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AS Roma's president James Pallotta: Rome's newest gladiator?

By James Masters, CNN
updated 9:48 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
"It's Rome," jokes James Pallotta, the president of AS Roma, explaining his decision to invest in the Italian football club. "It's Rome," jokes James Pallotta, the president of AS Roma, explaining his decision to invest in the Italian football club.
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A new Roman Empire?
A new Roman Empire?
A new Roman Empire?
A new Roman Empire?
A new Roman Empire?
A new Roman Empire?
A new Roman Empire?
A new Roman Empire?
A new Roman Empire?
A new Roman Empire?
A new Roman Empire?
A new Roman Empire?
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • AS Roma President James Pallotta outlines new strategy for Italian club
  • Pallotta wants to see his team play at Rome's Colosseum or Circus Maximus
  • Club's new stadium set to open in time for 2016-17 season
  • Roma faces Bayern Munich in Champions League on Tuesday

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"Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity" (line from the film Gladiator)

Gladiators, ready?

From the ancient ruins of Rome, a new empire rises.

But with a nod to the past, the city's newest gladiator James Pallotta's eyes light up when his thoughts turn to historic sites like the Colosseum.

For if all roads lead to Rome, the AS Roma president is leaving no stone unturned in his intention to marry the Eternal City's historic past with Italian football's new emerging force.

"I have one big goal," Pallotta tells CNN, with an infectious smile. "I want to get the city to let us play somebody like Barcelona or Bayern Munich or someone like that at the Colosseum."

While the idea might have the marketing department rubbing their hands with glee, Pallotta could have his work cut out, persuading those maintaining these sites to allow Francesco Totti and Daniel de Rossi to put on an altogether different kind of gladiatorial show.

Commissioned by Emperor Vespasian, the Colosseum remains Rome's most iconic monument and while others may not have ever considered bring the modern day Roman legion to entertain the masses, Pallotta is not like any other owner.

"We'll do a pay-per-view on it, $25 around the world," adds the Bostonia, elaborating on the idea. "We could get 300 million people wanting to watch that around the world -- a game in the Colosseum which they'll never see again.

"We take that money, which could be billions of dollars, and then set up a foundation in Rome to fix up the antiquities even faster and put the rest towards inner city programs in Rome."

Vespasian died before he could see the Colosseum completed by his son, Titus, in AD 80, with the 55,000 arena becoming an integral part of Rome's history.

Pallotta jokes he wouldn't mind seeing a few lions let out of the traps to speed up the match tempo, and the 56-year-old American-born investor, who took over the job of rebuilding Roma in 2012 , is clearly a man in a hurry.

While millions flock to the Italian capital to gaze upon the likes of St Peter's Basilica, the Pantheon and the Sistine Chapel, Pallotta wants future visitors to embrace a new modern Roma.

"When you walk around the city, you cannot keep your head down," he said.

"You have to look up because of the architecture and every step you take is amazing.

"For us not to have Rome be a significant part of what we are doing with the team would be foolish."

Rio Ferdinand joined Manchester United in 2002 for a fee of £30 million ($48.5 million) which made him the world's most expensive defender at the time. He won six Premier League titles and the 2008 Champions League during his 12-year spell at Old Trafford. Rio Ferdinand joined Manchester United in 2002 for a fee of £30 million ($48.5 million) which made him the world's most expensive defender at the time. He won six Premier League titles and the 2008 Champions League during his 12-year spell at Old Trafford.
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A fixture between Roma against world class opposition at the Colosseum or perhaps more realistically, at the Circus Maximus given rock concerts have been staged there, is just one of Pallotta's many ideas.

Neither Barca nor Bayern responded to CNN's request to see if they would consider playing against Roma in one of these venues in a friendly.

However, more tangible is Pallotta's intention to provide Rome with a new stadium which the club hopes will be ready for the 2016-17 season.

Able to accommodate up to 60,000 people, the arena is intended to become the focal point for a new chapter in the club's history.

A "Peak Performance Center" will be built adjacent to the stadium providing facilities for the club's first and youth teams to train, while a deal has been struck with local authorities to extend the metro line allowing easier access for supporters.

A new club village, which will host restaurants, bars and shops will also be built with the 13,500 square meter fanzone helping to create thousands of jobs.

Given that Rome was not built in a day, Pallotta has big plans for Roma's youth academy and the city's youngsters.

"In the past year, we had Roma kids on our shirts which is the foundation we set up for inner city programs in Rome," explained the American.

"In terms of the youth side of things, we've got good programs but what we've instituted is a new educational framework.

"I didn't think we were doing enough. We know only three or four kids are going to make it to Serie A or the Premier League, so what are they going to do when they're 18 or 19?

"Are they going to be a clerk somewhere? Or get a menial job with no education?

"So we instituted a 9th-12th grade formal program which is online and this will help them get into college.

"They'll get accredited if they can't make it in football and we'll help them."

A fan of NBA franchise Boston Celtics, Pallotta is well aware of the role that history can have in promoting a brand and he has used some of the NBA's ideas to help reinvigorate Roma.

A Hall of Fame was set up following a vote by supporters, while the club's logo was changed and the name 'AS Roma' registered as a trademark.

He is hoping that the likes of inspirational captain Totti, known as 'el Capitano,' will remain at the club when he retires in an ambassadorial role.

Pallotta talks about how each of the players is like a son to him, while he insists that those who work in the kitchens or security department equally command his respect.

"Francesco is going to be with us forever," says Pallotta with that trademark smile as he talks about the 38-year-old player, who made his debut for Roma at the age of 16. "Part of the role will be defined by him on what he wants to do.

Francesco is going to be with us forever.
James Pallotta

"We would like him to be around the pitch, talking to people who are coming into the club and telling them, 'I've been here 20 years, this is what Roma's all about.'

"You would love to have him with the youth team and once in a while actually going out there and having a drill with them.

"And the other thing you'd love is for him to be an ambassador for us. If I'm a nine-year-old and Totti walks in and sits down with you and your parents and says 'I was here and this is what is going on at Roma' then the kids will be thinking 'OK, wow.'"

While the past and future are being taken care of, the present is very much up to those on the field of play.

Roma, which faces Bayern Munich in the Champions League Tuesday, has made an encouraging start to the domestic and European season.

Under head coach Rudi Garcia, the team has impressed with the likes of Totti, Miralem Pjanic, and Mattia Destro all catching the eye.

All three men played a vital role in Roma's 3-0 win over Chievo last weekend -- a result which leaves the team in second place and just one point behind leaders Juventus.

Bayern represents the biggest test faced by Roma at the Stadio Olimpico so far this season but for Pallotta, it is these kind of challenges which has put his club back in the big time.

"People are starting to talk more about what is going on at Roma," Pallotta says with a smile.

"It's a long-term thing. You can do it in one or two years and people will think it's a fluke, but the objective is to do it over 20 years and have that stability.

"We want to be in the Champions League, compete for the title which I feel we can do this year."

Bayern Munich -- the gladiator awaits.

Read: Roma chief eyes new overseas empire

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