Chiesa di Totti, and our spiritual predecessor The Roma Offside, has existed in one form or another for almost 15 years. And in that time, we've seen more than our fair share of upheaval, including: 11 managerial changes, multiple directors of sport, sweeping changes to the medical staff, a new crest, four kit manufacturers, six club presidents and now, with Dan Friedkin purchasing the club, three different owners (four if you include the weird time the creditors owned the club but let Rosella run it).
That's a staggering history, but our shift to CdT coincided with James Pallotta's rise to power within the Roma ranks, so he's the president with whom we are most familiar. In some ways, our growth as a site mirrored Roma's growth under his stewardship. And now he's gone.
After eight seasons at the helm, slapping a simple binary label on his tenure as club president and owner is impossible at worst and shortsighted at best. It will be many years before we appreciate the true gravity of his decisions, for better or worse.
But, that doesn't mean we can't reflect on all the transfers, all the sales, the parade of managers and all the good he did to boost Roma's visibility and standing among Europe's top clubs.
And rather than me giving you a top-down recounting of the past eight years, I assembled the CdT crew to offer their reflections on Pallotta's time in the capital.
Enjoy and please give us your thoughts in the comment section.
1. It might be tough, but give us a concise four-sentence summary of the James Pallotta era.
Bren: I think James Pallotta was a well-intentioned but ultimately naive (through no fault of his own) owner. In so many respects, he improved the club dramatically from the latter days of the Sensi regime, but it always seemed to me his assumptions about the business of sports in Italy, no matter how logical or well-founded, were his real pitfall. His plan was solid enough—increase media exposure, make the club more accessible to the English-speaking market and focus on young and appealing talent—but with every step of his program relying on Champions League funds, the prospect of a new stadium and hoping that Italy would modernize, it just wasn’t sustainable in the end.
dallagente: The most consistent run of Champions League qualifications in the club’s history, a league points total on a par with Napoli and only behind Juve over the course of a decade, but zero trophies.
JonAS: No Serie A. No Coppa Italia. No Supercoppa. No Europa League (although they can give James a nice departing gift this month).
ssciavillo: I think bren summed this one up very well. Pallotta had all the right intentions, but in the end the Italian system made a lot of his work frustratingly difficult. Overall, the results on the pitch were solid, but not spectacular outside of the Champions League semi-final run. But in the end, his reign will mostly be remembered by many for zero trophies.
Jimmy: He came in wanting to bring Roma to the next level. That was not achieved, though some of that was not his fault. Zero trophies during that time period is unacceptable if Roma wants to be thought of the way it thinks of itself. Oh, and I wish he had handled the sunset of the Totti/DDR era better.
2. Regardless of what you just said, how did your opinion of his leadership change over the years?
Bren: My relationship with the Pallotta regime has been a complicated one, for sure. The very first piece I wrote on here lauded them for their American tours and focus on expanding the brand, and my opinion really only turned super-sour around 2017 or so, in the wake of the Totti “retirement” and the sales of Nainggolan, Alisson and Salah. His plan to make Roma a true player in global football was correct, but the execution, some of which rested on rather large assumptions, was not. I just think he was a well-intentioned owner who really had no idea what he was truly getting himself into.
dallagente: I jumped back on board the Roma train at the beginning of 2013-14, after a calcio TV blackout where I was living for the three seasons previous. That was my first time finding out who Pallotta was and the first time I ever cared about what a sporting director even did. I remember being 100% behind Pallotta’s throwing Mehdi Benatia under the bus in the summer of 2014, thinking we have a chairman with balls. Turns out it was more bark than bite. Once he over-ruled Monchi and fired EDF, I knew Pallotta likes to find scapegoats. Something that Walter Sabatini had already warned about, but I didn’t listen.
