Over at The Athletic, author Robert Andrew Powell wrote an entertaining and comprehensive story about Mike Piazza’s disastrous two-year tenure as owner of third-tier Italian soccer team Reggio Emilia, and it has everything: Piazza’s obvious desire to recapture the thrill of his playing days (Piazza after a game: “I’ve never done cocaine, I’ve never done crystal meth, I’ve never done hard drugs, or any drugs for that matter besides aspirin. But let me tell you, that was fucking intoxicating.”); the implicit corruption of the business of Italian soccer (“It’s a jungle,” a player said. “And when you have money, it’s even worse.”); and ample quotes from players and former employees (“My life plan is not to be doing errands for Playmates,” a former employee said).
But mostly what this story has is plenty of unvarnished perspective from Piazza’s wife, Alicia, who took over the front office of Reggio Emilia after Piazza essentially gave one year into the day-to-day operations of owning a team. Powell writes that Alicia never wanted to own a soccer team:
“Who the fuck ever heard of Reggio Emilia?” she asked. “It’s not Venice. It’s not Rome. My girlfriend said, and you can quote this—and this really depressed me. She said, ‘Honey, you bought into Pittsburgh.’ Like, it wasn’t the New York Yankees. It wasn’t the Mets. It wasn’t the Dodgers. You bought Pittsburgh!”
In their Miami living room, Mike tried to interject but she stopped him.
“And imagine what that feels like, after spending 10 million euros. You bought Pittsburgh!”
When Alicia took over running the team, her reign of terror began:
Cost cutting became her priority, in a way that felt personal. Every dime squandered was a direct hit to the family’s net worth. She ordered the drivers for youth team buses to stop dropping off players at their houses, to save on gas. She ordered the players to wash their own uniforms. (“I don’t think she realized that in Italy not everyone has a washing machine,” says Kondratenko, the American who handled social media for Reggiana.) She typed angry texts, calling employees she fired “conmen” and “frauds” and “liars.” The salutation of one text Alicia shared with me, sent to the team’s former sporting director: “Fuck off, loser.”
“I was the bitch,” she admitted. “I was the bad guy. And I’m sure I have a lot of enemies, and I’m sure you heard a lot of bad things about me and I don’t give a shit. I ripped the mask off so many faces.”
When the time came for the Piazzas to cut their losses, Alicia put it like this:
“And we had enough!” Alicia shouted. “And they’re like, ‘Well, let’s sign up for next year and lose another four million euros altogether.’ Who’s losing the four million? We are! We’re losing the four million and not you. So we each took a pill”—she’s speaking figuratively—“we said, ‘Romeo and Juliet did this, we’re going to kill ourselves before you fucking get to kill us.’”
If you think Alicia Piazza sounds terrifying and utterly compelling, you’re exactly right. These excerpts don’t do her or the story justice, so do yourself a favor and go read it.