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Report: The Friedkin Group Has Concrete Interest in Roma

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Ownership of the Giallorossi may be changing hands sooner rather than later.

Roma v Liverpool UEFA Champions League 2/05/2018. Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sometimes when it’s the international break, things get slower on Chiesa Di Totti. It makes sense; we don’t have any matches to write about bar the occasional Azzurri match, and even with the mercato rumor mill starting up earlier and earlier each cycle, Roma’s doing well enough in the league and in Europe that most of the rumors we’ve seen focus on either Moise Kean or Alessandro Florenzi.

Of course, it only takes one piece of news to upend an entire month in the Romaverse, and the past 24 hours have done exactly that. Reliable sources, including RomaPress and Il Tempo, have reported that Roma is actively listening to major investment pitches coordinated by Goldman Sachs, even releasing this “Opportunity Overview” that details why a multi-billionaire with some cash burning a hole in his pocket might want to invest in everybody’s favorite Roman football club:

I know enough people in finance and consulting to chuckle a bit whenever I see the phrase “unique opportunity” written in some form multiple times in one document, but it seems clear to me that the interest in buying out James Pallotta is pretty serious. Il Tempo and RomaPress are reporting that the main interest is currently coming from The Friedkin Group, an American organization run by American billionaire Dan Friedkin.

According to Forbes, Friedkin has $4.2 billion to his name, primarily made by expanding on his father’s Toyota dealership empire. Although your mind might jump to cheesy local car commercials when you think of a car dealership, Friedkin’s group is serious business. Gulf States Toyota, Inc., a subsidiary of The Friedkin Group, sold $9 billion worth of Toyotas in 2018, and that’s only one of The Friedkin Group’s many subsidiaries.

AS Roma's official press release:

Upon request from CONSOB, with reference to the rumors that appeared today in the press concerning a potential acquisition of A.S. Roma S.p.A. shares by some potential investors, AS ROMA SPV LLC, the company which indirectly holds A.S. Roma S.p.A., through its controlled company NEEP ROMA HOLDING S.p.A., hereby informs that preliminary talks are ongoing with some potential investors in order to allow the latter to assess the opportunity of a potential investment in AS ROMA SPV LLC.

In the case of the reaching of agreements concerning the transfer of shares held in A.S. Roma S.p.A., AS ROMA SPV LLC will provide the Market with adequate information within the terms provided by the law.

These rumors have caused quite a stir in Rome, with trading of Roma stock suspended on the Italian stock market and Roma putting out a press release confirming that there is interest in the club. Although the press release doesn’t say that any investors would be buying a majority stake in the club, the other breadcrumbs that have been released through the press indicate that The Friedkin Group wouldn’t invest for a minority stake. Goldman Sachs’ Opportunity Overview clearly sells potential buyers on the “opportunity to own and control an iconic Italian football club”, implying that if The Friedkin Group (or any other investor) gets involved, they will be doing so to replace Jim Pallotta.

If you’ve paid attention to previous buyout rumors, you know that there were rampant rumors concerning Saudi and Qatari groups that had interest in buying Roma. As of right now, the rumors of a Qatari buyout of Roma have been put on ice, but who knows what will happen if the potential sale to The Friedkin Group heats up. What matters in the moment is that Roma certainly seems to be for sale.

What would such a sale mean for Romanisti? Well, in terms of sheer ability to invest in the club, Dan Friedkin and The Friedkin Group have much, much more money to play with than Jim Pallotta. Pallotta’s net worth was valued at $1 billion in 2018, and Friedkin’s personal wealth (separate from The Friedkin Group) is more than quadruple that. Of course, Financial Fair Play will limit how much any one ownership group can funnel into a club in one moment, but rich owners have figured out ways around this issue before. Just look at Juventus’ salary payments for Cristiano Ronaldo, or their sponsorship by Jeep, or, well, nearly anything Juve has done on the financial side lately. Roma won’t be able to compete long-term with a side like Juventus without a cash injection, and a buyout by The Friedkin Group might be a first step in the right direction.

On the flip side, here’s something I wrote when Qatar was reportedly interested in buying Roma:

While all of this certainly makes a lot of sense for the parties involved, I can’t help but feel uneasy about the prospect of Roma entering the world of the oil-rich. Sure, a Jordan collaboration might be nice, and it’d be cool to be in the running for players like Kylian Mbappe or Neymar. Nevertheless, the idea of a super-rich Roma sticks in my craw in a funny way. Maybe it’s a unconscious hipster tendency inside me liking the fact that I’m not just one in a sea of millions of Americans wearing a PSG, Juve, or Manchester City kit. Maybe it’s not loving Qatar’s track record when it comes to avoiding human rights abuses. Maybe it’s just a byproduct of getting older, of already wishing for “the good old days” to return. I don’t think that’s it, though.

More than anything, I think it’s a natural fear that the injection of billions and billions of euros into Roma will change what Roma is, in the same way that you can’t really say that Barcelona is “Mes Que Un Club” anymore. There’s an emotionality to being a Romanista that can be infuriating (you try moderating the comments section here sometime), but it makes the high points of a season so much more invigorating, the rise of a star player that more intoxicating. Would a Francesco Totti stay his entire career at a Qatari-owned Roma, or would he have gotten sold the first moment the wear and tear of Father Time started to show, replaced by a shiny new forward? If the answer is no, what does that mean for players I’d like to see have a long career with the Giallorossi, like Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolo Zaniolo, and Luca Pellegrini? It’s highly unlikely they’ll match Totti’s career in terms of star power or ability - does that mean they’ll get shown the door even sooner than he would have been?

Whatever may happen with The Friedkin Group, Jim Pallotta, or any potential buyer of Roma, there is certainly a lot of smoke surrounding the club. We might see fire not too far in the future.