Roma was expected to take a step back this season. Everything that happened in the summer – the losses of Mohamed Salah and Antonio Rudiger, the arrival of a new coach, and the wheeling and dealing by sporting director Monchi – indicated a difficult transition period lay ahead.
What followed exceeded all imagination. More importantly, it’s given Roma a renewed sense of self as it prepares to make the biggest transformation in its 90 years of existence.
Suddenly, there’s enough money in the bank to all but ensure break-even compliance for the current financial year. Suddenly, there’s hope that Alisson, one of Europe’s most impressive goalkeepers this season, won’t be sold. And suddenly, there’s confidence that Roma can become something more than a stepping stone.
With around €100 million expected from this year’s astonishing run to the Champions League semi-finals – which was put to an end by Liverpool on Wednesday – the Giallorossi can stop worrying about Financial Fair Play.
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The fear was that yet another big-name player would have to be sacrificed just to comply with UEFA’s orders, which require the club to eliminate any losses accrued over the past three fiscal years. According to the latest half-year report, Roma still has to work off €40.3 million, but the windfall from the Champions League – in addition to increasing revenue streams – should extinguish the need to sell.
That means Alisson’s future in the Italian capital is safe for the time being. Selling the in-demand Brazilian would have been the quickest way to raise funds, but now the club has the option of planning the next season with the 25-year-old in goal.
“We have no intention of selling him,” Roma’s president, James Pallotta, said last month. “I mean zero at all. I’m sure people will probably come in with some bids, but I don’t have any interest in selling him.”
Pallotta couldn’t afford to drive such a hard bargain last season, when the spectre of FFP forced Roma to sell Salah or run the risk of sanctions. That Pallotta is taking a hard-line stance on Alisson is good news for supporters who’ve long been resigned to losing their best players.
It’s not only Champions League money that’s going to keep the club running, as the exposure of playing in a major European semi-final is paying dividends as well. Sponsorships are flying through the doors at the Stadio Olimpico, with Qatar Airways already secured as a primary shirt sponsor for a reported €13 million per season. A deal with Hyundai is also reportedly underway, which could fetch another €3 million annually. These may seem modest in contrast to the Premier League’s gargantuan numbers, but in the context of Serie A, it’s healthy. Only Juventus, Sassuolo, and AC Milan boast more lucrative shirt sponsorships. (For relevance, Sassuolo’s ownership group sponsors the team.)
It’s an important breakthrough because Roma lacked a big name on its shirt for years – an inexcusable lack of foresight that cost the club millions. That’s now been fixed, thanks in part to its renewed popularity.
Some of that popularity can be tied to increased visibility on social media. By producing hilarious tweets, videos, and memes that draw tens of thousands of clicks, the Giallorossi have emerged as one of football’s top follows.
Roma has always had the cachet of playing in a big city, but now it can finally start considering itself a big club. It has commercial offices in London, scouts constantly looking for the best deals, and studios that produce high-quality video content. Revenue is expected to more than double once Roma moves into its new 52,500-seat stadium, and with FFP regulations set to be met, Pallotta and Co. can build a team that fits the stage.
Everyone is thinking big.
The performances on the pitch have reflected that change in attitude. Roma topped its group ahead of Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, erased a 4-1 deficit to beat Barcelona, and came within one agonising goal of pulling off an unbelievable comeback versus Liverpool.
“Winning the group should be a great satisfaction but nothing more, because otherwise we’ll treat these situations as exceptional whereas we should be working toward making them the norm,” general director Mauro Baldissoni said in December.
Manager Eusebio Di Francesco kept on believing, too. Even when the tie against Barcelona looked lost, he rested key players in Serie A just to give his team a chance. Roma is still very much in the hunt for a Champions League spot, but the risk was rewarded.
Even though Roma hadn’t played in a European semi-final in more than three decades, everyone associated with the club acted like they’d been there before.
And at this rate, it’s safe to say they’ll be there again.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)