Antonio Caliendo, naturalized Monegasque, represents an undisputed landmark on the international football map. Born in the province of Naples in 1944, he started working for De Agostini, a renowned Italian publisher, when he was young. Soon after, he created his own publishing house thanks to his entrepreneurial talent, conceiving the first new series of school diaries dedicated entirely to sport. Moreover, he published some manuals about major sportspeople of the 1970’s including the Italian tennis champion, Adriano Panatta.
On the 16th December 1977, he signed a football agent’s agreement with Giancarlo Antognoni, former midfielder playing for Fiorentina and the Italian National Football Team. From 1979 onwards, he started working full time as sports agent for some of the greatest champions in the football world. Among them: Aldair, Roberto Baggio, Dunga, Ramón Díaz, Daniel Passerella, Salvatore Schillaci, David Trezeguet, Maicon and Ederson. In the Final of the 1990 World Championship, which took place in Rome between Germany and Argentina, twelve out of twenty-two players were his agency’s clients. In 2003, he gave birth to the «Golden Foot» Award, the first international lifetime prize awarded to football champions by online supporters’ votes. The Award was soon located in the Principality as the Champions Promenade, a Football Walk of Fame made of footprints of sports legends, with the view to creating a new museum area worthy of being remembered as a Monegasque must-see.
HelloMonaco had the great pleasure to interview him in his own headquarters office full of memorabilia, bringing out naturally his human face with special focus on his long-lasting career and interesting facts.
HelloMonaco: What inspired you early in your career?
Antonio Caliendo: At the beginning of my career devoted to football, a friend of mine told me I should introduce myself to the right people in order to get attention from the audience and from the Media. I didn’t follow that piece of advice since I was sure they would mention me as soon as I could create something important. I still believe in that. I don’t care if they talk about me or not, but I would like they talk about me for what I did or I am doing. I would like the value of a person was transmitted first.
HM: How did the football industry develop in the last decades?
AC: The world of football has changed a lot in recent times making it more like a PlayStation game. There is no big difference between your children’s preferred video games and the real game on the football field. Any creativity has been put down for the technique of the game, that is the sprinting. Nowadays, physical training is much more accurate than in the past, involving every single movement. Not by chance, you can achieve amazing results already at the age of ten. In other words, «natural talent» doesn’t exist anymore. We could say that modern footballers are «created» in laboratories. Thus, also acting as sport agent is now out of date, as I have been saying for a long time. Today, it is better to talk about «football advisor» to help skilled players’ families in the management of the champions’ careers. Furthermore, parents want to be the real footballers’ agents, taking part in the business and excluding outsiders. Once, footballers’ relatives were not aware of anything, nor of the agent’s role before I created this professional figure.
HM: Maybe it would be interesting to invest in a sort of ‘breeder machine’ to create future football champions?
AC: Why not. Talent is in the blood. Not by chance, Maradona was already fairly appreciated when he was sixteen, as described in the newspaper abstract I keep here, in my office. Besides, about twenty years ago I made a statement in advance. I suggested sports agents to visit nurseries in order to select future champions. The age to become skilled players is getting younger.
HM: Are there new football champions coming out?
AC: My professional task has always been focused on discovering new talents and making them football’s leading figures. In this very moment, I see great potential in the Spanish 17-years-old player Raúl Moro. Professionally born within Futbol Club Barcelona, currently he is part of the Italian Lazio team. Soon, you will hear about him. Another star of the future is from Rosario, Argentina, the same birthplace of Lionel Messi. Messi’s brother has noted him when he was 10 and made sure to stress his talent. I can assure you that he is the «reincarnation» of Maradona. Barcelona Football Team has already engaged him for a lot of millions of euros.
HM: You know many top-ranked football players and famous people; have you ever built up a friendship with some of them?
