Straight from the dark heart of Italy
The Americans are coming, the Americans are coming... 67 years after Allied forces marched unopposed into the Italian capital, on Friday 15 April AS Roma became the first major Italian club to end up in foreign hands.
Thomas DiBenedetto is the American in Rome who has taken the plunge into the murky, mysterious world of calcio – where nothing is ever as it seems but everything is crystal clear to those who have shaped that exclusive members' club.
DeBenedetto (right) announces his takeover
The Sensi family, who are walking away with a tidy sum after 18 years at the helm of the Giallorossi, have known that world inside out – first under patriarch Franco and then more recently with his daughter Rosella. But in truth Roma have never been invited into the inner sanctum occupied by Juventus and the Milanese clubs.
Despite on-field progress – a league title in 2001, two Italian Cups and two Italian Super Cups, three second-place finishes in the last four seasons – the Sensi family, under the Italpetroli umbrella company, ended up saddling the club with debts reckoned to be north of €300m.
So when their major creditor Unicredit Bank decided that the situation was no longer sustainable they looked outside Italy for a white knight, knowing that no viable rescue package would be forthcoming at home.
DiBenedetto and his consortium – which includes Fenway Sports Group, parent company of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool – offered the best option for all parties involved. Even so, there was a maze of financial intrigue to unravel before the American would commit, including 90 claims from former club employees – one of which was a reported outstanding payment of €5m to former striker Gabriel Batistuta.
The devil is in the detail, as they say, so while rumours abounded in the capital that DiBenedetto would walk away from the deal, as his fellow countryman George Soros had done in the past, he and his advisers were in fact completing the most stringent of due diligence.
There was plenty of euphoria in the Stadio Olimpico last weekend ahead of the league game against Palermo when the news came through that a deal had finally been reached, with the stars and stripes in prominence along with the somewhat lost in translation “Welcome Uncle Tom” banners.
Romans welcome the Ital-American
Despite his Italian origins from the Abruzzo region, DiBenedetto seems very much the archetypical American businessman of a certain age and manner so he has needed to surround himself with those who have a feeling for local sensibilities.
One such is James Pallotta, one of four partners in the newly-formed group DiBenedetto AS Roma LLC. He's also an Ital-American but his maternal grandmother was born near Rome.
What the new bosses will find when they arrive at Trigoria training complex will be a mixed bag of those secure in the knowledge that they will have a part to play in the new organisation and those nervously awaiting their marching orders.
Already earmarked as sporting directors are Franco Baldini and Walter Sabatini – the former back at the club where he worked alongside Fabio Capello, the latter having been instrumental in bringing Javier Pastore to Palermo before inevitably falling out with the Sicilian club’s firebrand owner Maurizio Zamparini.
They will be given the task of attracting star names – Gigi Buffon and the aforementioned Pastore are heading the list – but they will not be bankrolled in the manner of mega-rich Arab backers, which should at least ensure that a sense of realism remains intact.
Whether Vincenzo Montella stays on as coach must also be dealt with delicately, but Carlo Ancelotti returning to a club where he played with distinction would help expunge fan doubts over whether the Roman identity will be diluted.
There is no doubt that situation at the club can only improve and although DiBenedetto naturally set out the remit of winning the league, what is needed is a period of stability – and failure to qualify for the Champions League may not be a disaster after all, despite Lazio’s participation.
Serie A as it stands – click for more stats
With Serie A set to have its quota reduced to three clubs in the competition from the season after next, then, the new-look Roma could concentrate on domestic matters from August safe in the knowledge that the new investment will cushion the blow of missing out on Europe’s premier competition.
As they say, Rome wasn't built in a day but at least the foundations have been laid.
1. Roy Hodgson is king of the road If West Brom can win at Tottenham on Saturday, Roy Hodgson will have
Latest Italian Football News
Milan snatch Champions League spot late on
Moratti hints at change on Stramaccioni future
Fiorentina furious over Milan's 'gifted' penalty
Mazzarri quits Napoli after four seasons
Sampdoria put dampener on Juventus finale
He's here, he's there, he's...
The cost of Premier League away travel
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010