Siena: From the Piazza to the rubble
It’s only natural to feel that your football team is hard done by. A refereeing decision here, a poorly timed injury there. It’s never as bad as you think. Well, unless you are a Siena fan.
Siena. Remember them? For the long-term calcio lover, it was the site of Enrico Chiesa’s late career revival, where he spent the last several years of his career keeping the club in the top flight.
Two decades on from their first ever Serie A season, they find themselves in Eccellenza, Italy’s fifth tier, scrapping with semi-professional sides as they plot the long journey to regaining their honour.
Three bankruptcies in a decade would kill off most clubs, and it’s a small miracle that Siena are even still in existence; albeit as yet another phoenix club.
The genesis of Siena’s downfall coincided with their greatest days; a tale all too familiar in Serie A. Their success and ambition outmatched their resources, and just as they got their feet under the table in 2005, the losses started to build like the Monte, the public banks founded in the Renaissance era, which translates literally as ‘mountain’.
While fans were at their happiest, the grim reality of professional football lay beneath the surface.
One of the oldest Monti, the Banca Monte dei Paschi, was Siena’s primary sponsor during the halcyon days. There is an edgy, witty joke about the banks in there, but I’ll let you make it.
Anyway, you get the idea. As the inspirational Enrico Chiesa gave Siena joyful scenes they could never have imagined possible, the club were internally fighting against financial fate. While fans were at their happiest, the grim reality of professional football lay beneath the surface, ready to remind them that all good things must come to an end.
With relegation back to Serie B in 2010, the bouncebackability that had kept Siena in Serie A for seven straight seasons was put to the test. With Antonio Conte in charge and the provincially prolific Emanuel Calaiò in attack, they scored their way to promotion. The most goals in the division propelled them to second place behind Atalanta.
However, it was the summer of 2011 where the club’s finances started to catch up with them. The bleak economic outlook of Italian football made running a small provincial Serie A club difficult enough, but the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis hit Siena particularly hard.
They were reliant on around €7m annually in sponsorship money from Banca Monte dei Paschi, but the bank’s drift towards collapse meant they had to drastically reduce their sponsorship in 2011-12 and, in fact, severed ties entirely shortly after Siena’s next relegation in 2013.
After one year in Serie B, Siena were bankrupt. Despite flirting with the playoffs, their inability to pay salaries and taxes resulted in points deductions and, eventually, exclusion from the league in July 2014. To Serie D, they were sent.
The club is bought out of bankruptcy by a group with political exposure to pro-Russian Nagorno-Karabakh.
Refounded as Robur Siena, a reference to their nickname, from the old sports society that played a role in the formative years of football in Siena and immediately promoted from Serie D, they spent five years chasing promotion from Serie C until 2020 and COVID prompted another bankruptcy.
Things start to get weird at this point. With the city in the midst of a massive investigation into Russian money-laundering through investments in Siena, the club is bought out of bankruptcy by an Armenian group with political exposure to the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, a contested region that is widely seen as pro-Russian.
The Gevorkyan and Gazaryan families took over in summer 2020, installing their adviser, Andrea Bellandi, to run Siena. Bellandi was under investigation for money-laundering for work done with Kazakh oligarch Igor Bidilo, known to own several buildings in Siena’s Piazza del Campo, the main piazza in the city, but still took the reins.
The Armenian group’s first season began with Alberto Gilardino in charge of Siena in Serie D; who had them challenging for promotion when he was unexpectedly sacked and replaced by Marian Pahars in January 2021. Yes, that Marian Pahars. A long way from Southampton, and his native Latvia, he struggled alongside his Russian assistant manager Gazzaev. Neither speak Italian, and were unable to communicate with the players.
Within weeks, they were sacked and Gilardino brought back. Siena won a place in Serie C through ‘ripescaggio’, a system that awards places in Serie C to clubs in the event that other eligible sides go bankrupt or fail to meet stadium/financial requirements.
The Pahars debacle created a rift between Gevorkyan and Gazaryan, not helped by another sacking of Gilardino after thirteen games of the following season. By the end of 2021-22, the Armenian group wanted out. The same group had bankrupted Uerdingen in Germany and there had been a match fixing scandal in Latvia involving their club Noah Jurmala. This football business, it’s not easy, is it?
Giacomini almost bankrupted Triestina and hired his dad as 'Manager of the Technical Area.
A Roman businessman, Emiliano Montanari, took over in summer 2022 and built a team mostly around Alberto Paloschi, who had struggled the previous season. The one-time Milan wonderkid lit up Serie C/B last season, scoring 13 times, but amid failure to pay tax and allegations that Montanari is something of an Armenian puppet, Siena went bankrupt this past summer. Again.
This time there is no Serie D, only Eccellenza. The club has a new owner in Simone Giacomini, who took over at Triestina last year, where he almost bankrupted the club and hired his dad as ‘Manager of the Technical Area’. Sort of like a Chief Football Officer, but not really. Maybe.
Anyway, it’s a redemption opportunity for Giacomini, whose CV so far raises only eyebrows and suspicion. They have started well in Eccellenza Toscana - Girone B, where they lead by eight points after only eleven games.
Captained by ex-Leeds United midfielder Tommaso Bianchi and powered by the goals of former Grosseto striker Elia Galligani, they are going some way to kickstart the mending of the damage caused by the past decade.
If they hadn’t seen such riches, perhaps the Sienese could live with being poor. For now, they will have to swallow their pride and take on all comers in the regional leagues. The hard work of the 90s and 00s may have been totally undone, but all it takes is a competent owner with vision to set a club on the right path.