As part of all of us on the CdT team launching new regular weekly features for the new year, we’re resurrecting a trusty old column in Totti Today.
I don’t personally live in Italy anymore (or for the time being) but my long-term hope with this column is that, if you ever had any interest in visiting (or re-visiting) the peninsula yourself, hopefully, Totti Today can help you get familiar with the climate before you’ve even landed in the country. So we won’t be limited to Roma or even football in this corner, but what’s generally making waves around the Italian mainstream on a week-to-week basis.
All that said, this first episode of 2021 was more Roma-centric than I had in mind, but that’s the way the weekly news crumbled for now.
Dino Viola’s 30th Anniversary Haunts the Silent Friedkins
As results start to turn, so does Rome’s local press against the Friedkins (though interestingly enough, at least on the radio, not against Paulo Fonseca). Suddenly the Friedkins’ choice to fly low and keep press talk to a minimum is being seen as bad thing, and even something that could be hampering team results. It was none other than Il Romanista—the most pro-Roma and club owner-friendly Roma-centric title you could find on the web today—that offered this up as an excuse, this very week.
Il Romanista’s Mimmo Ferretti wrote a piece that could be paraphrased in a nutshell as: Is it just me or is the owner’s silence starting to bother anyone else? Of course, Ferretti was careful to book-end his piece by saying that if the Friedkins continued to stay under the radar, then he could accept that choice. But not before making it clear he felt that “leaving the press talk to the first team coach” isn’t something befitting of a well-run club. And this despite the fact that—said with all due respect to Ferretti—Paulo Fonseca speaks to the press no more than any of the other 19 Serie A coaches who do pre and post-match conferences on behalf of their own clubs.
Before the Friedkins, the excuse was that an owner needs to be present at the club grounds and games in order to keep all the employees on the straight and narrow path. Now that the Friedkins are ever-present in Rome and attending all the games, that...too...is no longer good enough. You can’t just be a fixture-piece, but now you have to be a showman, too.
This perennial search for a club owner that will give Roma back at bigger-than-life presence at the helm is all, of course, part of the Roma hangover from losing the club’s most successful-ever president, Dino Viola. This January (on the very day Roma played Spezia - the hometown of Dino Viola’s wife Flora) marked 30 years since Viola died back in 1991, after 12 years of unprecedented and sustained success at the club. By the time Viola was on his deathbed, it was Flora who ran things as the club’s acting president, before Roma’s ownership went into years of turnaround.
Beyond the five Coppa Italia wins, the league title, a European Cup (or Champions League) final, a UEFA Cup (or Europa League) final, a Cup Winners’ Cup final, three second-place finishes, and two third-place finishes in 12 years at the helm, Viola stood out in Roma’s history because of his cinematic presence, and how he’d managed to give Roma back some self-esteem.
Today, the Friedkins are still observing and our hope is that they’re concocting some kind of magic formula for putting the kind of Roma teams on the pitch that keeps pride in themselves, for all 12 months of the year. I put little stock in the idea that a club owner has to be a showman, pseudo-godfather figure for everyone at the club to row in the same direction (though I’m not completely dismissive of it as there are very real neighbourhood politics to take into account when it comes to Italian football, like in most low-trust societies around the world), but there has to be something to Roma crashing into poor form for the fourth winter in a row.
It can’t be a coincidence that this comes around with every winter mercato. Gianluca Petrachi was wrong in almost every move he made for the club (and I mean by definition, since he was hired to get Roma into the Top Four and the team he built has never done that) but even a broken clock is right twice a day. I think Petrachi (and Spalletti before him) nailed it when they threw in their two cents on what the biggest change to Roma as a club should have been yesterday, today, and tomorrow: Someone has to be in charge of working double-time to keep press and agent interference away from the training ground, especially every winter season.
Without that, in media-friendly Rome, players spend more time talking with their agents and worrying about their short-term future, instead of really believing in any season-long goals. The pitches get muddied down, the temperature drops and you just don’t fancy putting your foot in as much as the opponent anymore.
Making a change to that club culture starts right at the very top. Viola recognised it, and hopefully so will the Friedkins.
How Many Free Passes Will Virginia Raggi Get?
We like to consider ourselves an inclusive community, putting light on all things Roma based on merit above all. But the way Virginia Raggi is spoken about in these parts of the web flies in the face of that notion. Never has a mayor deserved less for delivering so little to so many.
It’s still tough to figure out whether Raggi is fully responsible for how bad her time in office has been, or whether she’s partly a victim of the incompetence around her own party. But what’s undeniable is that Raggi spent the latter half of 2020 proclaiming she “hoped to be able to deliver Roma fans a wonderful Christmas present” i.e. greenlighting the second-biggest venture in the city (the Stadio della Roma) in a public announcement by Christmas.
That announcement never came. And now Raggi is back to claiming, this week, that “she’s done everything she can” and that the ball is in the Friedkins’ court to make it happen. All of this moving the goalposts either makes Raggi one of the very worst politicians, or one of the best of them (depending on how cynical your worldview may be).
Raggi’s failure to deliver on her own self-imposed mandates isn’t just limited to football. The standard of living of many within Rome has continued to sink on Raggi’s watch.
Despite that, she’s still putting herself up for re-election. She’s still sitting on the fence between promises and rhetoric. But she takes a good picture in front of the cameras, so apparently, all her failures are just water under the yet-to-be-built River Tiber bridge.
Two Goodbyes That Will Fly Under The Radar
In other news, away from the men’s first team, the club waved goodbye to two players who stood for their own piece of history in their own way. The Roma Primavera men’s team saw Luca Chierico accept a transfer to Genoa this week, while the Roma women’s team sees reserve striker Maria Zecca move to Pink Bari.
Luca Chierico is the son of former Roma league-winner Odoacre; Chierico Sr. is a guy you’ll notice easily from his blossoming red hair on the pitch throughout the glorious 80s, despite the fact that Chierico himself was a bit-part player who became a Roma hero against the odds when called upon. His son Luca promised a lot with his play at the heart of the Primavera midfield, but ultimately couldn’t distinguish himself among the setback of four separate shoulder surgeries, in the space of two years, disrupting his game-time at U-19 level.
How well Chierico Jr. will do in linking up with Kevin Strootman at Genoa is anyone’s guess, or whether he’ll even crack the Grifone senior team at all. Roma retains a percentage of Chierico’s sell-on fee but no right to buy him back.
Meanwhile, Maria Zecca is A.S. Roma’s first-ever striker to wear the number 9 jersey, since the club officially came into existence in 2018. Despite the fact she still wore that jersey to this very week, the target-woman striker and New Jersey-native never managed to earn the coach’s trust as anything more than a reserve striker. She’s one of the last of the “Originals” in a Roma women’s squad that keeps adding to its setup with increasingly high-profile signings, season to season.