northNot even Venezia were sure what they would receive when they signed Tanner Tessmann from FC Dallas in 2021. The club’s then-general manager Alexander Menta described the midfielder during an interview Interview with Grant Wahl as “my big bet”. He loved Tessman’s size, athleticism and work ethic, but those attributes alone don’t make an elite football player. “Was it like a normal purchase where there were green lights across the board? No,” Menta said. “And I told him the same thing.”

Tessmann had debuted with the absolute US Men’s National Team a few months before, but would not represent them again until September of this year. The two and a half years that have passed have been as winding as the canals that cross Venice’s 126 islands. Now, however, it looks like he and his club might be finding their way to the open waters of the lagoon.

Venice was not supposed to reach the highest level of Italian football, A series, in 2021. They had not played in the top flight for two decades and were only recovered from bankruptcy in Italy’s fourth tier by a consortium of American investors six years earlier. After ascending two divisions in the shortest time possible, Venezia were relegated from Serie B in 2019, only to receive a reprieve in the postseason when another club, Palermo, suffered its own financial crisis and was relegated to Serie C.

The club’s president during this period was Joe Tacopina, a New York lawyer turned serial Italian soccer investor who had previously been part of property groups in Rome and Bologna. In 2020, fellow shareholder Duncan Niederauer bought it.

The easiest access to Venice's Pier Luigi Penzo Stadium is by boat.
The easiest access to Venice’s Pier Luigi Penzo Stadium is by boat. Photography: Courtesy of Venice

Niederauer, former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, wanted to take Venice in a different direction. He and Tacopina shared the belief that the club had the potential to develop a global fan base thanks to its location in a unique city, a place that attracts millions of tourists each year. After all, what could be more romantic than a football team whose stadium, the Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo, can be most easily reached by boat?

However, they differed in their vision of what that would look like. After completing his acquisition, Niederauer hired Menta, a 29-year-old Venezia fan from Pennsylvania who had never worked in soccer before, to head the club’s analytics department.

Menta had cold called him after reading about the acquisition, pitching him on an opportunity with her sheer enthusiasm and knowledge of the field. His player recommendations helped transform a team that was expected to fight relegation into one that finished fifth and gained promotion to Serie A through the playoffs.

Tessmann and fellow American Gianluca Busio were signed in the following transfer window. Menta identified them for their potential on the field, but of course these moves were also linked to the club’s efforts to increase its international appeal.

Tacopina had changed the club’s name during his tenure as president, changing the winged lion on its crest for a more aggressive representation. “The old lion says: ‘Welcome to our visitors, to our city; Be safe,’” Tacopina said at the time. “This lion says, ‘Fuck you or we’ll kill you.'”

96% of Venice t-shirt sales come from outside Italy.
96% of Venice t-shirt sales come from outside Italy. Photography: Courtesy of Venice

This was not the sale Niederauer had in mind. He brought back Ted Philipakos as the club’s brand director and Sonya Kondratenko as media director, two more Americans who had been part of the Venezia project in its previous chapters.

Ahead of the club’s return to Serie A in 2021, they switched kit suppliers from Nike to Kappa and collaborated to create a collection of four fashion suits. The striking designs included a black home t-shirt which recreated a trompe l’oeil Venetian wall texture, as seen on the facades around the lagoon.

The marketing campaign that accompanied its launch sold Venezia less as a football club than as a lifestyle brand. The same was true for the opening of a new club store a year later, designed to look like a high-end fashion boutique, with only a handful of carefully selected items on display. Starting in 2022, the club hired German design agency Bureau Borsche to develop the next set of kits, as well as a new stylized club badge. don magazine he tagged them as Fashion FC.

This rebranding was very effective. Philipakos told Esquire that 96% of merchandise sales came from outside Italy. However, success on the field was harder to come by. Venezia could not survive a single season in Serie A, they were relegated at the end of the 2021-22 campaign in last place.

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For his two new American players, it was a punishing experience. Busio arrived with greater expectations, a player who had made 65 appearances for Sporting Kansas City at age 19 and was part of the USMNT’s Gold Cup-winning team the summer he arrived. He got off to a bright start, scoring in the draw against Cagliari, but faded with his team as the season progressed.

Less was asked of Tessmann, who had made only a handful of appearances for FC Dallas in the year and a half before joining Venezia. He made only six starts in Serie A and received little consideration from new coach Ivan Javorčić after his team’s relegation.

Tanner Tessmann arrived at Venezia from FC Dallas.
Tanner Tessmann joined Venezia from FC Dallas in 2021. Photography: Courtesy of Venice

That chapter was thankfully short. Javorčić was sacked after 12 dismal games in charge and replaced by Paolo Vanoli. The latter appreciated Tessmann’s physique, but at first it was still difficult for him to find a home for him. Only after Mato Jajalo, signed from Udinese to serve as the team’s manager, tore his cruciate ligament in February of this year, did things start to go well for the American.

Tessmann, who had previously struggled when asked to orchestrate play from midfield, was recruited back into that position out of necessity. Unexpectedly, he thrived, showing a calmness and quality in possession that was previously lacking.

Vanoli explained that this improvement is the result of old-fashioned hard work on the training ground. “I always ask a lot of my players,” he said after watching Tessmann score in an impressive 3-2 win over Parma in October. “But you have to be prepared to wait for what is asked.”

For a while, Busio seemed to be on the opposite path, no longer a guaranteed starter, as Venezia bounced back to finish eighth last season in Serie B. But his form this campaign has been much better, starting 12 of 13 games with Tessmann. primarily on a cash-to-cash basis. “Gianluca has entered a new cycle,” Vanoli said in September. “Finally he wants to be a footballer. Young players need to learn lessons and sometimes you have to be tough on them. “I’ve been with him quite a while.”

Tessmann and Busio were called up together this week to the U.S. Olympic men’s soccer team for a training camp in Spain. At only 22 and 21 years old respectively, they have a long career ahead of them. However, neither of them seems to be in a hurry to leave one of the most extraordinary stages in European football.

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