The Eight-Year Journey of James Pallotta at Roma

It’s a shame that there are some people in Rome who I know are trying to manipulate the fans against Roma and me,” said Roma’s President James Pallotta in a lengthy, end-of-season letter to the club’s fans in May of 2019.

Unfortunately for them, I’m not going anywhere.

Fast forward one year, and Pallotta has officially sold the club to fellow American billionaire Dan Friedkin, for a reported fee of around 600 million euro – more than twice the amount Pallotta and his business partners paid to purchase Roma in 2011. That was when the story began.

At first, the building process – as expected – took some time. In Pallotta’s first two seasons as Roma’s President (2011-12 and 2012-13), the Giallorossi finished 7th and 6th, respectively. Then, the seeds laid down by the American began to show.

From the hiring of Frenchman Rudi Garcia to build a strong team able to challenge the mighty Juventus for the Scudetto, to acquiring world-class players like Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah, the five seasons that followed saw an incredible spike-growth for the Italian capital team. In fact, from 2013 to 2018, Roma never finished below third place, ending three seasons as runners-up and twice coming third.

The period from 2016 to 2018 saw the Wolves’ most successful seasons under Pallotta’s presidency. In 2017, the club achieved its highest ever points tally (87); most victories in a season (28); and Bosnian Edin Dzeko finished the season as capocannoniere with 29 goals.

In 2018, the club gave its fans a European night to remember, as the Giallorossi overcame a three-goal deficit against Lionel Messi’s Barcelona to reach the Champions League’s Semi-Finals for the first time since 1984, when they ended up reaching the competition’s final, only to lose to England’s Liverpool on penalties.

That Kostas Manolas’ 82nd, corner-heading, tie-winning goal on April 10, 2018, is still giving the chills to Romanisti whenever they recount that iconic match. To most, it is perhaps Roma’s greatest ever European night.

Pallotta even threw himself into one of Rome’s most famous fountains in Piazza del Popolo after that amazing comeback.

The next day, he received a fine from Rome’s mayor and then paid it like a law-abiding citizen.

But that sort of tells you the theme of James Pallotta’s time in the eternal city. Roma accomplished great feats and reached newer, unexpected grounds. At the end of the day, however, there was no trophy to show for it. No victory parade to celebrate with the fans winning a major competition. Nothing.

The Barcelona game represented the climax of Pallotta’s reign at Roma. That summer, the American hired the Spaniard Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo, better known as Monchi, as the club’s new sporting director. The former Sevilla goalkeeper had attained astonishing results as the Director of Football at the Andalusian club, discovering exciting, young talents that went on to win a historic, three consecutive Europa League titles from 2014 to 2016. Pallotta took a liking to that. He ended up hiring him.

Unfortunately for the Romanisti, two disastrous transfer windows under the guidance of Monchi have taken the club from seriously contesting the Italian league to now scrambling towards a Champions League qualifying position.

Pallotta had some unpleasant altercations with some of the Roma faithful that also tainted how some of them viewed him. Coming from the other side of the Atlantic with a totally different perspective on managing sports organizations, Pallotta made some changes that seemed unreasonable to fans. For example, his decision to change the club’s crest. From a marketing perspective, it made perfect sense. To the fans’ footballing minds, it didn’t.

There was also that time when he described some Curva Sud fans as “idiots.” Regardless of the motive, it’s a general rule of thumb not to attack or go against a club’s main fanbase or tifoseria. That never ever goes down well.

Having a consultant such as Franco Baldini did not help Pallotta, either. The Curva Sud hate Baldini and regularly chant against him for giving statements against Roma’s biggest fanbase.

Then, there was the nuovo stadio (“new stadium”) issue. Famously, this was Pallotta’s baby. He had promised the club’s fans to have their own stadium to play at, instead of sharing the state-owned Stadio Olimpico with their most hated rivals Lazio on a weekly basis. That plan did not materialize. Roma’s mayor never signed off on the project and construction could never begin even though the design and structure were all done and dusted.

Of course, we cannot talk about Roma without mentioning the iconic figures that have been ever-present figures for the past generation or so. We’re referring here to Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi: Two World Cup champions and the true embodiments of what professional footballers should look and be like.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have their desired fairy-tale ending.

After retiring, Totti was given a role as a director of the club. However, last summer he resigned after saying that the owners – talking mainly about Pallotta – had “kept me out of everything“, indicating that he was left out and ignored of important decisions like hiring and firing coaches.

For De Rossi, the player was promised to have his contract renewed, even offering to lower his wages in order to help his team and the only shirt he’d ever represented. But the Prince of Rome felt betrayed after Pallotta broke his promise and never renewed the captain’s contract. De Rossi couldn’t even stay in the city he adored so much, that his move to Boca Juniors in Argentina later on was seen as a symbolic way of trying to isolate himself after that shocking exit.

Even if we assume Pallotta had never committed any errors while in charge of Roma, these two incidents were the straws that broke the camel’s back, and sort of symbolized the beginning of the end for Pallotta’s period at the Eternal City.

Pallotta’s time at Roma will be remembered as having had some really enjoyable phases, most notably that Barcelona game. It will also be remembered as being trophy-less, and at the end of the day, that is what makes or breaks a club’s achievements index.

And after months of talking smack about “not going anywhere“, the American owner has stepped down and made way for a new sheriff in town.