AC: Absolutely. Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri, better known as Dunga, head coach of Brazil, David Trezeguet and Aldair are close friends of mine but I have many more… And then there is Roberto Baggio with whom I rarely meet but when it happens we always celebrate. He has always been very humorous. By the way, let me tell this funny story. Just after the 1990 World Cup, I invited him with Giuseppe Schillaci, the so-called «Fratelli d’Italia» («Brothers of Italy», Italian national anthem performed in the beginning of every match of the Italian national team. — Ed.), to spend a whole week in Monaco at Le Méridien, in the company of their girlfriends. One night, I was awoken by someone knocking at the door of my hotel room. I realized it was 5 a.m. and I was really surprised when two waiters came in carrying two carts full of any kind of gourmet delicatessen. Still asleep, I went back to my bed and only some hours later, when finally I awoke, I realized what had happened. I called the reception immediately asking for explanations and they confirmed I ordered everything and they could show me a doodle signature on the bill. I didn’t know what to think, at the time, until I met Baggio and Schillaci who asked me if I had slept well while they were chuckling. It was immediately clear to me that it was their joke at my expense. Funny guys!
HM: Have you ever thought to collect your stories in a book or in a video documentary?
AC: Yes, I have already done. I wrote «Nessuno Prima di Me» (No One Before Me), published by Libreria dello Sport, where I collected some relevant personal experiences on the evolution over time of Football and the role of a sports agent. I haven’t lost the passion to write and I would like to publish a couple of books to point out what should be improved on the football agents’ front.
HM: What has improved and what has worsened in the world of football?
AC: Unfortunately, human feelings have come down, recently. Once the relationship between the sports agent and the footballer was tight and there were exchanges at any moment of the day, even at night if there were doubts. Today, everyone who works in the football «industry» is almost considered as a robot. Even talking is often envisaged as a waste of time. Of course, this is the result of this society projected towards an over-use of smartphones to communicate even if you are sitting side by side with your speakers. Sometimes, it is hard for me to accept it but I have always been open to novelties, being in contact with new generations. You see, I couldn’t feel old, even if I wanted to.
HM: Nowadays, footballers earn a lot of money, what is your relationship with money?
AC: I have never considered wealth as a goal. My principle has always been: I don’t want to be rich but I must never miss anything. Richness, in fact, never means wellness. Therefore, I never forget my origins from a village in the province of Naples. My father was a baker and I made initial trading early in my career. Then, someone brightened my mind, putting my skills into practice. My life changed completely but I have never stopped working. As a matter of fact, in this very moment I am interviewed by you in my Monaco headquarters. What better treasure than this!
HM: Do you think that money can make you happier?
AC: Having money definitely helps. Someone says «money doesn’t make happiness» but if you don’t succeed in having a welfare state, you could become unhappy or envious of those who have more than you. Nevertheless, if you focus on yourself and try to do your best the perspective of life changes. On my side, I admire who is more talented than me since I believe that each of us, individually, has his own intelligence. Thus, I can’t stand anyone who envies my life.
HM: Do you have any favoured model in life to refer to?
AC: Ideas that come out of my mind have always been my reference point. Achieving them is my mission. Nevertheless, every time I read about a man of success I always try to enter into his shoes, trying to feel human empathy made of joys and sorrows. So, I did with Donald Trump, current president of United States. From his biography, you can tell that his life wasn’t always easy. That is part of his inner ego that he doesn’t show in public.
HM: Do you consider youself a successful person, and if yes what does success mean for you?
AC: That is a clever question… but I don’t consider myself a successful story. I am just a normal lucky person able to have good ideas and careful assessments. If what I do has a value depends on what other people think of me. And they are usually excited by my achievements.
HM: What makes you happy and when did you feel happy last time?
AC: That is not a simple-minded question. When I wake up in the morning my first thought usually goes to those who are in troubles. Then, I start working as I am used to doing, always with the aim at helping others who need it. That makes me happy. I never forget life’s difficulties I experienced myself, after all. Anyway, we should all feel happy only because we haven’t tested a third world war, so far.