JonAS: True but I think Pallotta got a lot more criticism than he deserved. Yes, Roma didn’t win a single prize in his era and was just once very close to a Scudetto. But there were also bright spots like the CL semi final, the transfers of Salah, Alisson and the record of 87 points under Spalletti. I wasn’t exactly thrilled when he arrived, because I was a fan of the Sensi family, but the ‘brand’ Roma surely expanded. We had sponsors, Roma has a nice professional website and funny social media and at least there were ‘talks’ about a new stadium. Things changed under Pallotta, but unfortunately not the big changes he himself had in mind. He tried and neither succeeded or failed. Just all those years lost.
ssciavillo: I think Pallotta did more good for the club than many will give him credit for, in terms of building the brand. I was excited when he took over, especially with the team becoming more accessible to me, as an American supporter. I was able to attend many of the team’s ICC matches when they came stateside. I did sour a bit after the way De Rossi was ushered out of the club. However, I still think he had the right intentions for the club, but was just unable to carry out his vision because of factors out of his control. So, overall I think his tenure should be seen as being more positive than negative when you think about what he inherited from the Sensi family. However, those zero titles, player sales, and inability to get the stadium will always mar his legacy.
Jimmy: Most sports club owners aren’t exactly beloved by the fans; they often have to make tough decisions that nobody will like, but hopefully later those decisions will be appreciated. Pallotta definitely didn’t have a perfect track record, and at times he was perhaps too loud for someone who didn’t relocate to Rome on a semi-permanent basis, but you could always tell that he was trying to drag Roma into the modern era of football. A lot of the Italian bureaucracy seemed out to get him, and the financial situation he was handed by Roma’s prior owners did him no favors. I can’t view his ownership period as a complete failure, but considering how much talk there was around the club during this time period, there was very little in terms of actual results, either on the pitch or off of it.
3. It was a controversial eight years at the helm for Pallotta, but what would you cite as his biggest success as Roma’s president?
Bren: Well, I think the very fact we’re sitting here doing this (and you’re sitting here reading this) was his biggest accomplishment—he made Roma way more accessible to those of us outside of Italy and put Roma among the best clubs in terms of maximizing modern media. If Rosella were still in charge, I wonder if they would have put such a focus on creating English-language content. I’m extremely grateful for that because my fandom increased rapidly once the old Roma.it vanished—it really changed the way I relate to the club and to the sport as a whole. Trophies would have been great, but I feel closer to the club itself, and that’s perhaps the most valuable seed he could have planted.
dallagente: Pallotta was willing to work with the European and local forces (and hire ex-Barcelona executives) to try and make going to the game a thing where you can bring your family. Or at least be able to talk about football at the bar with your girlfriend, once again. It may seem minor, but I genuinely believe no Italian owner would have persisted (or even tried) in the way Pallotta has on the matchday experience. I also feel a Hall of Fame at the club commemorating Roma’s history, former players and achievements makes you wonder: Why didn’t the club do this all along?
JonAS: I think the celebrations right after the Barcelona win in the Champions League were golden. Pallotta jumped into the Fontana dei Leoni, apologized and even donated money to the city for the restoration of other fountains in Rome. From a PR point of view, it was a bullseye. I think that was one of the very few moments we saw the real, genuine James. Just a big kid who was happy with his ‘toy’, his team which won this ultra important match and a man who was overjoyed. For one night he truly was one of the crazy Romans.
ssciavillo: I have to say the way he made Roma more accessible worldwide has to be his biggest success as an owner. Thanks to the expanded social media presence, summer tours, and better English coverage made the team more accessible worldwide. That coupled with signing on with Nike has made the club’s logo much more of a worldwide brand. I’m sure the club still isn’t as big as Pallotta would’ve liked, but it’s growing in presence.
Jimmy: Roma became a club that friends of mine were aware of, even if they weren’t huge fans of Italian football. Granted, part of that was because my kit collection grew larger and larger and because I took this gig to write for CdT, but even so, Roma became a much better-known entity under his reign. Part of that was the Cinderella story of reaching the Champions League semi-finals (that win against Barcelona was glorious), but other things, like signing with Nike, developing the social media team, and more all helped the Giallorossi become a better known entity in world football. We can complain about the overcommercialization of football (and Roma), but more people knowing about Roma is a good thing in my book.
