By Kris Voakes
Thomas DiBenedetto’s public statement in the days leading up to his purchase of Roma had everyone in Italy hopeful of a new dawn.
At a time when Calcio was suffering something of an identity crisis, finally one of football’s new wave of mega-rich owners was giving Italian football some love. The American businessman was making his intentions very clear.
"The invariable mark of a dream is to see it come true. And my dream is exactly the same as that of millions of fans: to turn Roma into one of the best clubs in the world, a team capable of winning the Scudetto every year and finally challenging for the Champions League," he said.
The romantic talk of Champions League dreams came with a degree of sensible boardroom speak too though. When referring to the “wonderful” city of Rome, he spoke of his thrill at being able to “represent it worldwide through a business and a passion as important as soccer”.
But while DiBenedetto put the business before the passion, Romanisti believe their club has always been - and will forever be - a passion first and a business last. Hence the mass protests in recent days at a time when they are coming to terms with the sales of Marquinhos and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, with the likely offload of Erik Lamela to come.
The reaction of the supporters should come as no surprise to DiBenedetto and James Pallotta, his successor as president and a fellow owner of 25 per cent of the US consortium’s interest in the club. When the two first approached the side regarding a takeover, then-president Rosella Sensi was having to deal with a similar amount of ire from the terraces. With the team suffering from perceived boardroom neglect, the fans are acting up once more.
Good signings have been made this summer, particularly in the arrival of Kevin Strootman from PSV, but the additions of the likes of Douglas Maicon offer very little solace to a group of supporters who have grown used to watching Marquinhos and Lamela light up recent dark Roman nights.
While the receipt of a combined fee of around €80 million may seem like sound financial sense in the business mind of the owners and of sporting director Walter Sabatini, the loss of three such important players as Marquinhos, Osvaldo and Lamela does nothing to help bring the great American dream closer to reality for the long-suffering fans.
In 24 months under new ownership, the Giallorossi have done nothing on the pitch to suggest they are any closer to breaking the natural order than they were when DiBenedetto and Pallotta arrived in 2011. If anything they are further away than ever, relying more and more on an ageing Francesco Totti and an increasingly distracted Daniele De Rossi, and the loss of three of their best players will do nothing to help them bridge that gap. Had results on the field been of a sufficient level following ‘Uncle Tom’s' takeover, then the fans may have been more likely to give the board both time and understanding. However, the truth is that Roma have struggled on pretty much every level since the summer of 2011.
|Only by being successful will we get a return on our investments. Our aim is to turn Roma into one of the biggest clubs in the world
- Thomas DiBenedetto in 2011
On the pitch they have twice failed to qualify for any form of European football, most notably going down to arch-rivals Lazio in the Coppa Italia final in May without so much as a whimper. Add in the fact they will begin the new season this weekend against Livorno with a fourth coach since the new owners took charge, and the lack of clear direction helps to explain the paucity of positive results.
Top that off with the struggles the club have had in moving forward with plans for a new stadium thanks to the delays over the new ‘Legge Stadi’ laws regarding planning permission on sports venues, and there has simply been no sign that the great dream is a realistic possibility any time soon.
The sales of Osvaldo and Lamela in the final weeks of the transfer window leave the club with little time to make the right purchases on the market, meaning Sabatini and the board are setting themselves up for a fall.
"Only by being successful will we get a return on our investments,” added DiBenedetto in 2011. “Our aim is to turn Roma into one of the biggest clubs in the world, a team that the city can be proud of, but naturally that will take a bit of time."
After all the talk of the Champions League and Roma being multiple campionato winners, time is one thing that the supporters may be prepared to give those who have raised their hopes to potentially unreachable levels, but the American dream is fading fast.Follow Kris Voakes on