Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Thomas DiBenedetto introduced a new word to Rome in his first official press conference as AS Roma owner on Thursday: patience.
Anyone who has spent any time in the Eternal City will know that a capacity to endure and tolerate delay is a virtue – but that same tolerance is not applied to football, especially when it comes to the Giallorossi.
Looking very much the American in Rome in a pale suit and perspiring gently, DiBenedetto left the introductions to his local management team – former Lecce chief executive Claudio Fenucci and Roberto Cappelli from Unicredit Bank, who is acting president until the end of the month – before outlining his vision for the future.
Around 200 reporters packed into a press room at the club’s Trigoria training centre were treated to the well-worn English expression "Roma wasn’t built in a day" – just what the expectant local hacks didn’t want to hear.
The American investors have acquired a 60 per cent share in the club, becoming the first foreign majority owners of a Serie A club (Unicredit Bank retain the remaining 40 per cent). But instead of a full-out (and, in truth, unrealistic) assault on the Scudetto, the new owners are pinning their hopes on developing a youthful side around the ageing Pied Piper, Francesco Totti, who DiBenedetto dutifully hailed as Roma’s best-ever player. Not Italy’s, though, which raised a few eyebrows.
The fact that Stefano Okaka, at 21 an Italy Under-21 squad member with first-team experience at Roma, has been put on the transfer list suggests there is a belief that within this year’s title-winning youth side there is enough emerging talent to make the step up. It did not go unnoticed that it was members of the youth team who modeled for the new kit.
It was all a matter of buying into the American Dream, where a new culture of management, both on and off the pitch, will eventually pay dividends.
One of those who must decide if he is part of this ‘new era’ is Daniele De Rossi. The midfielder is yet to sign a new contract, but if Roman sensibilities are not to be swept away in a tide of American pragmatism then the club cannot another afford to allow the local-born star, who has long been considered heir-apparent to Totti, to move on. There is still much to do.
New coach Luis Enrique was also paraded in front of the press for the first time, and seemed to be in a state of heightened agitation, having arrived almost directly from only his second training session. The Spaniard was sweating more profusely than DiBenedetto, and fidgeting in a manner that suggests that his press conferences could become as confrontational as Jose Mourinho’s run-ins.
The former Barcelona B coach was in no mood to fawn to the press. He immediately made it clear that the blueprint of Catalan success would not be simply lifted and dropped into the Italian game, although a philosophy of attacking football and retaining possession doesn’t seem that far from Pep Guardiola’s approach.
In fact, it was difficult to decipher who was the most uncomfortable: the coiled, sinewy Enrique or the more sedate DiBenedetto, complete with ill-fitting headphones so that he could understand what was going on and keep everyone on the party line.
With the more vocal radio reporters firing their first salvos over a proposed new stadium and whether Mirko Vucinic would be sold – "you’ll have to ask sporting director Walter Sabatini," opined Enrique, finally deciding on a bit of mischief-making with the press – it was left to Di Benedetto to return to the point where he had come in. Indicating to President Cappelli that he should throw the dogs a bone, he announced that Franco Baldini would be leaving the England set-up after the Euro 2012 qualifiers to join Sabatini.
DiBenedetto reinforced the concept that success will arrive but that everyone needs to keep expectations more grounded, which is bit like asking a Roman taxi driver to slow down for a pedestrian crossing.
The big hitters in the north – Juventus, Inter and AC Milan – as well as Napoli to the south and Lazio closer to home would have been watching with interest and no doubt some scepticism, believing this new-look Roma are working on a hidden agenda to draw them into a false sense of security before catching everyone out with a revolutionary approach.
Italians don’t like surprises; they prefer to know what they are dealing with. But the evidence so far suggests that Roma, under their Boston-based owners, will be run on good old American common sense and a bit of bullish Spanish spirit, but above all a tempering of Roman impulsiveness.
Vucinic and De Rossi are talented players, but if getting 30-35m for these two helps bring in a group good players, then I'd sell them. De Rossi is not the player he was anyway. The likes of Menez is the player Roma should be keeping, not Totti. He's been a great player for them, but time waits for no-one and if Roma are relying on him for 40-50 games, then they'll fail.
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