirpe is fully aware of what his side have achieved. “I am very proud and conscious of having made a huge accomplishment,” he told Sport360. He was quick to praise the work done by his coach.

“Roberto Stellone brings enthusiasm and desire to win, together with a remarkable capacity for leadership,” Stirpe says of the man who guided the club’s under-19 side to the national title in 2012. That was his first coaching experience, the 38 year old having only retired from a playing career which saw him spend time with both Torino and Napoli just twelve months earlier, netting 30 goals in 90 appearances for Napoli.

The former striker spent the final two years of his career with Frosinone, and his impressive work in the youth sector saw him take charge of the first team immediately following that maiden triumph. In addition to their promising coach, the club will also benefit from being able to play at their 10,000 capacity Stadio Matusa, a compact ground which they have already started modernising.

Adding better facilities for visiting fans, media and creating a better experience for VIPs in the hospitality section, they will hope the Ultra of the Curva Nord maintain their passionate support in what is known to be an intimidating environment for opposition sides. Stirpe revealed that his club will be spending a further €2.5m (Dh10m) to “increase the capacity to 16,000, and we are working hard to complete that by July 2016.”

They are also making some headway into delivering a squad that can be somewhat competitive this year, with Stirpe admitting he has looked outside Italy for a route to achieving that aim. “It’s not easy to find a model to inspire us, and I think every club should find its own path,” he said. “But if I could cite an example, it would be that of Swansea in the Premier League.”

He also explained that the club’s plan going into the summer was to retain 15 of last year’s squad, supplementing that continuity with signings that would bring some much-needed Serie A experience.  They have acquired former Genoa full-back Aleandro Rosi, promising Juventus goalkeeper Nicola Leali, and Sassuolo’s Ghana international midfielder Raman Chibsah, one of just four foreign players at the club.

Known as I Canarini – the Canaries thanks to their bright yellow shirts – Frosinone have also secured a pair of talented strikers, acquiring Samuele Longo from Inter alongside Roma’s 19-year-old starlet Daniele Verde. Last season the average age of the squad was just 26.4 – a number bettered by Carpi’s own mark of 24.4 – and both clubs hope that giving opportunities to young Italian players represents their best chance of retaining their top flight status.

For both clubs, clashes against capital city clubs will be hotly contested and Stirpe made a surprising admission. “I am Roma’s supporter and when we go to play them at the Stadio Olimpico, it will be hugely emotional because I never could imagine that one day it would be possible,” he said. Caliumi added he “always supported Milan, but the stadium atmosphere I like most is the one in Rome.”

They will not have to wait long, with Carpi facing AS Roma in Week Six, while Frosinone make the short journey there to take on Lotito’s Lazio seven days later. Both clubs will hope that by then, Serie A’s biggest sides – and the Lazio president – will be fully aware of who they are.

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