INTERVIEW: AS Roma President James Pallotta

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  • Modern approach: Pallotta is revamping Roma on and off the field.

    AS Roma president James Pallotta is a forthright individual, his interviews rarely filled with the usual media-savvy and cliche riddled ‘football speak’.

    It doesn’t take long for him to demonstrate as much when he sits down with Sport360.

    “We’re pretty serious on what we want to build, we’re not some Americans here doing a drive-by and just trying to make some money off the team,” Pallotta explains in his inimitable style.

    The Massachusetts entrepreneur took control of Roma in 2012, with fans immediately skeptical that an outsider wanted to invest in the Giallorossi.

    Their trepidation stemmed not from the fact he was a foreigner, but simply because he was not from the Italian capital. Romans, and particularly Roma supporters are notoriously insular, taking great pride in both their local identity and the isolation it subsequently creates.

    It is therefore no surprise that playing for or coaching the club has been described as like living and working in a goldfish bowl. The country’s second-biggest newspaper, the Corriere dello Sport, is based in Rome and delivers four broadsheet pages of Roma news every day.

    There are local TV shows each night dedicated to the club, while as many as six sports radio stations attract almost threequarters of a million listeners every day, tuning in to hear the latest news and opinions on their beloved side.

    But given that he comes from Boston – where the Celtics, Bruins, Red Sox and New England Patriots all receive similar coverage – Pallotta understands that tribalism better than most. In fact, he relishes it and wants to see that presence in the spotlight grow.

    Under his guidance, the club has worked to produce Roma Radio, Roma TV, Roma Studios and a new website that produces content in both Italian and English at a level unlike almost every other team in Italy.

    They became the first European club to stream a match live on Facebook and – according to a recent survey by Result Sports – are the continent’s third-fastest growing club on social media. Yet Pallotta insists they’ve barely started.

    “We have a willingness and a desire to prove that over the next 10 or fifteen years we can create a major global force in the sport,” Pallotta explains. “If I can use a baseball analogy, we might be in the second inning right now.”

    That may well be true, but to continue the same metaphor, Roma have certainly not batted 1.000 over the first four years of his tenure.

    Luciano Spalletti is the fifth coach to have been appointed in that time, following Luis Enrique, Zdenek Zeman, Aurelio Andreazzoli and Rudi Garcia.

    Under each they have initially appeared to make progress, only to stumble and then need to make a change in order to move upwards once again.

    “It’s not an easy sport and we’ve made mistakes,” Pallotta says. “Many times it’s been a case of two or three steps forward, one step back…but each time we get up ready to go again.”

    They finished sixth during his first season in charge, but have since moved into a spot ahead of the chasing pack behind Juventus, establishing themselves as a permanent fixture in the top three.

    From 2017-18 Serie A will have four guaranteed places in the Champions League – putting Roma in prime position to also become regulars in European football’s elite competition. But the 58-year-old owner is not resting on his laurels.

    Off the field, his efforts have been concentrated on dragging the club into the 21st century, overhauling their infrastructure and giving them the best possible environment in which to succeed. “We got some things wrong there too but we’ve been rectifying those,” Pallotta admits.

    “The new CEO Umberto Gandini, who was previously with AC Milan, is a huge uptick from what we were dealing with before. He has so much more experience in dealing with this world, and we have a new sporting director as we make changes to do what is best for the team.”

    They have spent the past two years improving their scouting network with regards to young players, winning the Primavera (Under-19) title last term and performing well at all youth levels as they look to help even more homegrown players follow in the footsteps of Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi.

    Talk of the first-term, however, sees the conversation move away from Romans and inevitably to Miralem Pjanic (pictured). The Bosnian left the Giallorossi this past summer, joining Juventus after the Old Lady triggered a €32 million release clause in the contract he signed back in 2014.

    Seeing a key player depart is always tough but watching him join a club Roma are working so hard to chase drew concern from Giallorossi supporters.

    “It was definitely a lesson learned,” Pallotta says, his club only agreeing to include that aforementioned fee in his contract after his previous deal was almost allowed to expire.

    With better planning and foresight, the problem would have never have arisen. As a result, the gap between Roma and Juventus has remained glaring, but the Roma president insists there is no reason they cannot eventually battle on equal footing.

    “First of all we’ve gotta be smarter in the way we do things. Their continuity and management has been the same for decades, which is something we have to aspire to because that breeds stability. “Their stadium is also a major factor of course.”

    The Juventus Stadium – one of only three club-owned facilities in Serie A – provides the Bianconeri with huge advantages in terms of revenue and income.

    Roma are awaiting approval on a 52,000-seater project in the Tor di Valle area of the city, one without the Stadio Olimpico running track that leaves fans far removed from the action.

    “Thats going to impact our financial position so significantly, so dramatically and it will make a huge difference,” Pallotta continues.

    “Then can you imagine the atmosphere we can create with the incredible emotion of our fans that close to the pitch? A lot of teams certainly won’t enjoy visiting us there with a 50,000 vocal people cheering on Roma.”

    There have been a number of delays to the process, some of which the American admits were due to self-inflicted errors but it is hoped that by reducing the size of external areas surrounding the stadium, approval should soon be granted. When all is said and done, Pallotta knows his side will always have a major advantage.

    “We’re in Rome,” he says. “That matters.”