Posted by: mdegeorge | March 4, 2011

Italian soccer not immune from Libyan strife

You’re an executive for Juventus. You were eliminated from Europa League competition before New Year’s. You have lost the last two league games to teams that a decade ago were well beneath your stature. You’re facing an uphill climb to return to European competition, any European competition at this point, even if it isn’t Champions’ League, which starts with a home match against archrivals and current top of the table Milan.

Where is your focus? If the bottom line influences your job security, your eyes are turned squarely towards Libya.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

That’s right, in among the smoldering piles of rubble and blood-stained streets of the North African nation in upheaval lies substantial investors in the Turin club that has fallen on hard times in recent years.

Juve has long been the property of the Agnelli family, which owns about a 60 percent stake in the club. Their money stems from the car company Fiat, about two percent of which is held by Libyan interests.

The second largest stockholder in the club itself is none other than Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company SA (Lafico), which doesn’t exactly sound like one of the groups ready to take up arms against entrenched and belligerent leader Muammar Gaddafi. The group, which handles foreign investment in around 50 countries, including heavily in European and specifically Italian institutions such as Banca di Roma, purchased a 7.5 percent stake when shares went public in 2001.

That money is among billions of dollars targeted by the United States government and NATO in worldwide asset freezes of the nation’s increasingly brutal and bloody regime.

It could pose a footballing problem if i Bianconeri are unable to access nearly ten percent of their capital once the summer transfer window opens in June.

Player acquisition, which has already been excessively impressive and disappointingly unproductive compared to rivals Milan, will be an important proving ground for them if they finish the season on a similarly disappointing note as in recent seasons. Far from attracting the world’s top talent in recent years, Juve has buttressed a few big pickups (Milos Krasic) with overpriced acquisitions from smaller clubs (Alessandro Matri), costly scrap-heap buys cast off from Liverpool (Alberto Aquilani) and players aging less than gracefully elsewhere (Luca Toni).

Yet Juventus president Andrea Agnelli insists he’s “not worried”. We’ll see if a loss to Milan this weekend and a protracted battle over finances coming out of northern African changes that in the coming months.

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