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Where Does Roma Stand in the Serie A Hierarchy?

Not an easy question to answer, but we sure seem to ask it a lot, don’t we?

AS Roma v SS Lazio - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

I’ve told the story of how I became a Roma fan many times, but in sum, it was simply this: I didn’t have any connection to the Premiership or any other league or club, but desperately wanted one, and as a generationally (or two) removed Italian, I was naturally drawn to Serie A. At the time, there was no top flight club in my provincial hometown in rural Abruzzi, so I chose Roma simply because it was the next, closest option. In hindsight, I was incredibly naive thinking “Well, Rome is one of the biggest and most famous cities in the world, so I’m sure Roma is one of the most powerful clubs in Italy.”

While I wasn’t completely off the mark, the fine margins that separates Roma from the traditional powers in Serie A turn into giant chasms when you follow the club as closely as we do. If I possessed the capability to be perfectly (and abjectly) objective, then being a Roma fan is a cool breeze: nice kits, decent players, fervent fan base and generally in the Champions League, what’s there to worry about?

So, yes, in that regard, Roma are in fine shape, but here’s the bitterly ironic twist: We gravitate to sports, in part, as a distraction from our real lives, and in doing so we naturally, and without really knowing or realizing it, project our hopes and ambitions, as well as our fears and anxieties, upon the club of our choice. So, in a sick sense, the vehicle that was meant to provide us solace is actually fraught with peril, particularly when it becomes your main means of escape.

Think about it for a second: what the hell do we care how a team spends its millions? What bearing does it have on our lives? Why do we care if Roma finishes second as opposed to third, what difference does it really make?

Well, as it turns out, quite a bit. When so much of your identity and so much of your mental and emotional energy is tied up this entity, other’s perceptions of your club, and its worth relative to similar entities, does matter, to the point that their well-being actually starts to affect yours. You wake up at all hours of the day to watch them, you sing their praises to others, you debate, you scream, you argue, you care.

It makes absolutely no fucking sense whatsoever, but we’re all in this equally, which is precisely why we care so much how Roma stacks up to Juventus, to Inter, to Napoli to anyone, really.

So, with all that in mind, I thought we would (to the extent possible) figure out exactly where Roma falls in the Serie A hierarchy. Now, even without digging too deeply into this, we can safely say Roma are a top five club full stop, but where exactly they fall in that upper echelon is a source of great content. Certainly we can’t use the nebulous concept of ‘prestige’ as a mile marker, but if we look at revenues and results over the past decade or so, the picture does become clearer.

While no one will ever mistake Roma for Barcelona or Real Madrid in terms of their ability to rake in the dough, the Giallorossi have consistently been among the twenty most valuable clubs over the past twenty years. Every February since 1997, the fine folks at Deloitte have issued the Deloitte Football Money League, which, as you probably guessed, ranks clubs based on their value, with respect to their matchday, commercial and broadcast revenue.

Over those twenty years, Roma has landed in the top 10 four times (fourth most among Italian teams), peaking at number eight in 2002. Forbes, who have publish a similar list, have placed Roma within the top 20 most valuable clubs in the world since 2007, peaking at number eleven in 2008, and currently check in at 16, the second highest among Italian clubs.

While that’s all well and good, what really matters to the fans is the results on the pitch, and in that regard, Roma have been bested by only one club over the past decade:

I’m not sure why that graphic became blurry, but if you follow the link you’ll see that Roma’s 805 points over the past decade is second only to—surprise, surprise—Juventus. That’s no small feat when you consider all that Roma was up against over that time: a litany of coaching changes, players coming and going, and hell, even the sale of the club. And while they slipped from that perch a few times over the past couple years, they’ve been the closest team to the Old Lady throughout their unprecedented run of success.

But what about now? On the precipice of a new season, where does Roma stand relative to her Italian compatriots?

Based on 538’s Soccer Power Index, Roma are currently the 16th best squad in the world, though they trail Juventus, Napoli and Inter Milan among Serie A teams on that list, the methodology of which can be found here.

So, what does all this mean? Are Roma the second best club in Italy? Third? Fourth? None of the above?

Objectively speaking, and based on the data we just looked at, Roma have sort of outpunched their weight class, staying one step ahead of both Milan sides while constantly nipping (to an extent) at Juve’s heels on the actual table. Despite not matching their financial clout, Roma has been able to hang with Italy’s traditional superpowers (Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan) on the table over the past ten to twenty years. Yet that success on the pitch hasn’t necessarily led to success in the books, as they’ve fallen below 15th on Deloitte’s list every year since 2010, sinking down to 24th on the most recent list.

It’s an odd hodge podge in many ways; thanks in large part to the sustained excellence of Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, as well as a few shrewd purchases and coaching appointments along the way, Roma has remained among the top two to three teams on the table over the past ten years despite not having the same financial clout as their peers.

By any measure, objective or otherwise, Roma are easily one of the three to four biggest clubs in the league at any point in time, but their inability to bridge that gap, to climb out of that chasm, has left them at arm’s lengths from being elite.

And sure, I haven’t even really answered the question at the top of this post, but that’s kinda the point: Roma always leaves you wanting more.