4. What was his biggest failure and/or most consistent struggle as Roma president?
Bren: I’m going to leave the stadium out of this because it seemed like he made all the necessary adjustments along the way but was just waylaid by bureaucracy. I’m also not going to say the sales; that’s low hanging fruit, so I’ll go to the root cause of most of it—the incessant turnover. From multiple directors of sport to different CEOs to, like, eight managers to whatever Baldissoni was, it’s incredibly difficult to create and maintain momentum when the leadership is constantly changing. Those managerial changes led to a new set of purchases every summer, which were quickly rendered useless and/or awkward when the new coach came along, which then started the cycle all over again.
I often wonder what would have happened if Luis Enrique never resigned. That was a bit before Pallotta officially took over, but they completely set out to remake the club’s image with him in mind and the wheels fell off before they ever got comfortable with each other.
dallagente: Him folding under pressure, as you’ve just summed up in detail. That just continued a club culture (that existed before him) where it’s OK to go back on your word and, if all else fails, someone else will take the blame and pick up the pieces for you. Ever since the days of Luis Enrique we’ve been trying to bring in a footballing culture of collective responsibility on the pitch, but the board’s own character wasn’t compatible with the very changes they wanted brought in under them.
JonAS: Agreed with Bren. There were too many changes, turnovers. Because he wanted Roma at the top as soon as possible, he got so blinded by this goal and never took the time and patience to let it grow naturally. Have more faith in the process. James thought he could single-handedly lead Roma to glory but there were just too many external factors (luck, suspensions, injuries to name a few) that affect the club and its results, which he couldn’t control.
ssciavillo: I have to echo the sentiments of the other guys here. I can’t blame him for the stadium because the infamous italian bureaucracy really killed that on him. In the end, the lack of consistency in management and on the sidelines stopped the team from truly growing into a team that can win something. In order to have truly competed with Juve, there had to be less turnover within the club, both on and off the pitch.
Jimmy: Too many changes. Plain and simple. It often felt as if Pallotta decided to fire managers because of external pressure more than anything else, and if you’re a sports team owner you have to know when to ignore those outside voices and live through the growing pains of working with a manager over the course of the long term.
5. Pallotta was known for his bombast and public proclamations—about sales, other team presidents, the fans, his own players—which colored people’s perception of him, but do you think he got a raw deal or was he his own worst enemy?
Bren: Some of it I actually enjoyed—going at Lotito, ultras and even Benatia—but considering how little time he spent in Rome, those bold headlines were really all many people knew of him. So when he claims so unequivocally that we’re not selling Alisson, we’re not selling Nainggolan and, get this, he’s not selling the club, it’s hard not to engender some bad press. The nonsense with people going after his family’s other businesses was inexcusable, but I think if most fans are honest with themselves and can put all his proclamations aside, they’ll come to realize he was a successful owner.
dallagente: I had to ask myself: What has James Pallotta’s era done that was unquestionably in the aim of hurting or defrauding others? Nothing I can think of right now. There were some porkies told along the way, and his short-termism was annoying yes, but nothing in the same category as the lies of the Sensis before him.
JonAS: A bit of both. Pallotta is an American trying to do business in Italy. That’s a double jeopardy and a recipe for drama, chaos and juicy headlines in the papers. Pallotta is a hard businessman, Italy just is a crazy country with a typical southern culture, lifestyle and vibe. Perhaps if he bought let’s say Lyon or Leverkusen, he would have had more success. I guess it was worth a try but sometimes it’s better to split up and don’t look back.
ssciavillo: I think in some ways he was his own worst enemy. He didn’t know when it was better to say nothing, especially in the case of “we’re not selling said player”. However, overall I do think he gets a raw deal because he did plenty of good for the club.
