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Totti Today: Pellegrini to Assume Captaincy, Roma Sheds €50M in Debt, Inter is In Trouble & More

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Lorenzo reigns in a week that said a lot about the ambitions of Serie A’s leading clubs Roma, Juventus and Inter.

AS Roma v Hellas Verona - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Imagine having the kind of year Lorenzo Pellegrini is still living out right now. It might have topped off by Pellegrini becoming the full-time captain of his hometown club, but the milestones started weeks before this moment... And who knows? At this rate, his year could get better and better.

Pellegrini rounded off 2020 with his wife announcing that their family is now expecting a second child—this time a son to follow in the footsteps of Lorenzo 2019-born daughter Camilla—and then Lorenzo began the new year by topping that news with a visit to the Pope.

More than just a photo op, the Pellegrini family joined in mass at Vatican City that day. Meanwhile, Lorenzo has gone from strength to strength on the pitch and kept active on social media, taking time to praise fans for feats as quirky as an A.S. Roma-themed retainer, and so on. It just never stops for the man who’s becoming Roma’s best number 7 since Bruno Conti. And now, of course, the armband is Pellegrini’s for the keeping.

Some voices in the media want to emphasize Roma General Manager Tiago Pinto’s words that Edin Dzeko is no longer captain “for now.” But surely, there’s no turning back now is there? The club had to know that installing homegrown player Pellegrini as full-time captain is a permanent move. The only way Pellegrini’s year could get better is leading an unfancied Italy side to some Euro 2020 (it’s still officially being called that) glory.

And Pellegrini might be enjoying the prime years of his Roma career at the perfect time, as moves behind-the-scenes of the Serie A mercato suggest that Roma are getting their act together as a club just when their rivals are sailing into choppy waters.

The Friedkin Group Begin to Show Their Ambitions

Hellas Verona FC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

In a move that could have received way more local press attention than it did (I barely noticed it myself), the Friedkin Group have done something we never witness on ex-president James Pallotta’s watch: Roma have reduced their debt on the bottom line.

We’re not talking about Roma having made a good sale, or Roma having generated some short-term cash to keep living from cheque to cheque. No. The club have reduced the money being paid out every summer, reducing the need to collect money in i.e. reducing the need to sell players.

It goes without saying that the only thing better than this move would be Roma growing commercially as a club to get more guaranteed revenue in (I hear Toyotas are great cars to drive around Rome). But this is the next best statement of ambition. The Friedkins paid off some shareholder loans taking out by James Pallotta’s group in 2017, and some long-standing bank loans to reduce the debt by nearly €50 million this winter.

SS Lazio v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Now that still leaves A.S. Roma with some 253.4 million euros of debt to manage in the long term—not an insignificant sum for a club the size of the Giallorossi, who collect barely €50 million per year in commercial revenue, and still live-or-die by competition prize money and TV broadcasting revenue, season after season. But we’ll wait to see if the Friedkin era has cards to play on these fronts in the summer of 2021.

For one, maybe the Friedkin Group could shift the majority of the debt owed from Goldman Sachs to their preferred bank J.P. Morgan. Roma have two J.P. Morgan bankers on the current club board, so you’d think some relationships there could help the club win more favorable terms than the aggressive €28 million repayments the club has to make to Goldman each year. And the Qatar Airways main sponsorship deal is up this summer, leaving room for that fabled Toyota shirt deal to finally materialize (or not).

We’ll have to wait until summer to find out. But there’s plenty of room for Roma’s rivals to stumble from now until then.

Conte Laments the End Suning’s Inter, But Juventus Find Nine More Lives

FC Internazionale Training Session Photo by Claudio Villa - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Antonio Conte is never one to mix words. He reminded the press, after Inter’s Coppa Italia first-leg defeat to Conte’s former club Juventus this week, that the Suning Era at Inter is winding down big-time. How Inter can keep loaning in the money they have done through issuing bonds (a move that Roma mimicked under Pallotta) is a question we began asking in our Serie A Transfer Power Rankings last summer, and the answer is simple: They can’t.

