The Roma Empire: Inroading In America?

Serie A expert Eric Giardini is just that. Here, on Roma

This past week marked the 2011 version of the Leaders in Football conference which, according to its website, was created to provide a “networking environment in order to bring together football’s most important leaders to share knowledge, best practice and ideas.”

Held this year at Stamford Bridge in London, the two-day conference brought together luminaries (Pierluigi Collina and Fabio Cannavaro) and those that well often detested (Kia Joorabchian on what it’s like to be a player adviser).

Sporting KC’s own Robb Heineman was a part of the workshop on how to “Deliver the Ultimate Fan Experience.” Based on everything I’ve seen and heard recently about what is going on in Kansas City, I have no doubts that he was a valued speaker to have.

One presentation in particular stuck out to me and it came from the “Chairmen & Owners: Mad, Sad or Saving the Game?” presentation.

Four owners and chairmen participated: Niall Quinn, Chairman, Sunderland; Peter Coates, Owner, Stoke City FC; Bruce Buck, Chairman, Chelsea FC; and Thomas Di Benedetto, President & Chairman, AS Roma. Obviously, I focused on what Di Benedetto had to say.

Di Benedetto spoke briefly on his thoughts of having purchased the club and the on-the-field changes that have been made in Rome. Most interesting to me, however, was his discussions about what was occurring behind the scenes. He stated that “We (Roma) are in favor of Financial Fair Play” and that they (Roma) are looking stateside, as “the U.S. market is a great opportunity.”

To tap into the U.S. market, he went on to explain that Roma “are working to close agreements with major U.S. teams [and] we have agreements with youth teams in five states.” While he did not elaborate or divulge any details on what those, presumably, MLS clubs are, or the states of the youth teams, this shows a clear intent to tap into the American market.

While having partner agreements with MLS clubs would be a new concept for Serie A, it will only be the latest in a line of European-American soccer club partnerships.

2006 saw the 10-year agreement between Spanish super club Real Madrid and MLS’ Real Salt Lake that saw the development of a Madrid-funded youth academy and a biannual agreement for Madrid to play a friendly in Utah. Unfortunately, this agreement was not upheld as Madrid backed out of the 2008 friendly citing financial reasons.

In 2007, the Colorado Rapids and Arsenal FC announced an agreement between the two clubs. This agreement saw the establishment of the Arsenal Center of Excellence at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and the creation of the youth Arsenal Cup. The two clubs exchange best practices and the Rapids conduct a portion of their preseason training at Arsenal’s training ground.

In 2008, Tottenham, not to be outdone by their North London rivals, established a partnership with the San Jose Earthquakes. This agreement sees the exchange and implementation of best practices and provides an outlet for Tottenham to expand its American presence. This relationship, unlike the Arsenal-Colorado agreement, actually seems to be a mutualistic symbiotic one with San Jose making multiple trips to London to train, Tottenham playing a friendly last summer in San Jose, and the loan of Simon Dawkins to the Earthquakes from Spurs. (Just how bad would the Quakes be without the creativity of Dawkins in the middle? Don’t answer that.)

New York Red Bulls are part of the Red Bull Soccer conglomerate whose members also include Red Bull Salzburg (Austrian First Division), Red Bull Brasil (Brazilian Second Division), Red Bull Ghana (Ghanaian Second Division), RB Leipzig (German Fourth Division). There is also the obvious Chivas USA and Chivas de Guadalajara partnership. In 2006, Crystal Palace took the partner club idea one step further with the formation of Crystal Palace USA (later renamed to Crystal Palace Baltimore) before the clubs parted ways in 2010 following Crystal Palace going into administration.

So what does this mean for Roma? The model on how to foster and develop a successful partnership is there (San Jose-Tottenham) and by all accounts Di Benedetto and his group seem willing to take lessons learned from other clubs and build upon them.

Fans outside Trigoria...

The benefits for Roma are self-evident: greater visibility in America, future player development in terms of possible loan deals, and the economic benefits that come with playing friendlies in the States. Conversely, a partnership with Roma should be quite appealing to a MLS club. Roma is a club with a storied history full of iconic players that have donned the Giallorossi shirt. Roma is the fifth most supported club in Italy and have thousands fans worldwide. Trigoria, Roma’s training ground, is undergoing a facelift and should rival those of the other big clubs in Europe.

So what clubs could the Roma brass be looking at for potential partnerships? I think looking at the New England Revolution as a potential partner is a possibility but a little lazy. Sure, the new group is comprised of born and bred Bostonians but nothing seems to be going right with the Revolution at the moment (stadium issues, highly publicized supporter/front office battles, etc.) so it may be best to hold off on any long-term arrangements.

One club, which I was not on my radar until this afternoon, that I think would be a great fit would be the Philadelphia Union. The Union only entered my thinking when I received an email earlier today from the Philadelphia Eagles, on behalf of Lincoln Financial Field with a survey of how likely I would return to the stadium based on teams available.

Next to Manchester United, Barcelona, and AC Milan on the list, there was Roma. Had I not read Di Benedetto’s remarks earlier in the afternoon, I just would have dismissed the fact that Roma was on the list. Instead, I sat and wondered if there were/are some behind the scenes deals going on between the clubs.

Coming to America...?

Philadelphia has all the makings of a club that can grow and be successful not only when looking at on the field results but also off the field. The results have been with Philadelphia this season as they sit only one point back from the top of the Eastern Conference and look primed for a playoff run. In addition, the Union has their own, new soccer-specific stadium and a passionate fan base. An Italian club would also be compatible with the population base in the greater Philadelphia/South Jersey area – a factor that can’t be overlooked or understated.

