Roma president James Pallotta outlines changes he hopes will bring success to club
Pallotta believes Italian league has significant opportunities to grow
When things go wrong at a football club, there are usually two common responses. One: buy new players. Two: Sack the manager.
James Pallotta does things differently as president and chairman of AS Roma, where considered self-analysis is preferred to knee-jerk reaction.
“I think as management we let our players down last year more than anything,” Pallotta said as he opened up on the causes of the Italian club’s mid-season slump last term.
“I felt that what we were doing wrong we had to alter,” he continued. “And right at the end of the year we made some massive (structural) changes.”
Roma began the 2014/15 season brightly before suffering a humiliating 7-1 Champions League loss at home to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich.
Domestically, it kept pace with eventual Serie A champions Juventus but a poor run, not helped by a raft of injuries, shortly after the winter break saw dreams of a first league title since 2001 fall away.
A late rally ensured the Giallorossi secured an automatic Champions League spot by finishing second but it was the mid-season dip which ultimately proved decisive.
“We somewhat ran out of gas in the middle of the year,” said Pallotta. “But they (the players) sucked it up in that last month and won three out of four games to get us into the Champions League which was terrific.”
By this stage, however, Pallotta and his team were already putting in place the blueprint to ensure such a dramatic loss of form did not happen again.
“We changed everything,” Pallotta continued. “We built a new performance training center, we brought in great doctors, we brought in great performance people, we’ve looked a lot more at what we can do with analytics and nutrition.
“We’re trying to be more evolutionary on performance, in training, in coaching (and) in what we’re doing with analytics.”
Change in culture
So far, those changes have achieved mixed results.
An impressive early season victory at home to Juventus was followed by a creditable draw with Barcelona in the Champions League group stage opening fixture.
Yet a home draw against surprise package Sassuolo and a 2-1 defeat at Sampdoria have been recorded in the period since, though Roma did return to winning ways with a 5-1 triumph over Carpi at the weekend.
It now sits four points behind early-season pace setters Fiorentina and Inter Milan in the Serie A standings.
Such inconsistency can perhaps be expected when the playing squad has also undergone major surgery in the off-season.
Three players were signed on a permanent basis while nine others have come in on loan. Among the most eye-catching loan arrivals are Bosnian international Edin Dzeko from Manchester City, Mohamed Salah from Chelsea and Wojciech Sczesny from Arsenal.
Daniele De Rossi, Miralem Pjanic and the totemic Francesco Totti have all remained at the Stadio Olimpico, but the promising Serb Adem Ljajic and former Chelsea and England full-back Ashley Cole are among 17 players to have been released, sold or loaned out.
“The system that (manager) Rudi Garcia and the others have been trying to put in place has been getting all the right players and pieces. I think we’re pretty much there and I’m pretty excited about it,” Pallotta said.
“There’s a lot more attacking capability, a lot more players being able to play with the ball right at their feet.
“I thought the way we played against Juventus was the best that we’ve played in pretty much three years. The players could have run for another 15 to 20 minutes. They just looked like they were in phenomenal shape.”
Stadium of the future
Roma continues its Champions League campaign away to BATE Borisov in the Belarusian city of Barysaw on Tuesday.
However, getting things right on the park is only part of the picture for Pallotta.
Plans are afoot to build a new 52,500 seater stadium in the outskirts of the Italian capital which should open a suite of new revenue generating opportunities. Roma currently shares the municipally owned Stadio Olimpico with bitter city rival Lazio.
“What we’re trying to build is different from almost any stadium in Europe,” Pallotta explained.
“It’s not just the football side of it but all the other events and what we’re building around the complex. It’d be nice to have the added incremental revenues to plow back into the team as well.”
Roma currently trails the likes of domestic rival Juventus and most other top-level European teams which own their own stadiums.
The Juventus stadium complex, for example, includes a shopping center and caters for conferences and business events when not being used on match-days. The Turin club also sold stadium naming rights to marketing company Sportfive Italia for a reported 75 million Euros ($84 million).
All revenues these ventures raise can then be reinvested in the club.
“The sponsorship side of it is fairly significant,” Pallotta explained. “It’s the stadium and there is a lot of stuff around the stadium that have opportunities. It’s the stadium and foundation naming rights and things like that.”
“I think Juventus has an advantage there … although the stadium we’ll be building will be about 10,000 plus thousand larger. We’ll also have a significant amount of other types of events like college football and concerts. Those incremental revenues around the complex will be significant.”
Europe’s financial giants
Pallotta hopes these changes will help put Roma on par with Europe’s elite clubs.
Yet that challenge is made harder by the Italian top-flight falling behind other European leagues in terms of its attractiveness to broadcasters and advertisers.
While Serie A was king on the pitch and in the boardroom during the 1980s and 90s, the likes of England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga are now all bigger revenue generators, according to Deloitte’s Annual Review of Football Finance report.
England’s massive $8 billion TV deal means even clubs in the lower reaches of the Premier League can compete with many of those at the top end of other European leagues with regards to transfer fees and wages they can offer.
“I think in the short run it makes things a little more difficult,” Pallotta said of the challenge in competing with financial muscle elsewhere on the continent.
But having Juventus in the Champions League final last year despite not being anywhere close to the revenues of Barcelona “showed that its not only about the money by any means,” he added.
“If you talk to a lot of people in China (where a large untapped market of football fans exists), Italian football is still the biggest, in spite of what people might think. So there are still significant opportunities.”
Making the most of these opportunities in a calm and even-headed manner is Pallotta and Roma’s next big challenge.