Saturday Apr 10, 2021  
  26/06/2014: LazioLand Legends: Sergio Cragnotti
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A date with destiny, Sergio Cragnotti was born on 9th January 1940, sharing the same birthday as the club he would one day lead. Sergio grew up in war-torn Italy and surprisingly did not excel at school, preferring cross country running.

After graduating, Sergio took an opportunity to move to Brazil in 1969 and worked in a cement factory in Sao Paulo. It was here that Cragnotti first caught the eye of Italian business tycoon Serafino Ferruzzi. Sergio was enjoying success and getting a name for himself in the finance world and after 12 years in Brazil he was requested by Ferruzzi's companion, Raul Gardini to move to Paris. There he worked at a branch of sugar mills and under the guidance of Gardini, rose to company CEO in 1988. One esteemed colleague once described Cragnotti as "able to sell refrigerators to eskimos".

His Lazio adventure began when he was introduced to then Lazio president Gianmarco Calleri. After a long spell of negotiations, Cragnotti took control of Lazio in 1992 and pledged from day one that he wished to "bring the Scudetto to Lazio". He wasn't without his controversies however. The man who helped him to reach these heights, Raul Gardini was deeply implicated in Italy's anti-corruption inquiry and he committed suicide in 1993. Sergio was arrested, but avoided a jail sentence.

Having a desire to make Lazio a leading team in European football clouded Cragnotti's judgement and he started to spend heavily, bringing in players such as Paul Gascoigne, Giuseppe Signori and Thomas Doll. Sergio also continued to climb personally during this period gaining an 80% share in Cirio, one of Italy's leading food manufacturers. No one knew at the time how deep an impact this would have on Lazio's future.

Lazio began to enjoy success on the field and played entertaining football under Zdenek Zeman, finishing second in 1995. Cragnotti used his financial knowledge and put Lazio on the stock exchange making them the first Italian club to do so. However, it was his company Cirio that had a 51% controlling share of the club.

Lazio's success continued with a Coppa Italia win in 1998, but so did the spending. Player transfer sums were on the up as Cragnotti was splashing out on the likes of Marcelo Salas, Cristian Vieri and Juan Veron. The following season saw Lazio lose out on the Scudetto on the final day of the season to A.C. Milan, however they tasted European success winning the last ever Cup Winners Cup with a 2-1 victory over Real Mallorca. To build on that success came another summer of big spending. It did the trick as Lazio won their first Scudetto since 1974, and over the next 2 years won another Coppa Italia, two Italian Supercups and a European Supercup.

The bubble was about to burst. Cragnotti's company Cirio, who had a 51% share in Lazio, declared default on its bonds, owing money to many Italian companies. This was it for the Lazio that many had come to know and players were being sold to generate cash, often against their will. Hernan Crespo, Pavel Nedved and Rome-born Alessandro Nesta were the biggest names to depart.

Cragnotti gave up control of Lazio in 2002, leaving it with caretaker management and was arrested on 11 February 2004 alongside his son in law for fraud relating to the bankruptcy of Cirio. He left behind an incredible legacy, bringing about unprecedented levels of success at Lazio, which has seen him acquire legend status as time enhances his reputation. Not only are his achievements remembered fondly, but also his character; the man who created his own wine (Corte alla Flora) and named his dog in honour of one of his employees ("Bobo" after Christian Vieri).

Author: Giannino Capaldi
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