Jimmy: I think, as often is the case, the truth of Pallotta is somewhere between those two poles. Yes, he was fond of getting into spats with nearly anyone who crossed him, and to be honest that could be quite entertaining to read and write about. Yet I would also say that it was incredibly disappointing to have an owner who could talk the talk but didn’t walk the walk, particularly when it came to player sales. The Pjanic and Alisson sales particularly stung for me, but I imagine that everyone has a sale that left them with more of a pit in their stomach than most of the others. Did he deserve even 40 percent of the flak he received from tifosi? No. He was a good owner in a lot of respects, but if he had been a silent owner I imagine that he would have been thought of much more highly by Romanisti.
6. Okay, you can change one decision or moment during his tenure, what would it be and why?
dallagente: I’m not saying it to upset anyone, but I would have liked to have seen Monchi and EDF given time to fix their own mistakes while building on what the good they did; 2017-19 was where we started really growing as a club with momentum, and yet still it was scrapped all over again. It was still surreal to me to hear British commentators, and commentators around Europe, saying “Roma-Chelsea is the most anticipated game in Europe this week.” A far cry from the timid European performances of old.
Bren: Gosh, I wrote this question and I’m having difficulty answering it; it’s so hard to rewrite just one moment. I know everyone expects me to say he shouldn’t have allowed the dismantling of the 2016-2017 team, but I’m going to dig a bit deep here and say he never should have hired (or written off on) Zdenek Zeman back in 2012. Pallotta hadn’t officially taken over yet—he would officially become president two-months after ZZ was hired— but he was pretty much coercing the club since late 2011, effectively stripping DiBenedetto of power in December of that year.
Zeman may have had some nostalgic value, but his tactics and personnel selection were never designed for success in Serie A, so much so that he was out on his ass by February of 2013, leaving Andreazzoli to clean up his mess—the club eventually finished in 7th.
Rudi Garcia’s 10-0 start to the following season erased some of the Zeman stink, but one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if they found a younger and more suitable manager to start Pallotta’s true reign; someone who wouldn’t value Panagiotis Tachtsidis over Daniele De Rossi.
Maybe they could have pried Allegri away from Milan or signed Laurent Blanc (he left the France gig weeks after Roma signed ZZ), but placing the club in Zeman’s hands was always risky from a tactical and organizational stand-point. His football was simply too chaotic and his personality too brazen and his departure pretty much set up everything that came thereafter—Pallotta simply never found his man.
JonAS: I would have liked to see Ancelotti in Rome during all those years. Perhaps he should have gone all out for Carlo at least once in his tenure. And the exits of Totti and especially De Rossi should have happened differently but that was always gonna be a hard task, for anyone at the helm.
ssciavillo: It’s hard to pick one moment to change, but the one that stands out to me (maybe because it’s recent) is the way he handled the whole De Rossi situation. At least with Totti, we had a year to honor him and prepare for his departure. The De Rossi situation happened so suddenly. I think it really hurt his image with the fanbase.
Jimmy: I wish Pallotta had decided to funnel money into Roma’s academy in place of signing international talent after international talent. The amount of money Pallotta’s Roma spent on Brazilian, Argentinian, and plainly non-Italian talent that never panned out must be an extraordinary figure; if he had taken 10% of that and told Bruno Conti “Get me the best young Italian prospects you can find”, I would’ve appreciated it. I bet that a lot of other Romanisti would have appreciated that too.
7. Serie A is Juve’s world and the other 19 clubs are just living in it, so even if he made every correct call, Roma may still have wound up empty-handed, so is he a success or a failure? How will James Pallotta ultimately be remembered by Roma fans and the calcio world in general?
dallagente: Pallotta could be remembered along the same lines of Franco Evangelisti in the mid-sixties. The parallels are all there. Evangelisti sold off the club’s young talent to Juventus - amid fan protests - to refinance the club after it was in dire straits from the poor money-management of his predecessor.
Evangelisti also listened to the Bellei family in Rome, when they approached Roma for permission to set up and train the very first Serie A women’s club with Roma’s name on it (back then Roma CF). Pallotta made the same moves, bringing RES Roma into the fold as the A.S. Roma women’s club in this era. Depending on how Friedkin does, we may also eventually see Pallotta in the same light as Gaetano Anzalone in the 70s.
