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Walking On James Pallotta’s Eggshells Amid the Roma Qatari Takeover

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James Pallotta’s denials live on, despite CdS and L’Equipe insisting the Qatari interest is real.

AS Roma v Juventus FC - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Less than 24 hours since James Pallotta jibed at a Corriere dello Sport front page headline for no apparent reason, both the Italy-based paper and France’s L’Equipe insist the Qatari interest in Roma is real and qualified.

We’ve been labelled negative for covering Pallotta stories through our own CdT lens, and Bren has had to wear the melancholic flag - more than any of us other three on the full-time team - after writing on Pallotta’s Roma for more than 7 years. Personally, I’ve written on the club here for barely a year, and I can already see what looks negative from a reader’s perspective is different from a writer’s point of view.

I don’t speak for Bren, Jimmy or Sciavillo when I say that. That’s just how I see things, the more experience I get under my belt.

For one, if I were to avoid the Pallotta elephant in the room at every turn today, that would be draining. I felt very differently a year ago. You may say it boils down to my fanaticism over Eusebio Di Francesco, and you’d be right. But firing Monchi was - for me anyway - the real straw breaking the camel’s back. I’ve heard all the justifications about Monchi’s transfers, and that’s not the issue for me.

It was seeing a venture capitalist fire two footballing professionals - both holding over six decades more experience combined than Pallotta himself - using an arbitrary measure of their know-how (“You need a Plan B”) to do it. And if you see it differently, it’s best we just accept we’re on different pages to begin with.

AS Roma v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Sure, we’ll hear someone come out with ‘don’t tell a businessman how to do business’ and get into that back-and-forth. But I’ve worked in private equity; not nearly long enough to be remembered by my four bosses at the time or single co-worker (trust me you can call them up and the most they’d probably say “is he calling to give us back the iMac he took?” then get on with their day), but long enough to recognise the mentality Pallotta is bringing to his decisions.

It’s the approach by which I put Pallotta’s ownership into a 7-year perspective with the Sensis (a family towards which I don’t share the same kind of romantic sentiment that some do).

We’ll also hear the 9-to-5 reasoning of “my boss expects me to meet targets and if I don’t I have to find someone to hold the can or be canned myself”.

We know all about the ins and outs of staying employed, but that doesn’t apply to the bubble of sports competition, or at least it shouldn’t. We could pretend it didn’t until Marcelo Bielsa let the cat out the bag that there’s so much money in today’s football business, people are actually making up assignments out of thin air to justify being in the job.

Much like Pallotta is making up his own manual of how to own a club and throwing people under the team bus while doing it.

Monchi’s reasoning for sticking by a coach lines up with how competitive football teams go about their work. And Pallotta essentially asked Monchi to take it. Break your rules, sack the guy and find me another one. But trust me we’re still good, you and me, even if I’m moving the goalposts once again. For that, Monchi left.

The only reason you’d stay to work for a boss you cannot trust is money, or fear you can’t do better elsewhere. Or that hope that a new stadium would suddenly bring about a change of character. It’s only us fans left to stick around and see if the latter turns out to be the case. While the early signs elsewhere point to Eusebio Di Francesco possibly joining Monchi at Sevilla next season, so there’s less and less need to try and make a distinction between two men who were of the same mind and culture.

Theirs was a culture that benefitted Roma on the bottom line as much as anywhere else, bringing 40m worth of guaranteed Qatari sponsorship money to Roma’s coffers from their footballing style and big-game results. That goes a long way towards the lifeblood of the club, more than firing and hiring people off the prospect of living from CL bonus cheque to cheque every season. And so the Qatari interest is where we’re left with Pallotta denying something he never needed to take to heart, once again, this week.

After all, the Corriere dello Sport headline in question was covering the Qatari interest in Roma. It said little to nothing of Pallotta’s interest in selling. L’Equipe has now confirmed, through their own separate sources, that the Qatari Sports Investment group have in fact discussed the proposition of buying into A.S. Roma, which is inevitable when they’ve already (by one means or another) agreed to pay in 10% of the estimated 400m price it’d take the buy the club, through the Qatar Airways sponsorship deal.

The French news title even went so far as to claim QSI favour saying goodbye to Paris, to completely move their European home base to Rome instead.

GazzettaNet / ForzaRoma.com

For James Pallotta himself, maybe his ‘fake news’ tweet was just the first piece of banter he could think up. For journalist Ivan Zazzaroni, it was enough to feel like Pallotta was calling into question Zazzaroni’s professionalism on the job. And that was the same thing that rankled us at CdT, in Bren’s original post:

Fake news, everyone! It’s a hilarious tagline and in no way a subtle undermining of the vanguard of modern democracies

Zazzaroni has already messed up and called a few stories wrong in the past, when it comes to Roma, but shown an ability to own it and laugh at himself when called out on it. He’s not a dude that takes himself too seriously. And no, we’re not saying Pallotta is a threat to modern democracy either. Just that once again Pallotta talks before he thinks, and comes off looking way too defensive while doing it.

