Sport is very powerful. Few things in the world have the power to unite, divide and enrage us with such ferocity and regularity. The sinking feeling of a scrappy goal conceded, the euphoria of a go-ahead home run, the sheer exhilaration of witnessing your team’s triumph and sharing their sorrow when they fail.
Sport cuts through our mediocre and routine existence to move something inside us. Logic and reality be damned, the success and failure of our team has a profound effect on our psyche.
At the peak of this spectrum of passion sits a simple game played throughout the world called football. Italians like it so much they gave it their own name, calcio. In the capital calcio holds a monopoly on the obsessions of it’s citizens sadly absent from politics and effective infrastructure planning. AS Roma is not a product of this obsession, it is the nucleus of it.
AS Roma inspires a fevered infatuation that defies its mediocre on-field results. This comes not from a scholarly appreciation of the art of calcio but the fierce coupling of the club and the identity of the Eternal City’s citizens. In a country teeming with tribalism and political factionism, calcio provides an uncannily accurate portrayal of the battle of the elite verses the rest.
Roma does not have the money or external prestige of its noisy northern rivals. It does not have a history of constructing all-star squads of the planet’s finest footballers. What it has instead is a proud record of producing home grown superstars. Roman born and bred players that make their way through the junior ranks to earn a spot on the field of their childhood idols.
The living, breathing embodiment of this is of course Francesco Totti. I need not dwell on the specifics of Totti’s contribution to AS Roma and the intimate links between the club and its fans further than to acknowledge that along with Daniele De Rossi, the link has been seared and consolidated.
It is this link that makes AS Roma special.
Special not just to calcio, but to the wider sporting world.
Multi billion dollar television deals, sporting apparel sponsorships and player transfer prices above the GDP of developed nations has created a chasm between sporting teams and their original roots.
AS Roma has attempted to forestall the irresistible powers of the modern sporting world like a fisherman clinging to his rock as the waves crash around him.
Today, that fisherman has been swept to sea.
He is dead.
Alessio Romagnoli is special.
After completing his football education at the Roma academy, the central defender made his debut for his hometown club under the watchful eye of Zeman at the tender age of seventeen. In an injury ravaged squad plagued with internal division, Alessio was the great shining hope of 2012. Here was the real deal, a ball playing central defender who in time would certainly form the backbone of AS Roma’s future.
Any doubts on the potential of the young Roman were expunged during his loan spell with Sampdoria last season where he was arguably their best player during a very impressive 7th place finish. If there ever was a time for a favourite son to return to the fold, this was it.
However, the exceptional ability and mouth watering potential of Alessio did not go unnoticed. A perfect storm of temptation was brewed over the summer as AC Milan reenergised with millions of euros from a new investor went on a shopping spree for young talent. This combined with the installation of Alessio’s Samp manager Sinisa Mihajlovic at Milan meant there was a very real possibility transfer requests would be made.
Today, after an evening meeting between Walter Sabatini and Adriano Galliani, that transfer request has become a confirmed transfer. The pair reached an agreement for a 30 million euro deal. The Roman born, bred and raised footballing wunderkind is now an AC Milan player.
Today AS Roma and her American management has shouted from the rooftops that the new Roma will not be chastened by corporate obstacles such as its native fanbase. The sale of Alessio Romagnoli is an open assault on the very heart of the football club. The romance and soul that unites the city to its football team has been traded for financial gain. This move has been made knowing full well it will be about as popular in Rome as a Feyenoord fan party at the Piazza Navona.
This is not your usual piece of transfer activity. Alessio was the poster child for the future of Roma and Italian football. An imminent superstar set to be adored by the city like Totti, De Rossi and Florenzi. An ambassador for the team to inspire future Roma generations who kick a ball with the dream of one day representing their city and their people.
You cannot put a price on that.
This deal is an ugly illustration of the transition of AS Roma’s stewardship from the people of Rome to the international corporate world of Brand Roma. It provides a catalyst for anyone sceptical about the intentions and financial ambitions of the American ownership.
This was not an economic sacrifice like the sale of Aquilani or Marquinhos and nor is it a forced tactical football decision like Bertolacci. This was a choice, a decision. One which certainly places Roma at a very real footballing disadvantage by inexplicably strengthening a direct rival for the title and champions league places from now until Alessio retires.
You can argue the economic rationality of cashing in on a player’s worth until your face is blue but the simple fact is some things should be worth more than dollar signs. This was an opportunity for James Pallotta to plant the flag and declare AS Roma as a club that values its homegrown stars more than pawns to balance the books. Instead he has proven each and every player is expendable and that the most important symbol for the club is the numbers on its balance sheets.
The idea that Alessio himself has forced this move to happen is simply inexcusable. His performances over the last three years have more than justified the opportunity to be a major player for this Roma team over the next decade. The fact that the club wasn’t willing to demonstrate a shred of commitment by telling Milan to go jump in the lake from the get go, is extremely disappointing.
"I think there's a couple of areas we can be stronger in, but when we look at next year, Castan will be back, and I think he's one of the best defenders in the league. Alessio Romagnoli will be back from Sampdoria [where he's on loan], he's having a great year, and he's only 20 years old. We'll be stronger on the defensive side, where I think we really got hurt, either because of injuries or because the guys hadn't played together" – James Pallotta. January 14, 2015
For reasons inexplicable to your humble scribe, the sale of Italian and Roman players for foreign imports generates a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm within the CDT community. I theorise this may be due to the popularity of management simulation games such as FIFA 2015 and Football Manager. Many amongst our community are happy with the economics of the sale and see this as a shrewd footballing move. No side of the argument is more correct than the other, but both opinions appear entrenched.
Symbols of great clubs are rarely purchased on the open transfer market. Francesco Totti, John Terry, Alessandro Del Piero, Steven Gerard, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the attachment these players provide fans to their local club cannot be quantified in dollars.
The footballing reality also creates an interesting paradox where the sale of a good player is extremely unlikely to result in a net gain of the team’s performance. Tottenham saw this with Gareth Bale and Liverpool with Suarez. The constant sale of quality defenders by Roma has not resulted in improved substantial success despite the addition of new signings and wingers on loan.
In conclusion of this sordid and sorry affair the logical question one must ask is would the current management have persisted with a 17 year old called Francesco Totti? Would he have survived the economic allures to realise his magnificent potential and fulfil his destiny as the undisputed Kind of Rome? A man who has done more to further the cause of brand Roma then any trophy (or Egyptian winger) ever will.
Is such a symbol worth 30 million Euros in the books?
For those that cling to the romance of Roma being distinctly Roman, they have been wronged today.
Personally, I'm just disgusted I won't get the chance to call him Alessio "Don't forget the Cannoli"