Well, if you can count on one thing in the American era of A.S. Roma, it’s that a denial from President James Pallotta won’t cause any rumor to die down. Before, this type of situation has been limited to player transfers, with Pallotta saying that the likes of Mehdi Benatia, Mohamed Salah, and Alisson Becker wouldn’t be sold, only from them to be, well, sold. This time, however, we’re not talking about the sale of one player, no matter how big their star power may be. This time, we’re talking about the sale of the entire club.
Given Rome’s status as the major club in a European capital city (sorry, not sorry, Lazio), there have always been rumors swirling around that some mega-billionaire might want to purchase i Lupi and bring them to the next level. Sometimes it’s George Soros who’s going to buy the Giallorossi, other times it’s a Saudi Arabian consortium, and sometimes it’s the Qatar Sports Investment Group, known for their current management of Paris Saint-Germain. The current set of rumors, spurred on by Corriere Dello Sport, RomaPress, and L’Equipe, among others, augurs that it will be the third group who may finally pry Roma out of James Pallotta and NEEP Roma Holding S.p.A.’s hands.
This makes a decent amount of sense for a couple of reasons. QSI already has experience owning a European capital club in Paris-Saint Germain, although l’Equipe is also saying they may ditch PSG for Roma if their plans come to fruition. In addition, Air Italy was recently bought by Qatar Airways with the intention of making Fiumicino its new central hub, conveniently close to where the Stadio Della Roma will hopefully be built; with Qatar Airways already acting as Roma’s kit sponsor, it would make some sense to switch i Lupi over to Air Italy at some point.
Roma also represents an excellent opportunity for a classic buy-low, sell-high; get that stadium built, get Roma’s cash flow to rival Juventus, turn Roma into a super-club, profit. From Pallotta’s perspective, this move also makes a decent bit of sense. The billionaire hedge-fund manager can stop haggling with the Roman bureaucracy over the stadium, stop getting criticized for not being in Rome, and live a paparazzi-free life again. Sure, the cameras are nice at the beginning, but there’s a reason why even the world’s biggest celebrities crave any chance at anonymity they can find, whether that’s through a baseball cap covering their face or huge stretches of private property. Add in the fact that Pallotta would most likely net a hefty profit on Roma by selling to the Qataris, and everything starts to come into focus.
With this added piece of information, the rumors of Jose Mourinho, Sven Mislintat, and Antonio Conte being interested in positions at Roma gain some credence. Who wouldn’t want to start leading training at Trigoria the moment Roma’s finances go from upper-middle-class to “I just bought my fourth private island and it’s got a lake in the shape of my face” rich? Who wouldn’t want to scout from the Eternal City with an eternal checkbook to match? Sure, Pallotta has been quick to label these rumors “fake news” (By Totti, do I hate that term), but as previously mentioned, taking a Pallotta quote at face-value isn’t the most realist thing you can do as a Romanista.
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?
Maybe this is a bridge we won’t ever have to cross; maybe this is all smoke, no fire, just another bout of, ugh, fake news. Nevertheless, there’s something in my gut that says that’s not the case this time. Given that, Romanisti may have to do a lot of soul-searching in the near future about the identity of the club they love and their support going forward as Roma launches itself into a brave new world.