Monza has never been in Serie A and almost reached a historic promotion last season…
Yet, it is one of the most iconic clubs of Italian football, a club with a great tradition and a fascinating history, which has gone through happy times and also extremely hard and difficult ones, like those of bankruptcies. Monza, in fact, has changed its name many times in recent years, the club has gone bankrupt and restarted from Serie D, but the sentiment behind this club has never changed, the passion of its fans has never been affected, nor the link with the city.
There were times when there was not even the money to pay for electricity, yet there were employees like Angelo Colombo, manager of grassroots, who still went to work to organize the work of the youth sector. We had the opportunity to speak with Angelo Colombo and with Vincenzo Iacopino, former player of Sampdoria and Monza (among the others) and today Supporter Liason Officer of the club. The company was sold to Fininvest Group a few years ago and the president is Paolo Berlusconi, brother of the historic president of Milan, Silvio, who was joined by Adriano Galliani, one of the most important managers in the history of Italian football, as evidenced by the Champions League and the Scudetti won when he worked at AC Milan.
Last season Monza came close to promotion to Serie A, missing the target only in the playoffs. A bitter, painful disappointment, but which at the same time means that it had been an excellent season and that the Lombard management has been doing a great job for several years now. Suffice it to say that in recent seasons the club has gone from Serie D to be one of the favorite teams for promotion to Serie A. Speaking with Angelo Colombo, manager of grassroots, we have somebody who is closest to the soul of the club (thirty years of career, twenty in Monza), the perfect symbol of the "Monza Model".
Just think of that 7 years ago he left Inter in Serie A to return to Monza, the club whose future he personally takes care of, working day by day with the club's youngsters, some being literally children, to teach them what Monza means, building in the present the foundations for a great future. After all, this club has produced many young people who later became great footballers, such as Matteo Pessina, European champion with Roberto Mancini's Italy and today starter in Gasperini's Atalanta. Colombo was particularly keen to underline this aspect. "Pessina is considered by everyone as a boy from the Atalanta youth sector, but he is from Monza". The human aspect, the character traits, the family: these are all fundamental aspects in the search for the talents of the future for Monza and for Angelo Colombo. We talked about this with him, but before moving on his words, let's see in detail the path of this club.
AC Monza in 2020
The team now owned by Berlusconi went bankrupt in 2004 and 2015 (with the playouts played with the team already technically bankrupt) and has always come back. The name has changed, the owners and managers have changed, so many players came through there, but Monza is much more than just a football team. The fans were very warm and viscerally linked to the club, always followed and never abandoned despite difficult and disastrous years, the idea of "Model Monza" which is the guiding star of Galliani's technical project, Colombo, Stroppa himself, who from time to time stops at the training centre to follow the children's training to keep up to date, to rediscover that ferocious desire to play football, that happiness, that light-heartedness that is often lacking in professional footballers.
Monza is a football club that seeks the man even before the player. Colombo tells TribalFootball.com: "Often there are very strong young people who have difficult families who lack humility. We always prefer the kid with a more serious and humble family, who will probably give the boy less problems."
Talking with Colombo about Monza feels like talking to a person who talks about the great love of his life and this feeling is predominant throughout the club. Just think of Galliani, a manager who in the world of football has won everything that is possible to win, but who has returned to where he started, at his home. Galliani is from Monza, from 1984 to 1986 he held the role of vice president of Monza, the club where today he returned to bring experience, knowledge, skills and vision, without ever forgetting the soul of the club. Angelo Colombo is one of the men with more experience in Monza, he is almost a one-club man from the point of view of the years spent working in Monzello, which is why we asked him for his opinion on the evolution of the club in recent years: "I have seen Monza in all its phases, Giambelli's Monza, which built the Monzello sports center, while before there was only Milanello. He had an extraordinary vision, he anticipated everyone of thirty years, he saw things before others. We played play-offs with him, he built the Brianteo stadium (still the stadium where the club plays, with a capacity of almost 19,000 seats), he was light years ahead."
The Fininvest group arrived a few years ago, with Silvio and Paolo Berlusconi, it is reasonable to think that things changed quickly at Monza, given the presence of such a rich group and such an experienced and successful management, led by Adriano Galliani.
"This property has a unique experience, for years, continuity and success, they try to bring their experience and the goal now is to bring Monza to Serie A, but they try to transfer this mentality to every level of the club," Colombo reveals. "I hear from the director Galliani every week, he knows very well that the basic activity is working well, he tells me sometimes and I am pleased, he is an observant and present person. He knows everything that happens, he asks me several times about the children born in 2012, he asks about everything, he knows all the best players in each category." Now the priority is to bring the First Team to Serie A. "It is not easy to win Serie B, but his experience will bring us this too, I'm sure."