Between China’s overall view towards the business of sport changing radically, bonds maturing within the next couple of seasons, and the pandemic outbreak that began in 2019, this current Inter Milan cycle is at an end.

“It’s a delicate situation and there’s no use in hiding that fact,” Conte said post-match this week. “We bang with a project that ended this past August.”

FC Internazionale Unveils New Signing Arturo Vidal Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

It’s thought that Antonio Conte was invited to a summit with Inter president Steven Zhang last August, where the club told the coach that they were done making heavy investments in players. Sure, the Achraf Hakimi deal went through, but that was done knowing that the first installment of Hakimi’s fee will only be paid in the summer of 2021 (rumoured to be down to an Inter fan sitting on Real Madrid’s current board of directors). Other than Hakimi, it was nothing but low-cost deals like signing Kolarov and Vidal for title-hopefuls Inter, capped off by doing zero business this January.

The club have their belts tightened to the point where they couldn’t fork out the extra 2-3 million needed to take on board Edin Dzeko’s wages. Meanwhile, Antonio Conte will be looking at old club Juventus in envy, as Andrea Agnelli caps off his decade-long reign as president of the Bianconeri with some more phantom plusvalenze on the January mercato.

Juventus v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Alberto Gandolfo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Through a series of player-swap deals with Genoa and Marseille in particular, Juventus has managed to drum up €25 million worth of player-development “profit” that, in the real, material world, doesn’t exist beyond the slim career ambitions of players like Manolo Portanova, Nicolò Rovella and Elia Petrelli. Stop me if you’ve heard any of those names before (though, to keep it real, I did want Roma to sign Elia Petrelli as their next up-and-coming striker a year or so ago).

But that’s the way of football, folks. Keep it break-even, keep it fair, and keep it “legal” (winks in fluent UEFA).

Not that Roma is above that sort of behaviour; their trading Leonardo Spinazzola from Juventus for Luca Pellegrini in 2019 still ranks as the sixth-highest plusvalenza Juventus have raked in during the Andrea Agnelli era. But the theme here is that Inter Milan need to win this year’s Serie A more than ever. Short of getting new, robust ownership moving into office at the blue half of the San Siro, this could be their last shot at title-contention for a few seasons.

For Juventus, it’s just another season lighting money on fire and getting Genoa, Marseille and whoever to sweep up the ashes.

In Other News: Roma Aren’t Alone in Messing Up Squad Lists

AZ Alkmaar v Ajax - Dutch Eredivisie Photo by Soccrates/Getty Images

If you thought Roma mishandling the registration of Amadou Diawara earlier this season was amateur-ish, try being in Ajax’s shoes this week. The Dutch club have managed to leave their record-signing Sebastian Haller off their final UEFA squad list for the knockout phase of the Europa League.

Haller is not only Ajax’s most expensive signing in the club’s history, but the most expensive signing the Dutch league has ever seen. The Ivorian-French striker moved from West Ham to Ajax for €22.5 million this past January and is already off to a goal-scoring start in the Eredivisie. But Haller will be forced to watch any potential clash Roma in the Europa League from the stands.

Rome Celebrates Its Own Anniversary Against Juventus

Il Romanista

And finally, if you notice something different about Roma’s shirts away to Juventus this weekend, it’s because they’ll be celebrating 150 years of Rome as the capital of Italy this week (the official anniversary was yesterday on February 3rd).

If it takes your interest and you have some time to read Italian, Reppublica this week published a brief interview-style recap on Rome’s rise as a city from 1871 onwards, from annexation into the modern State of Italy, to building and tearing down the Piazza Venezia (a place originally intended to be the heart of Italy) in a matter of decades, and witnessing Mussolini’s Italy build the EUR city-centre in its place (where A.S. Roma recently moved to open their new head office).

The most interesting part is that, 150 years ago, Roma was outnumbered in population by both Napoli nearby and Milano up north. Nowadays, of course, Rome is not just the media-centre of Italy but regularly ranks as the world’s number one tourist destination. Anyone fancy Uber-ing a few Toyotas through town once this pandemic is behind us?