The trolley is in the Simonetti Room, that of the daily calls. Mr Philip Raymond Platek jr flew on a New York-Milan, now a regular customer, and then by car to the city. He hasn’t even passed the hotel, before the appointment at the office. The size of the competition, the nationality of the owners, the transfer market and the dreams of the fans take Spezia far away. The first American president in the history of the club will take him home. It is shortening the distance one intercontinental journey at a time. “I travel a lot more than before. But it doesn’t matter to me. In Italy, in particular in La Spezia and its surroundings, they were all very welcoming and very supportive from the very beginning “. Thus begins the first interview as a football entrepreneur.
Platek entered on tiptoe, more deeds than words in the first nine months as owners of a Serie A club. This is not always the case in football. Few proclamations, many projects. They drew the furrow and sowed the seeds, in the offices as well as in the locker room. They cultivate the collective. They are still the Polish-born family from the Bronx, whose children have arrived in Manhattan. “I grew up in New York, in a neighborhood with a large Italian majority. Most of my friends were of Italian origin, first or second generation, mainly from the South. My paternal grandparents were born in Poland and my maternal grandparents in Croatia. I was the only one in my class with blue eyes and no name ending in a vowel! I can say that it was not a great culture shock for me to come here ”.
There is imprinting there, there is a way of being that at one point went into assonance with a small football club thousands of kilometers away. Lo Spezia, the underdog with the credentials they had been looking for for months. Thus was born a story just beginning. At the base of a business idea that perhaps for Italians, who separate pleasure from duty, is difficult to understand. The accounts must return, but the company is also an adventure. It is a challenge. And starting from the bottom amplifies the emotions. “I have been thinking about enrolling in the Maratona dles Dolomites, since I am an amateur cyclist. It is a climb of about sixty kilometers. In 2020 they canceled it, perhaps this is the good year “.
Mr Platek, you probably had the financial strength to invest in any European club. Not only in Italy. Yet your choice fell on Serie A.
“My brother Robert and I have long been thinking about the next step in the world of sport. We had already acquired the Casa Pia in Portugal and the SonderjyskE in Denmark, we were looking around to understand where we would like to go. We said to ourselves that Italian football could really be at the beginning of a renaissance period. It was the best football of the world for many years, then losing the supremacy physiologically. Of course today the Premier League is at the top. But we put ourselves in the shoes of the average person who doesn’t follow football and we said to ourselves: how many teams will they be able to name? In Spain: Real Madrid, Barcelona and probably Atletico Madrid. In Germany we say Bayern and Dortmund. In France one, PSG. But in Italy i brand there are many more internationals: Milan, Inter, Juventus… it’s not difficult to get to five or six. In short, there is great potential, even more than Spain where, for us, they have already experienced the peak with the Messi-Ronaldo dualism “.
Do you think that the other American properties that have landed in Italian football – Milan, Rome, Fiorentina, Bologna, Venice, Genoa… – have made the same kind of reasoning?
“We didn’t follow a trend or anything like that. Our decision was based on the principles I explained earlier. And then the style of play. In many matches, football in Italy is already more today entertaining than that of the Premier League. Finally, there is a basic interest that goes beyond the borders of Europe. To give an example: in no American sports news have I ever seen mention of the fact that Euro 2020 was being played this summer. But after Italy’s victory, the images of Italian fans celebrating in the city squares also passed through the general news. This also makes me think that there is a huge possibility of expanding the Serie A brand in the United States and in many other parts of the world ”.
The question that many have asked themselves, even in other cities and perhaps with a hint of envy, is why the Spezia Calcio?
“We looked at several clubs that were for sale. We were initially interested in a couple of Serie B clubs, then we thought of a first Serie A club. But digging deeply, we realized that there were no conditions to invest. Finally they told us that Gabriele Volpi wanted to sell Spezia Calcio. So we started following this newly promoted team, which everyone already gave for relegation without even starting the championship. We got an idea of this part of Italy and it seemed very interesting. I don’t know if you have any idea how much the whole area of Cinque Terre and Portofino is experiencing a period of great fame in the United States. We immediately liked La Spezia for being the gateway to the Cinque Terre, but also because it is a lively, vibrant city, the streets full of people. There was a lot of energy. When we reached salvation, we had proof of it ”.
And the management of the football club? What situation did you face and why did you find it attractive?
“From a financial point of view, the situation was quite solid. The accounts were clean, there were no onerous and lengthy contracts to inherit. In short, there was everything we wanted. We knew that the team could also be relegated, we had taken that into account. We closed for the purchase of the club on Wednesday and Saturday the calendar brings Milan to the Peak. It was the fantastic 2-0 game we saw from the United States. From then on it was a crescendo until salvation ”.
