Adam Digby looks back into Calcio's recent past, and examines the mad, mad world of Luciano Gaucci.
Italian football has a long-held tradition of eccentric and eclectic Presidents running its clubs. Silvio Berlusconi is world-renowned for his ridiculous outbursts and ill-timed comments, such as comparing his 'tan' with Barack Obama or giving the 'corna' to Spanish politician Josep Piqué. Maurizio Zamparini has overseen seventeen coaching changes during his eight years in charge of Palermo, yet both men pale in comparison with Calcio's most tempestuous owner.
In the mid-1960's an Italian nearing his thirties left home in search of work and quickly rose from being a simple bus driver to holding a lofty position within the same transport company. From there he began to branch out into other ventures, making a small fortune from a thoroughbred horse stables, Allevamento White Star, which gave him the financial muscle to enter into the world he most desperately wanted to be a part of - football. In the early 1990's he found a spot on the board of directors at AS Roma.
Luciano Gaucci had arrived and Calcio would never be the same again.
While from this point I could bore you with details of financial disasters and bankruptcy hearings, the number of players he bought cheaply from the lower divisions and sold on for immense profit or the 2006 World Cup Winner he plucked from the fourth division just five years previously. But when it comes to Gaucci what you really want to read are the stories, you want accounts of the mans' complete and utter lunacy, and two of those are exactly what I intend to impart to you, dear reader.
Remember Ahn Jung-Hwan? The South Korean, proudly representing one of the host nations in the 2002 World Cup who fulfilled the dream of almost every young boy when he scored the winning (golden) goal for his country against one of the best teams in the world, Italy. Cue instant hero status and a lucrative move? No, all he got was a contract termination from his club – Perugia, owned at that time by Gaucc, who said;
"I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian football. That man will not return to our team. I am outraged! He started playing phenomenally only when it came to playing Italy. I am a nationalist and his behaviour is not only an incomprehensible wound to my Italian pride, but also an offence to a country which two years ago had openly welcomed him."
True to his word Ahn never did return to Italy, but this left Gaucci with a problem. Having the South Korean in his squad, much like Hidetoshi Nakata before him, allowed Perugia to exploit revenue streams from Asia that would otherwise have not existed to the modest Umbrian club. With him gone Gaucci needed to stretch his imagination to find another unique selling point for the Grifoni.
Immediately prior to buying Perugia Gaucci was in charge of Viterbese, a small third division club and in the summer of 1999 he appointed Carolina Morace - currently in charge of Canadian national women's team - as the first and only woman in charge of a professional club in Italy. Taking this sexual equality theme to its limit, Gaucci decided coaching was not enough and announced his intention to sign a female player.
"Women have the same rights as men. Our scouts have already begun scouring teams in Germany, Scandinavia and the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Within six months, we'll have a woman in our squad. I am convinced Perugia can be the first club in the world to have a woman play in the top division with men."
Not only that but he backed it up with his belief that although the rules of women's football prevented men from competing, the men's game had no such clarification. Valentina Belia, captain of Perugia's female team said it was a "revolutionary idea, but with a good deal of sense". She said that she would willingly sign up if asked. But Gaucci responded to this saying he was not looking for an Italian player "because they are not up to it physically".
Hanna Ljungberg came as close as discussing terms but unfortunately we never got to witness this idea reaching the field as the FIGC quickly closed the supposed loophole. Gaucci lost his temper and threatened to sign a horse instead, again pointing out it wasn't against the rules! But this idea (thankfully) fell by the wayside, and just a few months later he unveiled his newest signing – Saadi al-Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi.
Saadi’s signature proved to be less than a triumph as he looked out of his depth in training and played just one game before failing a drugs test. In 2005 Perugia went bankrupt and the Italian government issued a warrant for Gaucci's arrest for his part in an fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, with talk of a missing €35 million. The man who once described George W Bush as an "exquisite person" went into exile in the Dominican Republic and whilst the state coffers suffered as a result, Calcio is undoubtedly a much duller place without Luciano Gaucci.
Follow Adam on Twitter @Adz77 for more insight into Italian football, past and present.