Monza chairman Angelo Galliani
Monza fans know this very well, but it is impossible not to note the progress made by this club over the last 7-8 years. We are talking about a club that went bankrupt in 2015 and that in 2017 had already obtained promotion to Lega Pro, thus returning to professional football. The team restarted from Serie D, obtaining a tenth place in the first year and first place in the second. In the third year of Serie C, another promotion has arrived, in Serie B, after a fourth and a fifth place, thanks to the work of Mr. Brocchi, who last year even grazed direct promotion to Serie A, a feat unseen in many clubs and which Monza has seen fade only in the playoffs, in the semifinals against the Cittadella. Vincenzo Iacopino also spoke to us about the new management, since he has been in Monza for many years too and for this reason he has seen executives and presidents pass by.
"With this new ownership I can learn a lot," Iacopino said. "These managers have an incredible experience, I am very happy to be able to learn, every day I can learn something new because I work with actual masters. Close to Galliani I can learn how to move in this world, I'm happy and determined to make the most of this opportunity."
To understand a little better how Monza is changing in recent years, we asked Angelo Colombo about the impact generated by the arrival of Galliani, how things are changing.
"Galliani makes the difference every day, as soon as he can he comes to Monzello, he gets information on everything, he even knows the names of all the best young people in the various categories, he also does everything he can to help me with the families. The club has a very long-term vision, he can't wait to see our young players make their debut in Serie A, or in the First Team. Monza works to build an identity."
Berlusconi and Galliani have only been at Monza for a few years, and Colombo also revealed what he said to Galliani in their first meeting: "I asked Galliani not to change Monza and not to transform this club into a copy of Milan. He has worked here for many years, Braida, Marotta have also passed here… we must remain with this humility here, this is our value. If we think we are unbeatable, we lose these values and we lose ourselves."
Monza fans against Cremonese in August
It really feels like speaking to the soul of the club, a man who loves his job and his team, who gets excited as he tells us the story of the team he loves, who speaks of the kids of the club like they are a part of his family.
"Clubs are built from the foundations, from grassroots football," he says. "If we could convey my daily commitment to everyone, even to the families I'm speaking to these evenings…I want to help families understand that the time their children spend here will hopefully be remembered as their most important hours. It does not mean winning trophies. The difficult thing is to put this love for the club on the pitch, the honor of working for Monza, I talk about it with my coaches, we want to transfer this feeling to the field. There are no work shifts, we leave Monzello when we have done everything we could."
This feeling, this philosophy, is exactly the heart of the Monza model, a club that has been reborn from its ashes many times, which continues to cherish the dream of arriving in Serie A and permanently becoming a club in that category. Failures have never extinguished the love of the fans, on the contrary, the fans have never left the team alone and a banner of the ultras a few years ago reminded them: "Galliani, welcome back to Monza, but don't forget who has always been there." The relationship with the fans is dealt with by Vincenzo Iacopino, former Monza player, former captain and among the players with the highest number of goals scored with that shirt, who explained his role to us: "I am the link between the club and the supporters, all the boys of the stands. Let's say that I am the link between them and the club, I maintain the relationship, but I'm always talking to police headquarters too, in order to organize the away matches or the arrival of the visiting fans. Unfortunately, due to Covid there was a year off, the stadiums have been empty and the whole system suffered for that, the whole atmosphere, the scenery…"
Not only state-of-the-art facilities in Monzello, sustained and constant investments to strengthen the team and to continue pursuing the dream of promotion, a goal that, continuing to work in this way, will soon become a reality, but also a manager, who is also an important player for the colors and the history of the club, dealing with the relationship between the club and his fans.
Iacopino with the Monza shirt scored 40 goals in 156 games, really impressive numbers for a playmaker. It is no coincidence that he is still loved by fans and that he has been entrusted with such an important role. Iacopino told us what this role means to him: "I am very attached to this club, to this city, I am proud to have been a player, captain and to have been among the club's top scorers. It is really a pride for me."
We let Colombo tell us what Monza was, what it is and what it wants to become, but it is also important to understand why this figure is so important for Monza and why he can talk to us in such detail about this club. What does it mean to be a grassroots manager?
"Being the director of the basic activity means being a small manager," Colombo explains. "You have to take care of the organisation, where the choice of personnel is fundamental, if you make the wrong choice with the instructor your ambitious project falls within a few months. I want to transmit the culture of work, the philosophy of the club to every kid. The working method is the same for all the categories. Human relationships are fundamental, nowadays you have to share ideas and not impose them. There is no tactical scheme of reference, but there is a common model at all levels, because each category must be at the same level. A common model of approach to work, which we define as the Monza Model."
