Sunday, 3 May 2009

ma la roma dove sta?

Something is rotten in the state of Roma and has been for a while now. Relations between club and fans are currently as low as I've seen for some years and people are getting fed up. There are a number of problems about which people have felt increasingly angry, from long-term financial problems to the problems on the pitch the season.

First, the financial situation: since 1993 AS Roma has been entirely owned by Italpetroli, the Sensi family's holding company, which currently owes the Unicredit bank (formerly Banca di Roma) the not insignificant sum of €370 million. While Roma's books balance - for now - money is very tight, funds from sales aren't necessarily reinvested, and there is absolutely no spare cash to invest in the club. This partly explains the less than stella transfer campaigns of the last few years, and also means that failure to reach the Champions League next year - which by now we must assume is a given - has serious consequences.

This, then, is the backdrop against which the appearance of foreign buyers must be considered. The Sensi family have never stated that Roma is not for sale, and while Unicredit have repeatedly denied pressuring them to sell it as part of their debt repayment programme, it is clear that a really good would be welcome to the bank and thus perhaps to the family too. George Soros was much touted as a potential buyer last summer, to the delight of some and the dismay of others; at the time I was more optimistic about the Sensis and besides didn't much welcome the prospect of an American owner. Now it's the turn of the Germans: the Flick brothers (nicknamed Mick & Muck) are reported to be interested. Grandsons of a founder member of the Nazi party and continual attractors of Jewish ire, they are aging socialites with vast industrial / automobile fortunes; I cna't say they fill my heart with joy but they have to be considered a better financial prospect than the Sensis, and they do at least come from a country with a footballing culture.

None of this would have been such an issue of bitter division, though, if things had been alright on the pitch. I shan't repeat the unedifiying saga of the season; suffice it to say that players, manager and club alike have been at fault in various ways. The 4-1 stuffing at Fiorentina was the last straw for many. Sensi ordered the entire team in "ritiro" - in other words, they have to sleep in at the training ground all week, as if they were on a pre-season training camp. It's often used here, combining as it does punishment with an intensive remedial session. Then on Tuesday representatives of all the main ultras groups (bar the Ultras Romani, of which more later) went to Trigoria to have a face to face meeting with the players and express their unhappiness. Again, this sounds weird to an English mentality but is not unusual here.
Protests outside the training ground:

The Fedayn have lost their patience, apparently. Indegni! I can only translate
as "O unworthy ones!" taking us further into the realms of
Greek tragedy than seems strictly necessary.

This meeting though made things MUCH much worse: not only did Rosella Sensi not turn up herself, or send any other member of the family / senior directors, but the players that did participate - including, obviously, Totti & De Rossi - managed to significantly worsen matters by explaining that the fans put them under too much pressure and so the poor results of this year are Our Fault. Yes, that's right, it's all us.

A few thoughts:
1. Do the fans of Milan, Inter, Juve not put their players under pressure?
2. Were Roma fans less demanding and pressurising last season, somehow?
3. When you win, or when 4000 fans travel the length of the country to support you at great expense and inconvenience then they're the much loved twelfth man whom you couldn't do without but if things go badly then they are unreasonable, demanding and stress-inducing?
4. Are you, or are you not, professionals?
5. If you insist that we share your responsibility for being shit, can we also share some of the astronomical sums of cash that you're pocketing for being shit?

Oh, the players issued a press release the next day to say that they thought they might have been misunderstood, but it was too late. Not least since Totti & De Rossi had gone to Rosella and asked that all the players be let off the ritiro and allowed to go home - which the club immediately agreed to, leaving all and sundry wondering what the point of annoucing it had been in the first place.

On 30 April a joint Comunicato was issued by the whole Curva Sud - which is already an unusual event:
Domenica 3 maggio in occasione della partita Roma - Chievo i gruppi della Sud organizzeranno, dalle 15 in poi, un mini torneo di calcio a 5 nel piazzale sottostante la Curva Sud. Si invitano i tifosi a seguire e a partecipare a questo evento con vero spirito calcistico, senza mercenari e senza compromessi, ma esclusivamente per amore del gioco. VI ABBIAMO ASPETTATO UN ANNO. OGGI GIOCHIAMO NOI.

In other words, we won't be watching Roma-Chievo, we'll be having a 5-a-side tournament outside the stand: We've waited for you all year. Today we're going to play ourselves. So this afternoon they chalked out a playing area, set up a couple of mini goals, and played a full tournament between most of the main ultras groups. Each group organised itslef behind its own banner to support its side. There was a mixture of songs in support of Roma or against the current situation, along with songs by each group supporting their team or - goodnaturedly - against their rivals. It was kind of fun (more entertaining than what was being served up on the pitch inside the ground, at any rate) and served to underline the rare degree of consensus within the Sud itself about this situation. Only the Ultras Romani - who have a closer relationship with the club, I think, and in any case have chosen not to participate fully in these protests - didn't take part; in the end, should you be interested, the Fedayn won 1-0, beating the Boys after previously knocking out Giovinezza and someone else (I didn't watch the whole tournament).

Meanwhile the groups' spots were left empty, with the single injuction "VATTENE" (go away) displayed in each spot where usually a group's banner hangs. Other parts of the stand were occupied, perhaps half full at most, but even those fans who had chosen to attend were on protest, sitting down in silence. Meanwhile the rest of the ground was also weirdly empty in normally busy areas, and the small group of ultras in the Curva Nord (not able for obvious reasons to join in the 5-a-side) sang & chanted protests throughout the game. The players were greeted with massive booing and the match proceded in an atmosphere of muttering, grumbling, sporadic applause and occasional shouting. It didn't help that Roma were dire.

