My Past Life as a Sports Agent: Bologna, Italy
It was 2006, I was 22 years old, and I was set to begin my first full-time job out of college as an assistant coach for the professional basketball team Virtus Bologna in Bologna, Italy. Before leaving for Europe, I stayed at my parents' house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had received my travel itinerary via email, so I packed up all of my stuff, purchased a couple of Italian phrasebooks, and hugged my mom. My dad drove me down to Chicago for my flight, and before I knew it, I was off to Italy.
After a long day of travel, I reached my final destination: Bologna, Italy. I had not been briefed on many details. I didn't know where I would live or if anyone was set to pick me up. I didn't have anyone's contact info from the team. I had planned not to use my cell phone during my stay in Italy anyway, as long-distance and roaming charges at the time were absurd. To say an unknown world awaited me would be an extreme understatement. Needless to say, I was a bit anxious.
I exited the plane and made my way to the baggage claim. I had hoped to see a driver holding a big sign with my name on it. However, I did not see anyone like that. I collected my two massive bags that contained pretty much everything I owned at that point, took a seat, and waited, hoping someone from the team was coming to pick me up. I was exhausted and began to become increasingly anxious the longer I waited. I thought, "Did I make a mistake coming here?"
Finally, a man approached me and said with a thick Italian accent: "Matt?" Although admittedly overdramatic, I felt as if I had been rescued from a deserted island.
The man pointed to a logo on his shirt that said "Virtus Bologna." It was evident he did not speak English. And I didn't speak any Italian, so I'm sure you can imagine how everything went on; it was rough. We shook hands, and he directed me to follow him. We got to his car, which was seemingly a team-issued van. We arrived at a small hotel after about a twenty-minute drive without exchanging words. When we walked into the hotel, a receptionist translated for us, a huge relief. She explained that the team was on the road, but someone would contact me on the hotel phone the next day.
I was exhausted but also starving. I asked the receptionist if any restaurants would serve food at that hour. She directed me to a place nearby. I walked into the restaurant, and no one spoke English very well. I sat down at a table with my Italian phrasebook in hand. I ordered a pizza and a glass of red wine. I was in Italy, after all. After a long day and night, I was tired and stressed. Being a young guy in a foreign country was difficult; the language barrier was challenging, and the unknown was terrifying. I again questioned whether I had made the right decision to accept that job. However, the waitress brought out my pizza and glass of red wine, and let me tell you, they were perhaps the best things I had ever tasted in my entire life. Subsequently, my stress subsided a bit, and although I still didn't know what to expect next, I could relax and appreciate where I was and the unique opportunity that had been given to me.
I woke up at about 3 am the following day because of jet lag. After hours of killing time, Daniele Cavicchi called me on the hotel phone. He introduced himself in a thick Italian accent, saying he was the team's assistant coach. Daniele was the only assistant coach before I arrived. He told me they were happy to have me and that he would pick me up in a few hours. He explained that the team had the day off, but I would meet with the head coach and general manager.
When Daniele picked me up, I instantly liked him and thought he was a good guy. Although he was older than me, maybe in his late 20s, he was a relatively young coach. He naturally became my "go-to guy" while I was there. We got into his car and were off to the practice facility. He told me he was from Bologna and would show me around the town. As we drove, he gave me "the lay of the land," like a tour guide. Daniele explained to me that it was essentially a college town, with the university being the oldest in the world, established in 1088. He continued to explain that within Italy, a country known for its food and wine, that region was the best and even the home of bolognese sauce. It had been dark the night before when I had arrived, so that car ride was when I began to realize that Bologna was an extraordinary place, rich in culture and history. The more he described the city and the more I saw, the more excited I became to be there. I couldn't believe that was where I would be living.
When we arrived at the team's offices, my first meeting was with the team's head coach, Zare Markowski. A classy gentleman from Macedonia, he was a veteran coach who seemed to have coached nearly everywhere at some point or another. Our initial meeting was brief, as he pretty much just welcomed me. Despite only meeting with him briefly, I found him to be a charming and pleasant man.
My second meeting was with the general manager, Piergiorgio Bottai, a businessman from "Roma." Quickly after meeting him, it was apparent from his enthusiasm that he was the main reason I was there. He outlined his vision for me and laid out the details of my arrangements during my stay. He told me I would be an assistant coach, and my primary responsibility was to develop their players individually. They also wanted me to direct the youth team's practices occasionally, with Daniele being my translator. He continued telling me they had an apartment for me in the "city centre," which also happened to be in the same building the team owner lived in. I would have access to a nice restaurant, and I could eat there whenever I'd like, order whatever I'd like, and always put it on the team's tab. He then explained that the team was sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, and players and staff members, myself included, were given courtesy cars. It was clear that the team had intended to take great care of me while I was there.
Following my meetings, Daniele brought me downstairs to give me all the team-issued gear: a team jacket, polos, t-shirts, etc. I was beginning to feel like part of the team, and it felt great.
After leaving the practice facility, Daniele and I had a great dinner at the team restaurant. I settled into my apartment afterward. That next morning would be my first day of practice, and I would be introduced to the team as their new assistant coach. Although it had been a hectic couple of days, and I was nearly five thousand miles from home, I went to sleep that night with my mind at ease. Everything was "perfetto."
Continue reading: “My Past Life as a Sports Agent: Ciao Means Hello and Goodbye."