Montreal businessman Angelo Pasto is proud of his Italian roots. And now he is looking to do something for the region from where he came, by way of buying a minority stake in the Campobasso 1919 soccer team.

The club, which rose out of the ashes of a franchise in financial distress, is currently playing in the Italian fifth tier but the new ownership group is dreaming big — and enjoying the ride.

"Honestly it's the most fun I've had in a long time," said Pasto.

Pasto was drawn to soccer largely through his 18-year-old son, Aiden, who is a big fan. In 2021, they went to Naples to see a game.

"And I fell in love with the sport," Pasto said. "We thought about making an investment in a small team."

But it was just idle talk — wishful thinking — at the time.

Then one day he was watching a local multicultural TV channel and saw an interview with Matt Rizzetta, founder and chairman of North Sixth Group which has investments in marketing, media, technology, sports and entertainment. The New York-based Rizzetta had just invested in Ascoli, a second-tier Italian soccer team, and was talking about getting involved in Campobasso.

That got the attention of Pasto who was born in the town of Ururi, about an hour's drive from Campobasso, which is located some 90 kilometres northeast of Naples.

"I decided to give him a call … And I just became friends with him over the phone," said Pasto, whose day job is president of Stanford Properties Group, a Montreal-based real estate management firm.

The 56-year-old Pasto has degrees from Concordia University and California's Pepperdine University and lectures in finance and project management at Vanier College.

The investment in Campobasso took a complicated road.

Rizzetta and North Sixth Group acquired an interest in a club called SS Campobasso, in December 2020. The team won promotion to Serie C, Italy's third tier, in June 2021 only to be sidelined by non-payment of taxes.

After a series of court hearings, the club was declared ineligible for Serie C and Serie D for the 2022-23 season.

Last summer Rizzetta struck a deal to wholly purchase Campobasso 1919, an inactive team that had been the city's secondary club, with a goal of transforming it into Campobasso's primary franchise to replace the previous club.

Following the story from afar, Pasto called Rizzetta about the team. Rizzetta, who had a 30 per cent stake in the team at the time, said he was thinking of taking over the franchise and would he be interested in joining.

"And I jumped at it," said Pasto.

The two struck a deal, with Pasto coming on board in the fall as a minority investor.

"And we started all over again. He hired a coach. We hired players. We capitalized the team and we reached an agreement with the city of Campobasso to use the stadium. And the ball started rolling. And the next thing you know I'm an owner of an Italian soccer team," Pasto said with a chuckle.

American TV host Kelly Ripa and husband Mark Consuelos are also part of the ownership group through their involvement with North Sixth Group.

"Imagine my surprise when, over dinner in Montreal, Matt broke the news to me," said Pasto.

Consuelos calls Campobasso "the quintessential underdog story."

"This is a story of redemption, rebirth, and hope that will be playing out on the football pitches of Italy, and we are truly proud to play a role as co-owners," he added.

Ripa and Consuelos also invested in Ascoli.

Campobasso (17-1-0) currently stands second in its league, one point behind the leader with a game in hand. Ownership has its sights set on being promoted to the fourth tier after the season — and continuing the climb.

"Basically it's a brand new team … It's a brand new ownership structure," said Pasto.

"At first we had nobody. But now we're getting all the players from the (Serie) C team."

Campobasso plays in a 25,000-seat stadium, the largest in the region.

Initially no one wanted part of the team, including sponsors, given its recent checkered history. But with the team now stable and winning on the field, sponsors have started to return.

Pasto's company is one of Campobasso's sponsors with its logo on the back of the team jerseys. Rizzetta's company became the front jersey sponsor.

And they started a Campobasso YouTube channel to show games live as well as highlights and post-game interviews. The hope is the new team will help shine a spotlight on the region of Molise — whose capital is Campobasso — and get Italian expats around the world who have roots in the area to follow the club.

The team has already paid dividends for Pasto.

"It's brought me closer to my family in Italy and it brought me closer to my family here too," said Pasto.

Rizzetta also has Italian roots, with his grandparents emigrating from a small town named Monteleone di Puglia.

"We're committed to the long run to bring the team as far as we can," said Pasto, who joins a select group of Canadians with ownership stakes in soccer teams abroad.

CF Montreal owner Joey Saputo doubles as majority shareholder in the consortium that bought Serie A team Bologna.

Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds has a stake in Wrexham, a Welsh side that plays in England's fifth-tier National League. And Calgary-based R. Stewart Thompson and Kelowna-based Jason Neale are co-owners of Peterborough United of England's third-tier League One.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.