5-a-side completed, the ultras entered the stands with 5 minutes to go, to vent some anger: lots of songs against Rosella Sensi, Pippo Marra et al; lots of "andate a lavorare" (go to work) aimed at the players, and a general sense of anger and confusion: ma la roma dove sta? (where is the club?) tutti in ritiro, nun annate a casa (you're not going home, you should all be on ritiro); the old classic 'tifiamo solo la maglia' (we only support the shirt / colours); a German flag, in reference to the Frick brothers. There are a lot of very angry people out there right now.

It's worth stating though that plenty of people don't share this view - chants against Rosella were booed from other parts of the ground. This kind of fissure between ultras and other fans is not uncommon, though never helpful. But no Roma fan could declare themselves happy with the season, the club or the players. Now it remains only to see where to next.

Still, I had a good time at Lodigiani in the morning, and we even won 3-0.


Aussie Romanista said...

Just as you described:
Germans owning the club doesn't sit well with me. That, and I don't want to win anything Chelsea (or even Inter) style. With a shitload of stranieri bought for ridiculous sums from a bottomless pit of cash. It means nothing.

Terry said...

You have a load of foreigners anyway, so I'd stop being so parochial, if I were you.

Andy H said...

George Soros is a great guy. No idea why he wants to get involved in football club ownership, as it doesn't seem up his street, but there you go. I reckon Roma would have been much better off taking his offer last year. (Plus while he is an American passport holder, he was born Hungarian so he's not exactly entirely removed from countries which have a footballing tradition - he left Hungary in 1947 at the age of 17 just around the time when that country's team was on the brink of becoming the best in the world. And he only left Europe in 1956.

Sorry, I've gone a bit, but he's a bit of a hero of mine. And I met him once too.

Spangly Princess said...

to be precise, Soros never made a concrete offer. his representatives were just sniffing round.

I'm not anti-Soros, mind, by a long chalk. Just there are more Malcolm Glazers than Randy Lerners out there.

oscar said...

On the other hand, Spangly, if we believe the club there never was nor will there be a real offer. Ever.

I believed it last year, but after seeing the exact same movie develop this year I'm slowly beginning to revise that belief retroactively.
I'm willing to grant that the sheiks last year was with all probability made up entirely.

Other than that, what I'm afraid of is this: Rosella knows that Roma is the only really valuable asset the family has, and seeling it now for less than the 380mln or so that Italpetroli owes will make it incredibly difficult to somehow come up with the rest of the money. It could be fifty million, it could be ten, or it could be one, doesn't matter, after Roma there is no clear pathway to making that money.

That's only a theory of course, and I desperately want to be wrong, as it's endlessly depressing.

NickLazio1900 said...

Roma's financial situation coming to a head has been a long time coming and it's been the club's ability to qualify for the CL regularly that has prevented it from falling apart thought it's been hemorrhaging financially for several years.
Expect several players to leave without being replaced if the club does not qualify for Europe this year and a Lazio-style phase of relative anonymity for a few seasons.

"Do the fans of Milan, Inter, Juve not put their players under pressure?"

The pressure that players deal with in Rome is much harder to deal with than in Turin or Milan. Rome revolves around its teams and there is constant pressure to perform from supporters and a myriad of local media sources who broadcast nonsense in order to foment "l'ambiente" 24/7. X player has not renewed his contract. How come? X player was seen clubbing on Saturday night. Why is X playing when Y is ten times better? Players are sanctified one Sunday, only to be dismissed as worthless "pippe" the next match in which they play poorly. There are constant "polemiche" over absolutely everything imaginable. It's a world away from the relative tranquility of playing in the north.

Spangly Princess said...

Nick I think you're absolutely right that life here is a bit odd and revolves too much around its football teams: there is an excessive & detrimental amount of media attention on both teams, local radio shows, local TV, the press, Il Romanista, Marione, etc etc.

And Rome is at once a big city & a very small one: nearly everyone knows someone connected with either club in some vague capacity, so rumours get around very quickly. for the record 1) I personally know a guy who works for the in house TV, RomaChannel; 2) a close mate of the portiere at work is the barista at Trigoria; 3) one of my friends from the curva is the cousin of an agent repeatedly used by Lazio. All of which gives me precisely no edge over the news media, but there you go. From such sources all of us have loads of second, third & fourth hand snippets of gossip, at best distorted and at worst wholly untrue, about who was out clubbing when with who, about who doesn't train properly because they think they're above it, about whose wife is sleeping with which other player etc etc (to cite only a few recent examples).

But I don't accept that the polemiche, the gossip and the local media don't also affect the big clubs in the north. Turin maybe less but Milan will be subject to very similar pressures without having the anonymity of, say, London or another really huge city. Sure it's worse here but it exists to some extent everywhere. The incessant repetition of how Roma รจ una piazza particolare isn't really good enough.

Anonymous said...

I thought Milan was relatively anonymous, low-key and northern European. Capello said Rome was uniquely unstable.

"Do the fans of Milan, Inter, Juve not put their players under pressure?"

Yes, and the players and coaches there complain like hell too.

Would you rather these protests didn't happen, or just think they're a side issue and convenient excuse. I heard Italy's poor European results being blamed on this pressure too.

Bruno said...

Good stuff Spangles. Italy's reputation from the outside, at least, both for clubs and the national team, seems to be that they're put under more pressure than is normal elsewhere.

Richard said...

Thanks - great blog entry. Fingers crossed for some kind of financial saviour soon.