Anzalone did a huge amount to setup Roma as both a professional football club and brand ready for the TV-era of football, and he grew notoriously bitter that he put in all the groundwork on which Dino Viola would then ride in after him and get credited for Roma’s golden age of the 1980s.
Guys like Pallotta, Evangelisti and Anzalone get remembered as the “growing pains” type of Presidents, if their actual achievements are even remembered at all, often overshadowed by the glamourous results of the guy who walks into office after them.
Bren: I’ll trust your assessment of those other owners, but as I mentioned above, I think in time people will remember (if they’re truly being honest and fair) Pallotta’s tenure as a positive one. Roma’s branding and exposure increased markedly, he brought in Nike, Qatar Airways, he expanded the social media presence, he brought the club to America, he spent a lot of money on transfers, he went out and got Monchi (still the right move at the time) and he got as close as anyone possibly could have to building a stadium in Rome. Really, if we’re being honest, James Pallotta dragged Roma into the 21st century. Where the Sensis were keen to rely on tradition and good feelings, Pallotta took a pragmatic approach to modernizing Roma, so ten years from now, I think we’ll see his stewardship as the first step on a longer, circuitous journey to Roma being a top club.
JonAS: Not really much to add there, Bren summed it up perfectly. But the empty palmares will always remain an ugly stain on his career. When Roma was at its best, with guys like Salah, Alisson, DDR, Radja, Manolas, Emerson, Strootman, SES and more, they simply HAD to win something, anything. Not some stupid bonzai tree. They had an amazing group, filled with so much talent and yet they sold many key players and changed personnel almost every season. That stings.
ssciavillo: I agree with bren’s assessment. I think he really should be seen as a success for all did to bring the club into the 21st century. I think he will be seen as the catalyst for greater things to come for Roma in the next decade. Things that couldn’t have happened without his leadership and vision. In the end, as dallagente pointed out in a previous question, they had the second most points in the league under his reign. That’s a great accomplishment on the pitch. It was just Juve’s world and everyone else was just living in it. The lack of trophies would hurt more if other clubs had won besides Juve during his time in charge. That 87 point team would’ve been a shoe-in for a Scudetto most seasons. So, I think if you take the zero trophies in context, overall his presidency will be seen in a more positive light down the road.
dallagente: I hope you guys, Steven and everyone, are right. But I cannot think of a President or patron in A.S. Roma history that has won zero and, despite the actual good done at grass roots level of the club, been remembered fondly. Maybe I’m wrong and someone will come up with an example. But if we can’t then, is that not the core of Roma’s frustration? We say we’re in it for more than just the trophies. Maybe we should just put that sentiment aside and win something, then everyone’s happier.
Jimmy: Juventus was just too good during Pallotta’s tenure as owner. Considering how much more money The Old Lady was playing with, it’s understandable that Roma didn’t win much with Pallotta at the helm; that doesn’t make it any less disappointing that the trophy cabinet is still quite bare. There were a lot of positives to Pallotta’s tenure, and I think Friedkin may be able to reap the benefits of a lot of things that Pallotta started during his ownership period. However, unless Dan Friedkin can figure out a way to get the Agnelli family indicted for tax fraud, I’m not sure how much Roma can do to improve upon some of the seasons Pallotta’s Roma had. This isn’t a PSG or Manchester City-level upgrade in terms of finances for Roma. A lot of things will have to go right for Friedkin to win a Scudetto. I’ll keep hoping for it to happen, though, because hope is a lovely feeling to hold on to, deep in your soul, even when it seems like there’s no reason to keep it with you anymore.
As we set at the outset, given more time (years, likely) Roma fans will be able to assess James Pallotta's time as club owner with more nuance and context, but as people who follow the club with such fervor, it's impossible not to react in the moment.
So, what do you think, how will people judge Pallotta's time in Rome?
How will you remember the James Pallotta era?
This poll is closed
An unqualified success
An utter failure
Good intentions but unable to deliver on the big promises
A mixed bag: Great off the pitch, came up short on it.