Former Roma President James Pallotta gave his first feature length interview since he sold the club last August to The Friedkin Group.
The Bostonian bid farewell to the Italian capital club after nearly a decade at the helm. He discussed a variety of topics including his transfer mistakes, the appointment of Ramon Monchi, and the rapport with talisman Francesco Totti.
He began, “When I think about the time I spent (as President) before I sold the club, almost 15 per cent of my life is associated with being part of Roma. That’s a big part of your life.”
“Frankly I think that for a team that had substantially fewer revenues than Premier League teams or Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern and PSG, we punched above our weight in a bunch of areas. Certainly the first six, seven years we were very competitive. But also in terms of building a brand, marketing, social media, digital media, terrestrial radio, TV and all that we were as good as anybody in sports.”
Pallotta was named the club’s President in 2012, one year after he entered as a minority owner Thomas DiBenedetto.
“I should have had the warning lights going ‘woo, woo, woo’ DANGER Will Robinson like in the show Lost in Space,” he said to The Athletic.
“Knowing what I know now, knowing what mistakes were made, there are things that I would have done differently, like how you capitalise the team initially, management things, what goes on in Italy and the sport generally.”
“I remember watching a game right at the beginning with Alex Zecca (the head trader at Pallotta’s Raptor Group) and I was like: ‘I don’t understand why that wasn’t a goal’. He was like: ‘Well, it’s offside’. I’m like: ‘OK, I don’t understand’. I had to learn that while I knew a lot about sports and all the other stuff I just had a lot to learn. Not that I learned everything in those first 10 months but I learned a lot.”
One of the most controversial topics during Pallotta’s era at Roma was the club’s recruitment process. The Giallorossi were well-known for their “buy low, sell high” transfer policy, which was spearheaded by Walter Sabatini, Roma’s Sporting Director from 2011 until 2016.
“Walter was very good at finding players. He worked his ass off. He just lives for this stuff,” admitted Pallotta.
“I don’t think he took care of his health the way he should have. Walter understands talent. He had his methodology and Walter was right way more than he was wrong. I would have loved to have seen Franco (Baldini) run it with Walter.”
Sabatini was eventually replaced by Sevilla transfer wizard Ramon Monchi. The Spaniard left his boyhood club for Roma after claiming he was in need of a new challenge.
His arrival was viewed as a massive coup for Roma, however, he left the club in March 2019 after two years. In hindsight, Pallotta admits that the Monchi-era at the club was a disaster.
“We met in London several times in the private room off to the side of the Beaumont hotel. We had our first meeting. The first meeting was Franco Baldini and me with him. And then we had a couple of more meetings with him and he said all the right things,” he revealed.
“I take all the blame for fucking myself,” he conceded.
“You know, even though some of the fans loved what the signings were until, like, three months later, I couldn’t understand a number of the signings and also at the same time, some of the players I’m like, ‘I don’t really know their history and he knows them, so he must know what they could do’ and things like that. But I didn’t really understand it. I should have intervened earlier but again it’s like, well, ‘you hired him to do this, let him do it’.”
“Cengiz Ünder was a good signing. I don’t think he ever got to the level of where we thought he would be for sure. You look at Aleksandar Kolarov — I loved him. I thought he was just a great leader and a beast. You look at that whole body of work, we were like, ‘those were expensive mistakes’.”
He added, “I was a good trader because I would go with my head, sense and gut, even if my analysts were saying… He (Monchi) was so against getting help. After one month it was just so clear. He felt that he had to prove he was Monchi, that he was not going to listen to anything we came up with from our data. You can’t have a Plan B unless you have a Plan A. At the end of the day I don’t think he had a Plan A.”
“He wasn’t going to listen to anything we came up with internally. Nothing. Zero. The other mistake I made is, like, I should have realised that he calls himself Monchi — it’s like calling yourself Madonna. That should have been a warning sign for me.”
Pallotta also discussed the departures of club legends Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti. The Bostonian was villified for his treatment of the pair and many supporters believe their exits were mismanaged.
“I got no benefit from having to watch two of the all-time superstars retire. On both of them we made what we think was the right decision for the team,” he said.
Captain Francesco Totti retired in 2017 after the club opted not to renew his contract. Despite wanting to play an additional season, the Rome-born attacker ultimatley accpeted an executive role within the club’s hierarchy.
Less than two years later, though, Totti abruptly resigned from his role. In a bizarre, hastily organised press conference to announce his decision, the Italian hit out at Pallotta and claimed that he had no input or influence on the club’s decisions.
“He had input, and we actually wanted him to have more input. We invited him numerous times to come to Boston for meetings. We invited him to come to Nantucket. We invited him numerous times to come to London when we had all our management meetings,” claimed Pallotta.
The Bostonian received much of the same criticism when it came to De Rossi’s exit from Roma. The club announced their decision not to renew the midfielder’s contract late in the 2018/2019 season. The timing and tone of their announcement was widely viewed as a slap in the face to another Roman that played his entire career with the Giallorossi.
Finally, Pallotta discussed his rocky relationship with Roma supporters. He was often the target of criticism due to his lack of presence in the Italian capital, which he visited only once from May 2018 until selling the club in August 2020.
In addition, the American was extremely disliked by the club’s hardcore, ultra faction of supporters. The two sides traded barbs throughout the years, but things finally came to a head in 2019 when his family members started receiving abuse.
“I mean, I’m a big boy so I don’t know if hurtful is the right word but it was disturbing. From a personal point of view, I can take shit from them and I’ll sling it back. I proved before that I’ll sling it back if I feel like we’re right,” he said.
“From the point of view, you want to beat me up, you know, take your best shot. But when they started calling my sisters whores and my mother a pig and attacking their restaurants and businesses and all those kind of things like that…that’s just beyond…OK, that’s not me anymore. That was attacking my family and it wasn’t just one tweet, it was constant for a while.”
“I wasn’t afraid to go to Rome or to the stadium,” he insists. “It just got to a point where I was like, ‘what the fuck am I spending my time and my own expenses and stuff to go over there in the short-run?’. COVID hit. I would have ended up going back if we’d stayed but there was a period when it was like, this is not enjoyable. I’ve put my life on hold for a bunch of years to take over the team, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money on it.”
He added, “There’s stress, all kinds of stresses. I hate to lose, so just even watching the team not playing well would kill me for the day because I cared so much and to get that in retur. I was in one of those, ‘I don’t know why I’m bothering to go over there’ moods.”
“Some people think that just because I wasn’t at matches every week or watching training every day, I wasn’t working on Roma. I think if you asked any of the managers at Roma who worked for me, a lot of them may have wished I was less hands-on, but that’s not me. It wasn’t like I wasn’t working hard at it. It’s just like… what am I going to go there and have to listen to this shit? It’s not enjoyable. That was a period where it was like, ‘why am I doing that?’.”
“As I reflect now on my time at the club, and as I interact with fans on Twitter, I guess my one frustration is that some people don’t realise just how much I loved Roma, how hard I worked for it to be a success and how much time I devoted to trying to make things work.”