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The Roma Revolución

Allie Gamble asks what’s going on in the Italian Capital….

On the 16th of April this year, Thomas DiBenedetto made Italian football history by signing a takeover contract to buy AS Roma. By doing so, the Bostonian, a partner in the Fenway Group which also owns Liverpool and the Red Sox, became the first foreign owner of a Serie A team. His arrival was greeted with approval by the fans, who hoped for a more aggressive or ambitious transfer policy than that of the Roma of the past, and the Italian press, who saw it as an important step forward for Italian football as a whole.

For Roma, this was a chance to move up in the world of Italian football, an opportunity to break the Triumvirate of Inter, Milan and Juventus (hugely weakened post Calciopoli). For the rest of Serie A, it represented the possibility of a stronger, more marketable, modern league that would attract future investors. Even the disappointing results of that season for Rome’s yellow-reds didn’t dampen the air of excitement that hung over the Capital as the season drew to a close.

The American takeover was met with enthusiasm by Romanisti

The first move of the American regime was the hiring of Director of Sport/Transfer Guru Walter Sabatini, who arrived from Palermo. This move was widely applauded. Sabatini is regarded as among the best in the business at what he does. He was the man responsible for bringing Pastore to Europe, among many others.

This was followed by the addition of Director Franco Baldini, who will not officially join until later this year due to his obligations to the English National Team, where he assists Capello. These ‘signings’, while hardly the sort of thing to get most fans starry eyed with rapture, were smart moves in harmony with the new direction and ambitious mentality the Americans are looking to install in a club famous for near misses and organisation-wide meltdowns.

Walter Sabatini

Another example of the new management’s intent to break with tradition was its choice of coach. Around February, Carlo Ancelotti was considered the obvious candidate. An experienced manager with a great deal of success and a playing past with Roma, it was thought he was the man the DiBenedetto had his eye on. Maybe he was, but for whatever reason, Carletto remains without a job post-Chelsea. The interest in Villas-Boas seems to have been much more concrete, but his €15 release clause probably scared them off.

In the end, it was Luis Enrique, of Barcelona B fame, who got the job. A young coach with a winning mentality and little in common with the typical Italian management style, there are plenty of similarities between him and Villas-Boas, suggesting he was plan B in the likely event they couldn’t get Mourinho’s protege. The fact he has a great deal of experience of Barcelona’s exceptionally successful system didn’t hurt his chances either.  His inexperience was questioned though, especially going into a locker-room that has seen its fair share of squabbles, and considering he would be given the job to take a team that was less in rebuilding mode than in a state of total upheaval from the top down.

Luis Enrique

The transfer market was just as eventful as predicted, with Sabatini pulling off moves left right and centre. Spanish speakers in particular seemed to be the flavour of the month. In came Maarten Stekelenburg, the Dutch International, who arrived for a preposterously low €6m. Simon Kjaer was taken on loan for €2m, with the option to buy for a further €7-8m. Fernando Gago arrived from Madrid on a similar deal. Bojan was bought from Barcelona for €12m, Spanish U21 International José Ángel came in from Gijon, Gabriel Heinze was signed on a free transfer from Marseille. Pablo Osvaldo the Argentine/Italian striker returned to Italy from Espanyol for roughly €15m, a price which raised plenty of eyebrows for a player with plenty still to prove.

Sabatini also compounded his reputation for having a penchant for Argentinian attacking prodigies when he secured Erik Lamela, a star for Argentina’s U21s, for €12m from River Plate. Ex-Chelsea prospect Fabio Borini was also taken on loan, with the option to buy. The best move Roma made though, was surely the deadline day signing of superb midfielder Miralem Pjanic from Lyon for around €11m.

Out went the ridiculously talented, inconsistent, frustrating but always entertaining Mirko Vucinic (Juventus), as well as Jeremy Menez (PSG), Matteo Brighi (Atalanta), Philippe Mexes (Milan, still hurts), John Arne Riise (Fulham).

Never a dull moment with Mirko

In the transfer market, the new look Roma have enjoyed success this summer, with the botched sale of Marco Borriello to PSG the only big mark on an otherwise impressive beginning for Sabatini, as well as perhaps the amount paid for Osvaldo. On the pitch though, things have been rather less enjoyable for Roma’s fans. Granted, any team that goes through the amount of change they have, over such a short period of time, is going to have some ‘growing-pains’, as Sabatini and Luis Enrique repeatedly stressed.

However, getting knocked out of Europe by Slovan Bratislava in the Europa League qualifications, having said that they were taking the competition seriously sounds more like ‘growing-Spanish Inquisition style torture’. The saying goes that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but on the evidence so far, this team is nowhere near where the people in charge had planned by the start of the season. There is no team in Italy that has benefitted more from the delays to the start of the league season caused by the players’ strike than Roma, but even with the extra couple of weeks of preparation, the first few months of the season may well be rough for a squad so in need of chemistry and direction.

Of course, it doesn’t help (nor, knowing Roma, should it surprise) that the two most important people in Roma’s locker room, Captain Francesco Totti and the coach Enrique himself, are currently not on speaking terms. Totti, according to the Italian press, is upset by Enrique’s decision not to start him against Bratislava, and feels that he is being marginalised by the new management, a sentiment reinforced by the fact that earlier in the summer Baldini, not even arrived in Rome, went on record saying Totti was lazy.

It is also unclear if Enrique truly believes Totti can fit in his 4-3-3 formation. The fans have naturally come down on the side of Totti, the greatest legend in the history of the club, and as much a feature of the city as the Colosseum.  Both characters have reputations for stubbornness, and this controversy risks destabilising the project, unless one side or the other can swallow their pride. Of course, Enrique at this points seems to have more to lose, since if he were to back down it would likely lose cause him to lose the respect of the rest of the team.

Totti's standing amongst Roma fans is unparalleled

So what now for Roma? There are many reasons for Romanisti to be optimistic for the future as their club tries to boldly go where no Italian team has ever gone before, especially with so much young talent in the squad in the likes of Lamela, Pjanic, Kjaer and Bojan, but there are also plenty of warning signs that it might be a bumpy road ahead. The club needs to keep the directors, coach and players all on the same page, or it could all fall apart. Whatever the outcome this season though, there’s no doubt that the team from the Eternal City won’t be boring.

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New writer Allie Gamble, 19, reports from Rome on why this Sunday’s derby is no ordinary rivalry.


The Derby of Rome has always been one of the most intriguing events in the Italian football calendar. Despite a great deal of competition from the more glamorous Milanese derby della Madonnina or the historic Inter-Juve derby d’Italia, or even less well know matches like Genova’s derby della Lanterna between Sampdoria and Genoa, which is known for its stunning and intricate tifo displays, Roma vs Lazio has always received a great deal of attention, and this Sunday will prove no exception.

One of the reasons why the Roman derby is so important is purely geographical. The ‘big three’ of Italian football – Inter, Juve and Milan – are concentrated up in the Alpine North of the Peninsula, so logic dictates that the South provide some sort of counterbalance. Rome is the largest city in Italy, and of course its capital, so it makes sense for it to be the focus of any such effort. With a large, football-loving population – over a million people crammed into the Circus Maximus to celebrate Roma’s league win in 2001, (could you imagine that happening in Hyde Park after Chelsea won the Premier League?) – any Roman Derby is guaranteed to garner interest. The fact that both teams are well supported in the city and the region, and that both declare themselves to be the only true team of Rome, adds to the interest this match provokes in Central and Southern Italy.

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