From a practical point of view, however, how is this model built and what does it mean for daily work in the field? Colombo tells us what Stroppa said about it.
"As Stroppa says, we have to raise the level of individuals, because individuals raise the level of the team," Colombo says. "The individual is fundamental for us, the stronger your individuals are the better, but we are not talking about technical quality, we are talking about mentality, character traits, attitude…you can build technique, character either you have it or you don't. The family is a fundamental component for the growth of these children. To raise the level of Italian football we need to take care of the basic activity environment, it is the most important thing."
However, daily work is not enough. There are Serie A clubs that do not invest in the youth sector, but who rely on signings, using the market as a shortcut to reach the best talents in national football, and Colombo says Monza believe in advancing their youth.
"Monza has not yet managed to give continuity to the boys, but we have the culture of youth football, we believe in it," Colombo says. "Many young people who played here at the age of 7 then went to other clubs, such as Milan or Atalanta. You have to see who took these children at 7, reading something different in their eyes. Monza, Empoli, Padova, these are the clubs that work well from this point of view."
This avant-garde work, which makes one think more of Dutch than Italian football, also has a fan in the coach of the club's first team, Giovanni Stroppa.
"The coach always tells me that the football that my boys and I play is still healthy football. He stops by to see my kids training, he says that he constantly learns the rhythms of the game, the pure instinct in football, the intelligence of the game. Stroppa always tells me that the best football is the one we play, an individual football, meaning that the qualities of the individual are made available to the team," says Colombo.
Now that we have talked about the club, let's analyse the company's vision for the future and how it works every day to build a tomorrow full of joys and satisfactions for the Monza fans. We asked Colombo to tell us about his best moments in this club, in all these years of work: "The best memories are not linked with victories or anything like that. I do the best job and I think about it every morning when I wake up, because I can work with the boys. I live my best moment every time I see a kid of mine who manages to fulfill his dreams, who manages to be a footballer and still has his family behind him…it's the best thing. When you meet these guys and they say 'mister, do you remember that day...' talking about an important moment in their life. It means that I'm teaching something to these guys. I am meeting the families these days, they must know that these are the best moments for these kids, the formation years. Another beautiful moment: in the pre- bankruptcy years I went to the office with my coat, because there was no heating since they had disconnected the power but we still had to prepare for the weekend match. These are memories that make me think I'm doing the best job in the world. Being part of the paths of these kids who make their dreams come true."
The Monza Model is a reality, they are not just empty words, but it is a central concept for the owners and for the management.
"Galliani and the owners appreciate all this," Colombo says. "The level is growing and the work will pay off, this philosophy and this long-term vision will bring results. If I bring a child to Monza it's because I look him in the eyes and I think 'man, this kid in 3 years could play at a competitive level'. I always ask my guys to take a step forward, little by little the goal is to bring complete boys to a professional level."
Mario Balotelli played with Monza last season
We asked Colombo if he could also find this vision in the first team market: "Yes, I'm talking about it with Stroppa, he shares this philosophy, this model. He also looks at the children to bring something new to the First Team, when he sees the children playing and trying tricks that the pros can't do. This is a very nice thing. Italian football must think of a football capable of sustaining itself, it would take an obligation to have four or five youth sector players play in the First Team, so that you could see who actually works with young people. It would be nice already in Lega Pro, at least there. The standings in Serie A would be very different…". Words that excite, especially because they come from the manager of an Italian football club, a type of football focused on money and not on skills, with many clubs in debt and in great financial difficulty, even top teams such as Inter or Juventus. The fact that Monza wants to pursue success by following alternative routes can only make football lovers happy.
One last anecdote, another piece of history of this club that helps us understand the greatness and strength of the team, who believes in youth football, who believes in the future and who works every day to make the dreams of all fans come true. Colombo told us about the situation in which he returned to work out of pure love, a few years ago: "After the bankruptcy we had to completely rebuild the youth sector. 100 Primavera players moved to other teams. At one point we had 4 young people in the youth sector, only 4. I'm talking about 7-8 years ago. We had to rebuild everything, the technical structure, following methodological principles, building a scouting sector. Former president Nicola Colombo called me back and even though I was working at Inter, I came home. You return to Monza even in Serie D."
A heartfelt choice, which represents in the best way what the Monza Model is. This club has not changed due to the arrival of a wealthy and highly experienced property, on the contrary, the new managers have put their knowledge and experience at the club's disposal, with the result of having built a company and an organization already of the level necessary to stay in Serie A, waiting for the results and for the promotion.
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