Roma: Oh ye Americans, what did you bring to the table?

By Ali Khalid Rana

In April 2011, AS Roma became the first major Italian team to have foreign ownership after a group of American investors agreed to buy the club. The consortium, led by Thomas DiBenedetto bought a 67% controlling share for 70.3 millions Euros. After officially taking over in August 2011, DiBenedetto ruled at the helm as President of AS Roma for 11 months before he was replaced by James Pallotta – a man now synonymous with the American takeover.

Initially, when I heard about the takeover I wasn’t remotely thrilled. The ‘Sensi’ family had given a lot to the fans and the club, they were part of the tradition and I didn’t want them to be thrown out. They embodied the Roman passion that built and drove the club forward.

Also, I didn’t want Roma turning into a Chelsea, Zenit, PSG or Manchester City. A cash rich club throwing money for success and in the process losing their identity and not focusing on their own youth. Imagine if this happened in the early 90s, we might have never had Francesco Totti as our Capitano.

Naturally the other spectrum of takeovers is even more worrying. Having seen Leeds and Portsmouth takeovers gone sour financially leading to relegation and riots, I could only hope this was not one of those cases.

Frankly at the time I thought Roma would be fine without the takeover despite being cashless and indebt. Now more than 3 years later, I can reflect and analyse to conclude if  the work done by the owners is any good or if I worries were well placed.

  1. Stadio Della Roma: To become a top club, a modern club-owned stadium is an absolute necessity. Despite my love for the Olimpico, it was simply outdated and the running tracks made for an awful viewing. Stadio Della Roma owned by the club will improve the finances and with a planned capacity of 52,000 right next to the field it will surely be a fortress. The only con is the launch date, which the Italian  red tape keeps on tampering with. The uncertainty means it might be more expensive a project than originally planned and might cut into salaries and transfer budgets.
  2. Focus on youth:  Rather than buying established stars for exorbitant fees and salaries, the owners have focused on turning young potential into stars. With the average age of Roma squad (after removing Totti and De Rossi) around 25, the owners are surely focused on the long term goals and success. Though to be fair this changed a bit this season, Seydou Keita and Doumbia were bought as stop gaps to cater to the demands of European Football.
  3. The Trigoria will not be  ignored: Romans in the starting 11 are the Romanistas’ ultimate dream. Spoilt by the likes of Totti, De Rossi and Aquilani, all fans were worried with the new owners coming. Would their own youngsters be ignored? Would Roma turn into another Chelsea and sending young players on loans to never see them play for their team? The short answer: No. The long answer: Florenzi, Verde and Romagnoli provide enough evidence that homebred players will always be an important pillar of the club. So rest assured Romanistas, our local heroes/homebred boys are going no where.
  4. Digitally Yours: Despite not adding a lot to revenue ( for now) this has to be my favorite achievement of James Pallotta’s crew. Currently, the digital team are focused on being a content creating football machine; providing fans with a closer look into trainings, players’ life and the runnings of the club. Online ticketing and subscription to the newly relaunched Roma TV has gotten a lot of traction. A small victory for the management was the one million likes on the Giallorossi’s Facebook page. As evident by the launch of an English based twitter profile, they are looking to build a global brand with plans of breaking into China and the Asian market already in the works.
  5. Making the wolves competitive: Currently the Serie A is not in a great state, so being competitive might not count for a lot but for comparison sake in the last 5 years Roma have been languishing in mediocrity. The American reign suffered a poor beginning but things have slowly improved. A club permanently swallowed in turmoil has seen stability: Rudi Garcia is leading the troops for a second year running and like last season even this year the Giallorossi have been the only contender to the Old Lady of Turin.
  6. Endorsements: The endorsement of Nike and Disney have been key for the Giallorossi. The Nike partnership immediately put the club back into mainstream football, something that had been missing for a while. The club had not been given the attention they deserved. While Disney as well as Michael Bradley were strategically used to expand Roma’s fanbase in America, both partnerships have been masterstrokes and have achieved results in terms of revenue and improving the club’s popularity.
  7. Lack of a shirt sponsor: I do like the shirts without a sponsor but the financial books hate it. Sadly enough I will agree with the capitalistic world on this one, the shirt sponsor should have been sorted at the start of the season. The extra cash could have been used to purchase a better player. It is definitely a lost opportunity. Hopefully, come next season that will be sorted right away. As much as I hate shirts with logos ( yes Manchester United – the Chevy logo that you call a shirt is hideous ) I would not mind taking a personal hit for the club’s financial gain.
  8. Style of Play:  Roma’s playing style was a priority since day one. As a fan you want your team to play attractive football. Barring Luis Enrique’s stint and maybe the current season’s second half, the team is built to play fast, attacking, attractive football and has subsequently delivered. Credit obviously goes to the leadership for acquiring the right staff and backing it up with the right kind of players.
  9. Benatia’s departure: We will never know the story completely about why Benatia left but unless Roma were cash strapped ( which they weren’t) the Moroccan should not have left or should have been at least 10 Million more expensive. For the league’s best defender to go for just 28 Million euros is an absolute tragedy. Directly this is Rudi Garcia’s and Walter Sabatini’s fault but they needed to be backed properly so they could negotiate/play hard ball or Benatia should have been handed the contract he was after. We have seen how his transfer has affected the club and defence. The management needed to step in to protect one of their main assets and they failed.
  10. Lack of Titles and that Lazio defeat: For me this is a massive problem, being competitive and interactive with the fans is great but as the old age saying goes, you play to win. Despite their pretty football, impressive plans of a stadium and social media stunts, Roma has been trophyless since 2007-08. With lofty ambitions and plans, fans naturally expect trophies and that is a massive blotch on Roma’s scorecard. Insult to injury was the runner up trophy in 2012-13 Coppa Italia; the Giallorossi were defeated by their eternal rivals Lazio. Something that till this day Romanistas have not forgotten. A winning mentality needs to be instilled; maybe it requires buying a few players, overhauling staff or incentives but something has to give.

After listing the pros and cons ( I obviously ignored transfer because I believe that is a direct responsibility of the coach and the director of football ) I would like to put my hand up and apologise to the management. Sorry, I didn’t trust you initially and I was wrong. Up till now they have run a football club the way it should be run, haven’t thrown away cash stupidly on stars, haven’t increased ticket prices so they can make a quick buck or worse, sold key players (barring Benatia who obviously wanted to leave) to make money and leave the club languishing in mid table. They actually have improved the finances and despite running it like a business have kept the club competitive. James Pallotta and company, grazie.

 

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About Stefano Bernardini 3555 Articles
A Roman between New York, Philadelphia, and Rome achieving his dreams. Persistence can make extraordinary things happen. Editor of AS ROMA 360 | Collaborated with Calciomercato.it & Calcio e Finanza | Reported on Major League Soccer | Featured on Bleacher Report & OneFootball EN.

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