Wise a world away from Ashley as Chelsea icon, Fabregas & Henry transform Como (2023)

LAKE COMO is one of the most beautiful places in the world - apart from a partially-derelict football stadium on its southern shore.

It may come as a surprise but the man trying to sort out this eyesore is former England international Dennis Wise.

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Wise finds himself in this unlikely location as chief executive of Como 1907, a small club in northern Italy which has already gone bust twice this century.

The 56-year-old has been in an upstairs role just once before — an explosive stint at Newcastle United where the supporters accusedhim of being part of MikeAshley’s "Cockney Mafia" before an acrimonious departure in 2009.

In his fourth year at Como, Wise has seen the club rise from Serie D to Serie B.

He has persuaded Cesc Fabregas and Thierry Henry to get involved to boost the club’s profile.

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And now the ex-Chelsea captain is looking to demolish the club’s Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia, which holds just 6,700 fans. Wise hopes to create a gleaming 26,000-capacity stadium fit for Serie A.

He spent most of his playing career at Wimbledon and the Blues before managerial stints at Millwall, Swindon and Leeds. This was followed by the turbulent spell in the North East as director of football.

After a decade away from the game, Wise was approached by friend and film producer Mirwan Suwarso, a representative of the Indonesian conglomerate, Djarum, which bought Como in 2019.

Wise said: “I am enjoying it. Newcastle turned into a debacle but it was a learning curve for me.

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“You have to embrace mistakes but now I can do everything myself which was not the case up there.

“I have known Mirwan for a long time and he bought the club on behalf of Djarum and askedme to have a look at it and give my thoughts.

“I told him, ‘You’ve bought a club badge and that’s it’. There was a year-by-year ground lease, the club was in Serie D. No training ground. No academy. He asked me to help, so that is what I have done.

I am enjoying it. Newcastle turned into a debacle but it was a learning curve for me.

Dennis Wise

“We have now built a training ground and are sorting out the stadium lease. We have needed the local community to trust us so there has been a lot of work, after two bankruptcies.

“We got promotion from D to C and now, from C to B. I have got the academy back.

“I brought in Marc Bircham [ex-Millwall and QPR] and he links with the first team and our B team. I don’t like Under-23s but we have a B side and we play Brentford, Fleetwood and QPR.”

An eye-catching arrival for this season was former Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder Fabregas who became a player, coach and investor.

Former France and Gunners striker Henry has also put some cash into the club.

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Wise, whose team are currently 16th, said: “Bringing in Cesc and Thierry made people look at us in a different way, particularly around this area.

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“Cesc has just finished his Uefa B and is now doing his A licence. He has not played loads for us as he had some injuries.

“He is 36 — if he can manage his body in the right way, we will get some more out of him.

“But he is really smart with a great football brain and has given the place a real lift.

“He is ambitious to be a coach so there will be time when it comes to an end here.

“He is close to Mikel Arteta and has spoken to him about football philosophies.

In England, they expect a firecracker to walk into the room. So here, it is lovely. I’d like to think people here feel they can talk to me.

Dennis Wise

“But here at Como, people are taking notice. We got offered a lot of money in the summer from an American group but we turned them down.

“I have also asked Gianfranco Zola to get involved. Just to be an adviser and give me his knowledge. But he is back in Sardinia and has a lot of things going on.

“We have come a long way. On the pitch, we are having a terrible year. We are not too far off the play-offs but we are not far from a relegation play-off spot.”

An aggressive midfielder and, at times, a spiky manager, Wise loves the fact that he is relatively unknown in Italian football so his reputation does not go before him.

He added: “In England, they expect a firecracker to walk into the room. So here, it is lovely. I’d like to think people here feel they can talk to me.”

Wise had an extended time away from football on the advice ofex-Wimbledon manager Dave Bassett but has now returned re-energised.

But when the subject of Newcastle crops up again, he comes out fighting for former Toon owner Ashley.

And he believes the club’s fans should be thankful Ashley waited to sell the club to the Saudi-led consortium.

Wise said: “Mike took them out of debt.There was a big debt but he resolved it and he ran it as a proper business. Yes, they went up and down but that happens.

“Whatever you say about Mike, he was never going to sell to any Tom, Dick and Harry, he was going to sell it to someone who would take it to the next step. But they won’t appreciate that in Newcastle.

“Mike stayed a long time and took a lot of stick and when the right time came he got out.

“But that experience has helped me. So has my time at Leeds when I was manager and they were in administration with minus 15 points.”

Now, Wise is looking forward. As he climbs up to the top of the Curva at Como’s stadium, to point out his planned redevelopment which will loom over the city’s super-posh yacht club, he is full of enthusiasm.

The only topic he does not want to talk about is the recent death of former team-mate Gianluca Vialli.

Yet Wise is hopeful of completing a journey to Serie A which his close friend, a much loved figure in Italy, would be extremely proud of.

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Not far from Lake Como is Inter Milan’s training base. Maybe, one day Inter will play a league game here. Maybe Como could follow another local side, Atalanta, who rebuilt their stadium and then qualified for European football.

So, how about Newcastle v Como in the Champions League?

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Wise cackles with laughter.

He is never going to answer that question but, in the words of a former Newcastle manager, he would absolutely love it.

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