If it wasn’t immediately obvious why Roma and Juventus were getting along so well off the pitch in recent years, now it should be. Football Leaks via Der Spiegel have reported on a ‘binding agreement’ between Europe’s top 16 clubs to form the long-awaited breakaway European Super League by 2021 - and Roma is rumoured to be among that list.
In the fallout to this latest report, we’ll probably hear a lot about how the European Super League is a shame upon the European tradition of sport. No relegation for 20 years minimum? Another club-led heist reminiscent of the Premier League’s TV-money stick-up move in the early 90s?
It all sounds like a further step towards the way the big 4 American leagues are run. And, well... good. The Super League is the chance at greater sporting parity that men’s professional football in Europe has been crying out for - and UEFA have been screwing up - since at least the turn of this decade. Just look at the newfound enthusiasm behind CdT’s posts on AS Roma Femminile compared to the predictable matches we cover on the men’s side of the game.
The 16-team breakaway European Super League is reported to have been organised by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Manchester United, Juventus and AC Milan - with a further 5 clubs considered ‘founders’ of the league alongside them, and another 5 clubs considered ‘invited guests’.
Roma made the guest-list, which makes this New Year’s decision on the approval of the new Stadio della Roma crystal-clear in its importance to Pallotta’s regime. Get the new stadium, and Roma are in the European Super League from 2021 onwards, shutting the doors closed behind them along with Juventus and Milan. But a failure to land the stadium would increase Roma’s chances of - at least in broadcast terms - fading into obscurity.
How did things get to this place? At least a decade worth of half-measures and compromises between sport and entertainment.
FFP Double Standard and Champions’ League Sabotage
Sporting competitiveness in European football is down the pan, and a number of moves from UEFA helped to make things worse. It should be to no one’s surprise that 11 of UEFA’s most darling clubs have now been exposed as operating behind UEFA’s back, but we know now - if Der Spiegel and Football Leaks’ are to be believed - this was fuelled by the hypocrisy of FFP.
Der Spiegel confirmed the long-held suspicion of UEFA cow-towing to the Gulf-state-funded ‘nouveau riche’ clubs of Manchester City and PSG, with a number of backdoor concessions that ‘knowingly helped’ both clubs to circumvent Financial Fair Play regulations in the early part of this decade.
In the face of unprecented sums of money being spent in European football, UEFA did what most people would choose to do once they see the jig is up: rather than fight the money and power, they did their best to get their cut of it on the way down.
The hypocrisy lies in pretending to be an arbiter of financial ethics and standards while doing so.
The FFP struggle is real (for some of us) pic.twitter.com/LGNWW1xL3K— AS Roma English (@ASRomaEN) November 4, 2018
And then came the changes to the Champions’ League rules over the last three years, which helped nobody in UEFA’s stay of execution.
There were the changes to qualification rules, the changes to league coefficients and the ‘historical success’ clause that made the TV market pool share even more lopsided in favour of European’s most ‘brand-recognised’ leagues and clubs.
Meanwhile, these very same giant clubs are running out of patience with UEFA’s pretense. Within 3 years, they are willing to cut ties with the race-rat for brand recognition in each one of Europe’s top 5 hegemonic domestic leagues.
What Next for Serie A and Roma?
The short-term success from all the UEFA rule changes led to us asking whether Serie A is back among Europe’s elite in early October. There is a valid sporting argument to that article even today, because on-pitch results do not lie. Players from Serie A have gone to Europe’s biggest stadiums this year, and won the matches and points in the Champions League. But there’s a need for clear distinction between what is good for Serie A’s image on a European stage, and the crumbling circus that is domestic league football.
There are still the kind of shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot decisions taking place in Serie A today that run well beyond just propping up Juventus’ success, showing that the Lega and FIGC ‘authority’ know their time is up and are simply looking for whatever short-term deals they can make before the door shuts. Chief among them is Serie A’s revival of their sponsorship deal with Russian betting company 1xBet - a deal presumed dead-on-arrival (to anyone with common sense) once the Lega announced it in 2017.
Unfortunately that very same deal is now spectacularly alive and well in 2018, after overcoming a year’s worth of government resistance. And this deal pushed through with the Lega knowing it’s a last change to get it through the door, before all gambling deals are null and void in Italy by 2019.
So yes, you’ve read it right - for one time only - the same Lega responsible for scheduling matchday times and fixtures is now officially sponsored by a betting company.
Why stop there? Why not get the referees’ association sponsored by the bookies while we’re at it? Have the charming faces of Luca Banti and Daniele Orsato walk out on matchday with ‘1xBet Serie A’ badges on their sleeves. (I won’t be surprised if someone tells me they’ve actually already done this).
Serie A isn’t getting better or more elite as a sport on the peninsula, it’s simply looking to mimic the Premier League’s success in catering to ‘sports entertainment’, and doing a bad job at that. Even if you overlook the ethical questions behind gambling money infiltrating all levels of Italian football, there’s an argument that their league’s marketing just plain lacks sense and comes off incredibly budget.
“The Premier League” saw fit to remove all sponsorship in order to take a bigger step towards the brand recognition of the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHLs of the world. Meanwhile, Serie A is brought to you by TIM and 1xBet. The mercenary decisions league-wide have left Italy’s biggest clubs looking to join the “new old boys club” of the European Super League, before that door shuts in their face for a good 20 years. It’s at this point that Pallotta’s Roma enters the picture, and has been moving itself to get in that picture for a while now.
I personally maintain Pallotta’s ownership of Roma is - by some distance - better than alternate fates befalling clubs in European football today. There is nothing sensational about Pallotta’s ownership but, thankfully, there is no scandal either. Pallotta isn’t taking money out of the club. He’s seen nothing but losses ever since taking over - some of which could have been avoided by better management on his end - but others inevitably brought on by Roma’s pittance financial standing as a club in modern football, even before he took over.
Pallotta has had to get Roma’s private group of investors to put in two (and soon to be three) different parachute payments into the club, in order to fund itself. But we know he’s not doing this out of altruism, rather than the big payoff on the horizon: getting the Stadio della Roma built.
It makes one independent consultant’s decision in Torino - at the beckoning of Rome mayor Virginia Raggi - all the more important to AS Roma’s fate by the time New Year’s 2019 falls upon us.