“My guess is we’ll have the final agreement in place before the New Year — on our side, though, we’re confident it gets done”. These were the words from an unnamed source within Dan Friedkin’s takeover group to RomaPress yesterday. Unusually confident? Or has current Roma owner James Pallotta simply run out of time and options?
We’d have to wind it back a couple of seasons to understand why Roma are firmly in the red, and Friedkin believes Pallotta needs his help—ASAP—to get out of the woods.
James Pallotta: Bigger than Sensi, But No Trophies
The 2016-17 Roma season will always be held in high regard here at the Chiesa but, off the pitch, it was a season when Roma took a big step back as a competitive club. Rather than take Roma to the summit of a very weak, lopsided Serie A at the time (in that same season, 3rd place Napoli also set their club record points total), Luciano Spalletti—aka Italian Sam Allardyce—forced James Pallotta to become the record benefactor in all of Roma history.
One costly Champions League qualifier gone wrong at home to Porto meant that Pallotta would have to pass his hat among the club’s largest private shareholders to raise an eventual 80 million euros of no-questions-asked capital to keep the club going. Courtesy of the Swiss Ramble, we can even see what the sum looks like in the context of the past decade:
The 2020 column even hints to where this Pallotta-Friedkin stand-off is headed. But it’s purely speculative for now, or... at least for the next few days.
In terms of actual events, Pallotta’s 2017 cash injection remains the biggest sum the board has put into the club since the Pallotta’s era began, and sealed his position at the owner to have put the most money into Roma, period. Even more so than Franco Sensi.
And yet, football is now the playground of oligarchs and nation states. As much as James Pallotta was ‘bigger than the Sensis’ on the balance sheet, his stay in Rome will always be remembered for delivering zero major trophies on the field. And a bonsai tree.
Roma may not be a club used to regular, sustained sporting success but it has tasted trophies all the same. The lack of silverware has never gone down well between the fans and Pallotta, no matter how much he’s done to move the club forward behind the scenes. You’d have to go all the way back to the times of former owner Franco Evangelisti to find a Roma presidency that transformed the club off the pitch and yet saw absolutely no success on it. And that was all the way back in the sixties.
Europe Qualification Failures Come Home to Roost
Instead, Pallotta has had to manage unrealistic expectations and inevitable failures. Pallotta can only hold himself responsible for this before taking anyone else to task. Part of the surreal pressure for results was brought about by the very nature of Pallotta’s takeover; it was funded partly by Goldman Sachs and saddled Roma with the second-largest debt repayment plan in Serie A, at 28 million euros per year.
Or, in other words, a major player sale every summer.
Only Inter Milan has to repay more debt (29 million euros) than Roma each season, and both clubs’ debt-repayment plans are substantially larger than nearest club Juventus in third place of Serie A’s repayment league (13 million in debt repayments per year).
In fact, even after the 80 million cash Pallotta injected into Roma by summer 2017, the club (aka Monchi) still had to find a further 70-100 million in player sales to cover that season’s losses and fund the incoming transfer campaign of that season. It led to Salah-gate, Monchi’s ill-fated ‘La Roma no es un supermercado’ soundbite and a very unpopular sporting director tenure kicking off in the worst of fashion.
It also confirmed Roma a club that needs Champions League money to survive. The very same Champions League money that Roma simply does not have this season.
January or Die
As I’ve been critical of Spalletti’s tenure bringing a ton of red onto the club’s bank balances a couple of seasons ago, it’s only fair to criticize the Di Francesco-Monchi tenure for repeating Spalletti’s failures in 2018-19. Pallotta knew the jig was up by the time Roma had failed to clinch fourth place last season. He was already battle-hardened from recovering the club from the ashes of that 2016-17 season, and had the boardroom scars to show for it.
With the club still figuring out how it’s going to cover the losses of this season by summer 2020 even today, James Pallotta’s initial answer was to hold a public fundraiser this past autumn. 275 million euros worth of bonds were issued by the club, and the sharks smelled blood in the water for Pallotta’s tenure as Roma majority shareholder, tugging a whale behind them in the shape of Dan Friedkin’s portfolio.
Now Friedkin believes Pallotta has no choice but to accept Friedkin’s patronage to keep the club going beyond summer 2020.
Il Messaggero (via ForzaRoma) report that Roma have lined up the first 50 million euros from Friedkin’s 750-million offer to keep the club’s balance sheets ticking over into the New Year. Il Messagero also reckons a further 100 million euros from Friedkin’s buyout would be used as a capital injection into the club by summer 2020.
Whether a further sum would be used to either reduce part of the Goldman Sachs repayments or repay the entire 272 million owed to the bank in full remains to be seen. But easing the club’s need to sell major players would certainly be a welcome move (at least from this fan’s perspective) closer to maintaining squad chemistry between summers.
The Picture Without Friedkin’s Offer Is Grim
Without Friedkin’s offer being accepted (or a miracle third party buying up Roma’s bonds at the last minute), the options, if you can call them that, for Roma look considerably worse.
Sporting director Petrachi would be looking at a January fire sale similar to the one held by Monchi in the winter of 2018; you’ll remember that was the one where Roma had to say goodbye to Emerson Palmieri and seriously considered packing off Edin Dzeko in the same window.
Failing any major January sales, Roma would have to sell the best performers from this season by the 31st June 2020. While we’d all ideally like to believe Roma could just ship out the rotation players of the squad, realistically it just doesn’t work that way.
Roma would be forced to accept whatever they can get. That means accepting the best of cut-price offers for Lorenzo Pellegrini, Amadou Diawara, Gianluca Mancini, Justin Kluivert, Nicolò Zaniolo and anyone else with the prime of their careers in ahead of them.
To that end, Roma are currently working on removing the release clause from Lorenzo Pellegrini’s contract before next summer, to cover their bases. Morgan De Sanctis and Paulo Fonseca have also had to pour cold water all over Roma’s January transfer activity; both men have told the press it would be “extremely difficult to improve on this current Roma squad” but that the club were keeping their eye out for any cut-price opportunities that may come in January.
In other words, Roma are on sell-to-buy mode from here on in.
Unless, of course, Roma chief James Pallotta decides to make Petrachi and Fonseca’s life simpler by accepting Dan Friedkin’s offer tomorrow. Pallotta knows it, Friedkin knows it, and so here we are.
Stay tuned between now and January 1st, where this will all be revealed as either on-the-money analysis or hopeless, tumbleweed speculation.