Club on the rise - AC Monza

AC Monza is a club you may have never heard of before 2020 but now boasts some extremely recognisable names when it comes to Italian football. They are also a team thats looking to make history by making it to the Serie A.

So who are AC Monza? Why are they making so much noise in Italy and who are the familiar faces that are running the team?

very brief history:

Associazione Calcio Monza was founded on September 1st 1912 in the city of Monza in the region of Lombardy just outside Milan, about 20 kilometres northeast. The city itself is known in a sporting context for the famous Autodromo Nazionale di Monza which has hosted the Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix every year bar one since 1950.

While the football team has a long history it hasn’t been filled with glory from the Italian top flight, in fact Monza has never reached the Serie A, the highest they have ever reached is the Serie B, the second tier of Italian professional football, but most of their time has been spent in the Serie C. In fact it took them from 1912 all the way until 1951 to get into the Serie B but once they did they managed to stay in the division for 19 years.

In fact in the 1969-1970 season they nearly made it to the Serie A but on the penultimate day of the season they lost to Varese and thus were out of the running for promotion to the top flight. A few years later they nearly made it to the Serie A once again but lost to Pescara in the promotion play-off. 

Despite this Monza have found some success in the Serie C Coppa Italia, not the Coppa Italia but the version for clubs from lower divisions. Monza have been Serie C Coppa Italia champions on four different occasions, more than any other club, and have won the Serie C four times as well.

Monza’s fortunes would change dramatically in 2018 however when a familiar face from the Lombardy region would get involved with the club, well a familiar face worldwide more like.

Enter Berlusconi 

Silvio Berlusconi, if you didn’t know him from his political career and various controversies then you might know him from his time as the owner of AC Milan. 

Berlusconi was the owner of Milan from 1986 to 2017, 31 years of owning the Rossoneri, and helping them oversee some of their most successful years including five Champions League titles and eight league titles with Berlusconi as the owner and Adriano Galliani as the CEO of the club.

After Berlusconi finalised the sale of Milan he took a year and a half out of football before venturing back via AC Monza. The city of Monza sits right in between Milan and where Berlusconi lives Arcore where his famous Villa San Martino sits. Monza is also the hometown of Adriano Galliani and in fact he started in football at Monza back in 1984 before he was scooped up by Berlusconi for the Milan job. So there are definite links between AC Monza, Berlusconi and Galliani. 

Why do I bring up Galliani you may ask? Because when it was announced in September 2018 that Berlusconi’s holding company Fininvest had purchased 100% of the shares of AC Monza for a reported €3 million it was also announced that Galliani would take up the role of CEO for the club.

Another link, according to AC Monza’s own history in 1997 AC Milan, under Berlusconi at the time, and AC Monza struck up a partnership in which players from Milan were sent to the Serie B side. In theory it would benefit Monza as they would be able to bring in quality players from the Milan giants and it would benefit Milan as some of their fringe players would get valuable playing time in Italy. It didn’t really work out however and Monza narrowly avoided relegation.

The Biancorossi as they’re called and their new ownership group made their intentions very clear – take this club to the Serie A-something they are yet to achieve just once in their history as noted earlier.

The first season with Galliani and Berlusconi, the 2018/19 Serie C season went fairly well but they narrowly missed out on promotion under new manager Cristian Brocchi. You may remember Brocchi from his playing days with Milan. He himself said it would be a dream to see Monza playing at the San Siro.

And so following the 2018/19 season Berlusconi and Galliani made wholesale changes to the squad as Galliani said “The goal now is to build a top team, we already started talking about transfers. Our budget will be used to go to Serie A, we won’t go crazy but we will do what’s necessary. There’s no point in hiding – we want to take this city, the third biggest in Lombardy, into Serie A.”

Galliani has relished the opportunity to work for his boyhood club.

For the 2019/20 campaign Monza decided to recruit players that had experience in Serie A. 

Goalkeeper Eugenio Lamanna and full-back Mario Sampirisi played for Genoa; center-back Giuseppe Bellusci had Serie A experiences with Ascoli, Catania, and Empoli; central midfielder Nicola Rigoni had top flight experience with Palermo and Chievo; and Gabriel Paletta played for Parma, AC Milan, and Atalanta, and the Argentine-born defender also represented Italy at the 2014 World Cup.

