There was once a time in which Chievo conquered the heart and minds of football fans. There was once a charm to their story: the team from the northwest district of Verona, with a population of less than 5,000 people, that rose through the Italian football pyramid to make it to the top flight and not just play with the big boys, but beat them.
In their first season in Serie A back in 2001-02, they topped the table for a brief spell. They eventually finished fifth and made it into the UEFA Cup. In the aftermath of the Calciopoli scandal, they would be catapulted into the Champions League qualifiers. Only once did they finish outside the top 10 in that initial six-year stint. They gave players like Nicola Legrottaglie, Simone Perrotta, Bernardo Corradi and Andrea Barzagli the platform to win transfers to more established sides.
The halcyon days ended with relegation in 2007, but an immediate return beckoned. And this is where the romanticism in the Chievo story ends, in an excruciatingly slow and pitiful death.
The club that returned from Serie B in 2008, Chievo 2.0 they shall be called, promptly squandered all the goodwill created from their first run. The Flying Donkeys morphed into turgid donkeys.
Chievo 2.0 became a team whose presence in Serie A was consistent, but never a team that anyone actually noticed. Seemingly on a mission to bore their fans and neutrals alike with a robust-yet-ponderous style of play that could’ve cured insomnia, only twice did they manage to score more than 40 goals in a season, usually hovering in the late 30s, and continually being outscored by relegated sides.
This goal-thrifty nadir came in 2014-15, when they scored a frankly ludicrous 28 goals. Parma, Cagliari and Cesena, all relegated that season, scored more than Chievo. A flick through their results was akin to looking at binary code. This wasn’t the stereotypical Italian, defensive-solidity first approach to football and survival in the top flight, this was a case of Chievo just simply being very poor, and eking out results by any means.
Not just content with utilising an aesthetically brutal style of play, Chievo could be relied upon to produce the lowest average attendances in the league. With their average season attendance fluctuating between 10-13,000 in the years since they returned.
The issue wouldn’t be so stark if they didn’t play in the crumbling eyesore that is the Stadio Bentegodi, a stadium that holds nearly 40k. Aside from when the big three roll into town, the visual of a Chievo home game is an immediate channel-turner. Clusters of fans surrounded by oceans of empty, plastic chairs, all separated from the pitch by a huge athletics track.
Yet their President and owner Luca Campedelli has never showed any ambition to move into a stadium more appropriate to the size of their fan base. Whilst city neighbours Hellas have presented impressive plans to the council of Verona to demolish the Bentegodi, to be replaced with a modern 27,000-seater arena complemented with gyms, hotels and commercial outlets, Campedelli is all too happy for Chievo to play anywhere there is minimum outlay on his behalf. Moreover, only Hellas president Maurizio Setti signed the new project, with Campdelli’s signature conspicuously absent. It remains unknown whether Chievo will be granted access to play in the new arena if and when it gets built.
And the real coup de grace were the revelations last summer that they’d been found guilty of cooking their books between 2014 and 2017 in a desperate attempt to hide the €60m hole in the club’s accounts. How? By hyper-inflating the worth of players in their youth academy, in a scheme concocted with now-bankrupt Cesena. Millions of euros were transferred between the clubs for players no one had heard about.
Deducted three points at the start of the season, they never left the bottom of the table, and the writing was on the wall by October. They won two games all season, going down as one of the worst teams to ever play in the top flight.
So, ultimately, what’s are the benefits of having Chievo in Serie A? None, is the right answer. A side with no ambition, no football identity, a pocketful of fans, no players worth watching, and a dodgy owner. Chievo are just a team that’s there, the epitome of mid-table mediocrity.
Or, thankfully for us, were.