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Friedkin’s Roma honeymoon won’t last if Pallotta-era problems don’t get fixed

AS Roma’s new president faces steep challenges ahead of season opener against Hellas Verona

A new era begins for AS Roma this Saturday as they kick-off the 2020/21 Italian Serie A season fresh off an ownership change.

Boston-based private investor James Pallotta is out and in steps Dan Friedkin, a Jewish-American automotive distributor and businessman from Texas.

The change has been cheered by most Giallorossi (Yellow-Reds) supporters, many of whom clamored for as many as three years for Pallotta to leave. They took dramatic steps to make their point, too, from hanging banners outside the club’s Trigoria training ground bemoaning results to lambasting the club on social media to criticize Pallotta’s sparse visits to Rome. Some fans even posted negative reviews containing lewd phrases in Roman dialect on the Facebook page of the Boston restaurant owned by Pallotta’s sister.

Friedkin has set his ambitions for Roma high to the delight of supporters, who have not seen their club win a trophy since 2008. But setting lofty ambitions at the outset is a common practice when new owners take over a club, such that Friedkin is probably in a sort of honeymoon phase in Rome.

In fact, Pallotta’s tenure as Roma majority owner and president started positively in 2012 as he led the club through a rebrand and committed to building a new stadium designed only for Roma. The team also earned promising results on the field, as it finished runners-up in Serie A from 2013–15 and reached the semifinals of the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League.

Friedkin has to address the same factors that drew frustration of Pallotta, namely the stagnant progress of building the stadium and the club’s declining results, with this coming campaign marking the second consecutive season of Roma absent from Champions League. Furthermore, Pallotta was accused of alienating and forcing out modern club legends like Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi.

In the near term, Roma have pressing needs on the field. They open the season at Hellas Verona lacking depth at left back, right back, and playmaker. Attacking midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo is out through the remainder of 2020, while negotiations to permanently acquire central defender Chris Smalling have been slow, such that Bryan Cristante, a midfielder, will likely start on the back line against Verona.

Furthermore, Roma is set for a changing of the guard up front, with their highest scorer in the last four years, Edin Dzeko (106 goals), reportedly set to move to Juventus. His replacement is rumored to be Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik, via Napoli, who would only be Roma’s fourth acquisition of this transfer window.

Whether Roma has the quality and depth to improve on last season’s fifth place finish and clinch a Champions League return remains to be seen. That said, the Giallorossi’s Serie A rivals haven’t stood pat, with reigning champions Juventus undergoing a rebuild and Inter, AC Milan, Atalanta, and Lazio all having completed almost double the incoming transfers as Roma.

It’s also curious that Roma have played a part in helping their rivals get stronger this summer, with left back and set piece specialist Aleksandar Kolarov being sold to Inter and Dzeko’s seemingly inevitable departure to Juventus.

Roma have been a stopping point for some of the top players to compete in Europe over the last decade: Marquinhos, Kostas Manolas, Mohamed Salah, Radja Nainggolan, Antonio Rudiger, and Alisson Becker, to name a few. The club made tidy profits by selling those players, though many were also core pieces that helped produce the best results of the Pallotta era. And that’s to say nothing of the assistance Roma have given Juventus — who have won the last nine Serie A titles — by selling them Miralem Pjanic, Wojciech Szczesny, Luca Pellegrini, and potentially now Dzeko.

As the top executive, Friedkin can set a new philosophy regarding Roma’s transfer practices. Addressing the team’s immediate needs on the field, in addition to weighing profits with roster balance and chemistry, plus making progress on the stadium, will lead to a different Roma than the one overseen by Pallotta.

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