I don’t take issue with Pallotta’s success anywhere other than on the pitch, where he’s not only achieved nothing but gone out of his way to sound very upset about it, too.

That’s the real elephant: You don’t have to be a businessman or journalist to see Pallotta doesn’t make sense. You only have to be an adult who’s run out of excuses for living like a manchild (and by god, wouldn’t I love to keep living like a manchild - so if you are, I don’t begrudge you that. Just hopefully you’re not wasting a bunch of people’s time while doing you).

Pallotta calls himself “moody Jim” while acting out as the perpetual source of his own unhappiness. Really not an uncommon trait in people who’ve worked themselves into a ton of money.

AS Roma v Juventus FC - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

If had to write an “we’re headed in the right direction” article that amounted to essentially no more than a brochure piece, I’d give up sports writing today and get into travel blogging instead. Staying motivated and not burning out on this job almost always boils down to waking up and asking yourself ‘what’s the truth today?’ and writing as close to your own interpretation of that as you can.

I’m not saying anything you don’t already know, because almost anyone knows what it’s like to be a writer. It’s just a different conversation when you’re scheduling your motivation around writing on the same topic, week after week, year after year.

We’re not motivated to tear down your day when you’re reading our posts. Far from it. Nor are we paid here to write as though we’re insider journalists. We’re given beer money to write on our experience growing up as Roma fans, no more or less than that. While there are few (if any) sports sites that have the up-to-date community feel like SB Nation’s team sites.

A side-problem of that is you get older, and you have less and less time for even football talk. I have a family of my own to start in Milan now, like many readers have their own families, and that’s why the CdT mailbag is a good compromise to send in questions you might have on Roma’s perception in Italy or calcio itself. Stuff that it might take us more than a day or week to look up while we answer you, but stuff that we’re already accustomed to searching for in our work as it is. So we can save you time with the mailbag on questions that we might miss or have to overlook otherwise.

I’m not a football expert and never will be, but we cover an Italian club in the English-speaking world and we have experience to share on how we’ve bridged that gap, with all the details of calcio and Italian living that have been picked up along the way.

Meanwhile the women’s team is still there, and Bren has covered it every step of the way, so he’s more invested than anyone in celebrating Roma becoming a competitive club. Pallotta could take another giant (and deserved) slice of the credit, if he funds the woman’s team summer transfers like they really should be funded this coming summer. Our Roma women’s team already has a dynasty of success embedded at Primavera level. They are just missing that final jump to winning something at the top of the senior game, and the barriers to competition are lower. Everything is up for grabs.

There are also few things I’ve regretted more than the feeling I’ve been invited to a party where I was never really invited, as if the hosts have some sort of chip on their shoulder that they just need to inflict on everyone in the room. I’ve never gotten that feeling from CdT, and I’ve been a part of writing for over six blogs (two of them my own - none related to football until now).

I don’t feel this is a case of the CdT trying to be edgy or throwing stones at the owner for the sake of it. It’s a case of Pallotta’s incompetence. Or, in Sabatini’s words, “a very insecure man”. Roma Radio says it, Corriere dello Sport has now taken issue with it, and others aren’t too impressed either.

To sum up the issue in a nutshell it’s even worth asking: Would the Qatari takeover be a good thing for Roma? Frankly, it has little to with how much money QSI have as a first point of consideration. Because they’d still need to find the “sponsorship” deals by which to funnel commercial money into the club, and balance the books before spending. But just being able to handle the pressure and responsibility of owning Roma would already be an upgrade on what been missing for the last 7 years.

Provided QSI can make moves without publicly character assassinating every director and coach that leaves out the front gates of Trigoria, that would already be a change in the right direction. And the so-called “grotesque” amounts of money the Qataris would bring is not a new chapter for Roma. If you’re in any way of fan of the Sensi era, then you’re already comfortable with Roma ownership pumping obscene and unjustified amounts of money into football.

Still, this isn’t in any way an endorsement of QSI as I have very little idea of what they’re about football and club-culture wise, besides winning trophies. The most I know of them is that Air Jordan exclusive deal they did, which was very imaginative in terms of selling shirts to kids.

Then there’s also the million-dollar (or billion-dollar?) stadium question to be resolved. I personally feel all signs point towards it being too late to turn back. The Stadio della Roma looks like getting built one way or another. But until final regional approval is sealed, and that first brick is layed, we can’t say any of Pallotta’s ambitions for Roma have become reality.