Instead, his first live match was Spezia-Cagliari on the following 20 March, which ended 2-1. She was the first family representative to arrive in town for one of the key challenges of the whole season. Do you know that there are fans who have waited forty years to see something like this and it took you a month or so?
“Maybe it was karma (ride, ed). I remember the period very well: we were in the middle of the pandemic and all the restaurants were closed. I was commuting between the hotel and the club headquarters, having lunch in the office. We had to do a tampon every two days. Today a lot has changed and we are going in the direction that everyone was hoping for ”.
It takes a certain amount of courage to decide to invest in the year of the pandemic, with the stadiums closed and all that goes with it. It was inevitable to make a loss on the balance sheet (– € 16.9 million at 30 June 2021, ed), as happened for Spezia and the rest of the European clubs.
“On the other hand, this period of upheaval has also created new opportunities. We were aware we would have to face losses, we took this into account during the negotiation to take over the company “.
Among your programs, what the square awaits with great expectations is certainly the expansion of the Picco stadium. We have already seen the first results with the Curva Piscina. When will you present the project for the grandstand?
“We’re working on it. All the actors involved in the realization of the Curva Piscina described what they did this summer as a miracle. Starting with the leaders of the Serie A league who had to evaluate the goodness of the realization. In this regard, I would like to thank the city institutions, the supervisory commission and the professionals involved in the work, from architects to workers. As for the rest of the stadium, it is an ongoing project. It is no secret that I recently made a visit to the president of the Liguria Region. We are also interfacing with them, as well as with designers and local authorities. We want to create something that is the optimal solution for everyone, starting with the fans and the city. I guarantee it is at the top of our list of thoughts every day ”.
You immediately presented yourself as a family, unlike other foreign properties that have chosen a less personal profile.
“Robert and I are very close. We grew up with four other brothers and sisters. We talk about La Spezia every day. We are trying to re-propose the same spirit in the organization of the company. We want a team on the field, but we also want one on the ground. The communication area, the administrative area, the sports area that belongs to Riccardo Pecini and then the commercial and marketing area that we are particularly strengthening. There is a family atmosphere that we would always like to maintain. As for us, I was expected to have a more operational role ”.
His image while celebrating last May with a Birra Moretti in hand, after the salvation obtained against Turin, has become viral among the fans. Let’s just say it’s not exactly the kind of drink that many expected one would uncork tycoon.
“They ran out of wine (ride, ed)! We are pretty easy going people, I think anyone inside La Spezia can testify to it. I know all the employees of the organization personally, I try to be close to the players when I can. I recently had a talk with the doctors after the episode involving Sher, I am constantly updated on Leo Sena’s condition. Training them is up to Thiago Motta alone, but for my part I try to offer them all the support I can. It’s part of my personality. I don’t think you can command from an ivory tower, I believe that work exists only in a collaborative context “.
Are you planning to move to Italy permanently in the future?
“For now, I’ll keep going back and forth. I will be present as I have been until today, indeed I believe that over time I will stay in Italy for longer and longer periods. I have to tell the truth, I feel like living here considering how much time I have already spent in the office! Yes, I already feel like one Citizen spice. Even when I’m in America, I’m always here with my head. I manage the meetings, I speak with Pecini and the rest of the management. I have a very active role. Even when I’m not here, I’m here”.
Did you find it difficult to fit into the Italian football scene, coming as a neophyte in the sector?
“Absolutely not. It also depends on how you approach yourself. There are those who love pushing their way, we love a non-arrogant approach. We like to confront each other, understand how things go calmly. I have met a lot of Italian football managers and I have to say that I have established really good relationships and had very interesting conversations. I have never felt rejected, on the contrary ”.
You have already announced that you will see a Spezia settle in Serie A in the years to come. Is there a time limit that you have set for this new experience?
“No. The truth is, we’re also having a lot of fun, with a few exceptions. We want to play in Serie A next year, the one after and the next. I know how a fan feels when the team loses, but know that I am three times worse. Injuries have tormented us, but now many elements are returning. We played on a par and even better than a very strong team like Torino. I’m confident”.
A month ago a banner reading ‘Thank you Platek’ appeared at the stadium. It is not obvious, there are those who took years to build this type of relationship with the fans.
“It made us a great pleasure of course. Maybe it’s because we are open people. It is not impossible to meet us for lunch or dinner in La Spezia, in Lerici or in the Cinque Terre. If I’m in town I like to take a walk downtown. The fans are basically my bosses and I have to give them answers. I try to listen to them. Clearly it is I who must carry the whole team forward. But I want them to know that I am doing my best for them, for the team and for all the employees of Spezia Calcio ”.