Roma’s new American owner reveals ambitious plans

Roma’s new American owner revealed ambitious plans to make the

squad a player in Europe again and known the world over through new

marketing techniques.

Speaking to an elite group of Roman industrialists late

Thursday, Boston executive Thomas DiBenedetto said he wants to open

Roma youth academies all over the globe – starting in the United

States – and make matches more enjoyable for fans.

”I see tremendous potential for our organization and our

team,” DiBenedetto said. ”We want to make AS Roma a place where

families, diplomats and students come and watch and feel

safe.”

DiBenedetto leads a four-man American group that became the

first foreign majority owners of a Serie A club when they closed

the deal for Roma in August. He said Roma has already reached a

deal with a Boston-based academy with 8,000 youth players spread

over five American states.

”We want everyone at these academies wearing Roma jerseys, so

they, their friends and their relatives become Roma fans,”

DiBenedetto said. ”This is how we hope to spread the Roma brand

around the world.”

DiBenedetto is also one of approximately 13 limited partners in

the Boston Red Sox baseball team ownership group. The other members

of the group that bought Roma are James Pallotta – a minority owner

of the Boston Celtics basketball team – Michael Ruane and Richard

D’Amore.

Roma currently plays at the 72,000-seat Stadio Olimpico, which

features a running track and poor sight lines for football. The

Americans would like to build a new stadium.

”We have had meetings with the mayor and met with some

developers,” DiBenedetto said. ”We’re studying sites, financial

analysis and feasibility.”

The Americans have also been pushing to develop new avenues for

ticket sales, since fans buying tickets for Italian games usually

need to go in person to a sales center and show an ID – with no

tickets available more than a week or two before matches.

And they have caused a bit of a stir by indicating they want to

eliminate the huge VIP section at Stadio Olimpico – where seats are

given away – and sell the best tickets instead.

”Rome is known for its culture, history and food and that

brings a lot of people here,” DiBenedetto said. ”We want those

people to also enjoy football. And we want them to become fans of

our team, so that when they go back to their own countries they

will be followers and supporters.”

As for the squad, the Americans lured former England assistant

Franco Baldini back to Roma with the position of general director

and Baldini has put into action a youth movement rarely seen at the

upper levels of Italian football.

While it’s clearly a long-term project, the new Roma has so far

had mixed results. Entering Sunday’s game with Lecce, Roma sits

seventh in the 20-team Serie A with four wins, two draws and four

losses.

Roma last won the Serie A in 2001, and missed the title by just

two points in 2010.

Roma spent more money – ?58.4 million ($78.7 million) – on new

players in the offseason than any other club in Serie A.

The youth movement is modeled on European champion Barcelona,

and so it was no coincidence that former Barcelona youth coach Luis

Enrique was hired to coach Roma.

Like Barcelona, Roma has put a premium on Spanish and Argentine

players, signing the likes of Pablo Osvaldo, Erik Lamela, Fernando

Gago and Bojan Krkic – plus shifty Bosnia playmaker Miralem

Pjanic.

Osvaldo, a 25-year-old forward, was born in Argentina but also

holds Italian citizenship and recently joined Italy. Another

forward from Argentina, the 19-year-old Lamela, scored in his first

match as a starter last month and may be the most talented of the

lot.

The 25-year-old Gago, an Argentine midfielder, was cast aside by

Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid.

The 21-year-old Bojan, a Spanish forward with a Serbian father

and a Spanish mother was signed from Barcelona. It was then

discovered that he is a distant relative of Barcelona standout

Lionel Messi, the two-time world player of the year.

One of the few veterans Roma signed was 29-year-old goalkeeper

Maarten Stekelenburg, who helped the Netherlands to the World Cup

final last year.

While he has been injured for several weeks now, Luis Enrique

struggled to integrate Roma’s 35-year-old captain Francesco Totti

into the squad at the start of the season, drawing fans’ ire, and

Roma still hasn’t renewed the contract of its popular midfielder

Daniele De Rossi, who was born and raised a Roma fan like Totti and

is considered the club’s future captain.

”I’m confident that Baldini will work it out with De Rossi’s

agent,” DiBenedetto said. ”And I can guarantee you that nobody

wants to win more than Luis Enrique. And that’s also what we want

to do with Roma.”