Monza participated in the Coppa Italia, reaching the third round before losing 3-1 to Fiorentina, and their form in the Coppa Italia Serie C wasn’t great either at this time, eliminated by Pro Patria in extra time in their second-round clash.

As for the league, everything seemed to be plain sailing, and Monza never relinquished top spot. They won eight and lost just once in the opening nine rounds of the Serie C Girone A season and it was only until Round 26 against the Juventus Under-23 team when they suffered their second defeat of the season. 

Eventually the Serie C season came to a halt in northern Italy after Round 27 as the Coronavirus outbreak started to spread around the world. Their southern counterparts eventually played for a few more rounds but the Lombardy region where Monza is situated was affected the most.

It was made official in June that Monza, like the other two group leaders, would be promoted to Serie B. In Girone A specifically, Monza had been leading Carrarese by 16 points, and according to FIGC, their projected points tally was 86.231 while the Tuscan club had 62.637.

Although Monza did not complete the season per se, they had shown in the 27 rounds played that they were head and shoulders above the rest and thus after 19 years in the wilderness of the Serie C they were back in Serie B.

Boateng, Balotelli and Serie B
Monza's big name stars Balotelli and Boateng celebrate a goal.

Monza began to attract media attention outside of Italy when in September of 2020 they signed one of football’s top journeymen Kevin-Prince Boateng, the man who has represented 14 clubs a senior level in his 16 years as a professional. So with the context now and knowing the people behind Monza it must make a lot more sense as to why he choose to join up with the Serie B side moving from Fiorentina for an undisclosed fee as Boateng played some of the best football of his long career with AC Milan. He appears to have been a good signing for Monza contributing five goals and four assists in 17 Serie B games so far this season not to mention the experience he brings to a club filled with young players. 

Galliani and his team showed some great ambition as they also signed the Polish Ekstraklasa’s top scorer for the 2019/20 season Danish striker Christian Gytkjaer. Gytkjaer scored 24 goals in 34 appearances for Lech Poznan before making the move to Monza and their ambition didn’t stop there. 

They also signed the 2019/20 top scorer from the Croatian league, 25 year old Mirko Maric, left back Carlos Augusto was signed from Brazilian giants Corinthians while promising Sassuolo midfielder Davide Frattesi was signed on loan and has flourished for Monza and that is to name but a few of their acquisitions. 

In December of 2020 Monza’s transfer business again attracted media attention when they announced the signing of Mario Balotelli after he was left without a contract following his stint with Brescia. At the time of his signing Galliani said “Mario has joined us with the best of intentions – and now it depends entirely on him. He seems highly motivated, and there is no doubting his ability. When he was at Milan in the 2013/14 season his goals kept us going in the Champions League. Here at Monza the coach and other players tell me that, whenever he gets on the ball, he is different class.”

Balotelli arrived at the club out of shape some what understandably as he hadn’t played since pre-pandemic for Brescia his last game was on March 9th 2020. However when he eventually made his debut on December 30th against Salernitana it took him just four minutes to score in what was a 3-0 win. Unfortunately since then he has been out of the squad due to injury. 

Balotelli and Boateng aren’t the only former Milan stars to have been approached by Galliani, Zlatan Ibrahimovic told the Gazzetta dello Sport “Galliani called and told me ‘You said this is not the AC Milan you know. Well, the AC Milan you know is just 12 miles away.'” Galliani also admitted back in February 2020 that he had tried to get former Milan legend and Ballon d’Or winner Kaka out of retirement for their Serie C but Galliani says that Kaka didn’t want to leave his home in Sao Paulo. 

With Galliani at the helm it seems like Monza are heading in the right direction. As things stand at the time of writing they are second in the Serie B which would earn them automatic promotion to the Serie A and the 76 year old CEO is as enthusiastic as he ever was with the added motivation of working for his hometown club. Speaking in February last year Galliani said “I take care of the club with the same enthusiasm I had at Milan, and in January we completed 30 market operations: 16 arrivals and 14 departures, I met directors and presidents at my house as I did before. I was on loan for 31 years, now I’m back home.”

Back home with the possibility of propelling his club to a historic Serie A promotion