Although continental soccer did pick up this past weekend with the restart of the Bundesliga, most of Europe is still stuck in a “reading about transfer rumors while nobody plays actual football” holding period, and with that comes the obligatory annual “Roma is flat broke” news cycle. This time, it’s Il Tempo’s Alessandro Austini, a source very close to Roma, stating that due to a huge debt crunch, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolò Zaniolo may have to be sold this summer.
The debt crunch is admittedly real and worrisome. Recent financial statements that were released by the club show that the club has a whopping €278.5 million in debt. Now, if the world hadn’t changed drastically since the start of 2020, the proposed ownership change would have wiped away most if not all of that debt, but the spread of COVID-19 and the effect that has had on global markets has led to Friedkin sources putting the chances of a completed takeover at somewhere between 20 and 30 percent, according to John Solano of RomaPress.
Latest on Friedkin: significant slowdown.— John Solano (@Solano_56) May 7, 2020
I didn’t publish the full quotes of one of their executives, but when I asked on the percentage that a deal goes through he stated “20-30%”. https://t.co/Y5wcxgpQYZ
If that Friedkin deal doesn’t go through, Austini claims that a whole host of superclubs are going to try to pounce on the Giallorossi’s financial instability. Lorenzo Pellegrini still has that incredibly annoying €30 million release clause, and although he’s made it clear over and over again how happy he is to play at the Olimpico, happy players have left the club due to financial constraints before (just ask Champions League winner Mohamed Salah). The Roman midfielder is linked to Paris Saint-Germain, while everyone from Juventus to Liverpool to Manchester United to Tottenham Hotspur has been linked to Zaniolo in one way, shape or form over the course of the past couple of months. You have to assume that if the club is forced to put their brightest star up for sale, those clubs and many more will come knocking, looking for a potential superstar at a discount rate.
Of course the issue behind this particular round of rumors is the kinda-maybe-not-happening Friedkin deal to buy Roma, but it speaks to larger issues that the club has faced for decades now. As a capital city club, the Giallorossi have always had major ambitions concerning how they should fit into the Serie A hierarchy and Europe’s footballing hierarchy. As Jim Pallotta said, It’s Fucking Rome, a city of emperors. Unfortunately, Roma’s finances have never seen eye to eye with her ambitions, particularly after the Sensi’s debt issues in the 2000s. One of the reasons Pallotta was looking to sell Roma in the first place was because of the massive debt pile-up he had tried and failed to erase.
With that debt pile-up and the strict rules of Financial Fair Play (for some clubs), it became impossible for Roma to find and keep star players. That’s why Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rüdiger, Marquinhos, Alisson Becker, and more were sold. That story will continue to be told year after year, with names like Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolò Zaniolo being added to the list, unless the debt issues are resolved and a private stadium is built. It’s really as simple as that. Roma has often been kept afloat talent-wise by its excellent academy; you can fairly ask if Roma would have been fighting relegation battles for a lot of the twenty-first century if it weren’t for Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Florenzi, and more. Yet relying on home-grown talent either fetching a pretty penny on the transfer market or having enough loyalty to Rome to will it into financial stability was always a losing proposition.
Hopefully, Roma’s finances can be brought into normalcy soon, whether through a Friedkin deal coming to fruition or a cash injection maintaining Pallotta as owner. My main priority for the Giallorossi in these uncertain times is to avoid an ownership group for Roma tied to particularly dirty money, and I worry where Pallotta will turn if the Friedkin deal truly falls apart. One thing seems clear, though: Jim Pallotta wants out at the right price. We just have to see if that right price will shift at all given footballing’s brave new world of COVID.
Either the rumors of a sale will prove true, or rumors of Zaniolo and Pellegrini leaving the club will prove true. Let’s hope it’s the former, not the latter.