What clubs Roma are talking to, if any, remains to be seen. With the new, seemingly sweeping changes that the club has made this week off the field (Facebook page, Twitter account, and assurances of a website overhaul) in its attempts to play “catch up” with the other big clubs in Europe, it seems that it would only be a matter of time before it reached out to new markets as the big English and Spanish sides have done. Making a serious run into the MLS market, through a robust, dynamic partnership with a MLS side (be it the Union or another), would be the biggest signal of intent thus far that the club is ready to shake its old, provincial mindset in favor of being a global brand.

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Eric:

    You might also add the New York Cosmos to this conversation.

    DiBenedetto wants to brand Roma globally. Should the Cosmos enter MLS, it might give AS Roma two sides of the same coin in North America along with a boost elsewhere. When I interviewed Julian Movsesian in February, he told me that Roma’s global marketing plan (if the DiBenedetto Group successfully took over) was a key criterion for the future.

    As you know, DiBenedetto has promised to sign an American player in the future.

    A very detailed article. Well done.

    All the best wishes,

    Steve

    Reply

  2. Posted by Rocky on 2011/10/07 at 7:24 AM

    NY Cosmos! Tired about hearing so much about a club defunct years ago. Thanks Pele! How about Roma teaming with a Development Club (youth soccer). If Roma really want to find hidden gems, there are far more USDA Clubs than MLS. And if Roma finds them at 12, 13, or 14 — they can mold them into something promising. Don’t limit yourself Roma. There are many good clubs out there with talent. Just looking at SoCal, LA Galaxy and Chivas U13-U16 teams don’t necessarily have best talent. In fact, they don’t.

    Reply

    • Rocky:

      Few young American players have the skill set/mentality to adapt to Italian football. It is not a criticism of American players or coaches but is the reality. In the modern era, only Alexi Lalas, Giuseppe Rossi, Gabriel Ferrari, Oguchi Onyewu and Michael Bradley have had exposure to Serie A. Only Lalas, Rossi and Bradley have appeared in an official Serie A game.

      Roma will need to introduce Italian coaching methodology to the pristine market that you and Matthew correctly identified. There are very few Italian youth soccer schools/academies in North America. I used to write for one in Northern Virginia called AC Cugini Scuola Calcio.

      The American youth model is based on athletic and physical preparation at the expense of fundamentals and tactics. The Italian model is completely the opposite: Tactical preparation/knowledge and fundamentals. I don’t know if you saw what Michael Bradley said recently about his manager at Chievo Verona, Domenico Di Carlo, “He walked all 22 players through the game plan on the field the day before the game.”

      With regards to the Cosmos, my suggestion was about the branding part of the equation. DiBenedetto et al are smart businessmen. James Pallotta of the Celtics is also an owner in AS Roma. Obviously, the Cosmos exist only on paper but the name appeal carries some weight. I was only making a suggestion based on the author’s intriguing theme of domestic branding that would help Roma in the future.

      MLS needs these types of partnership with foreign clubs but especially Italian ones. Young players need a broad-based type of exposure. Additional choices for development and eventual professional opportunities would be helpful even if the Italian model/League is misunderstood or has detractors. I believe that Mr. DiBenedetto will do good things for American soccer via AS Roma. His father played in the American Soccer League years ago.

      Reply

      • Posted by Rocky on 2011/10/07 at 1:32 PM

        Steve — Don’t disagree. But I think if you get at U12, 13 or U14 player, they can be molded as was G. Rossi. If Roma try to pluck U18 players, then agree with you as they are close to being fully formed as a player.

        Also agree about MLS partnerships, but it’s just tip of iceberg. USA is vastly larger in population and size than Italy. Hence the need for Roma to look deeper than MLS.

        Reply

  3. Posted by Rocky on 2011/10/07 at 7:27 AM

    There are some very, very good players at USDA clubs like Pateadores, Nomads, Aztecs, Real SoCal at the U13-U16 ages. If Roma were smart, they would tap that pristine market. But like many things, money and name recognition come first.

    Reply

    • Posted by giardinie on 2011/10/07 at 7:45 AM

      Roma’s youth program is one of (if not the best) youth programs in Italy as it is. I see your logic in looking at youth teams in America but I don’t know if I necessarily agree with it. I do, however, agree with your assessment of the Cosmos. Let me see an actual team first before we start thinking of partnerships.

      Reply

  4. Posted by Crow on 2011/10/07 at 7:38 AM

    I enjoyed this article very much as well. Obviously, I am biased as a Union fan, but I think the Union/Roma would make a great partnership, even though I’m not a fan of Roma or Serie A in general.

    Reply

    • Posted by Crow on 2011/10/07 at 10:15 AM

      The Union have some talented prospects in their academy. Maybe Roma could pick the best for some development time at Roma. And then there are some current Union Senior Team players that probably/potentially have a future in Europe- Mwanga, Okugo, Torres, Adu (hopefully), etc. I’m not sure if they will be “good enough” for Roma or not, but maybe with a partnership Roma could have the first shot/look at them.

      Reply

      • Crow:

        Internazionale Milano was very interested in a young Freddy Adu in 2002-03 before DC United appeared on the horizon. They wanted Freddy in their youth sector. It would have been interesting to see if Adu’s career trajectory would have been different if such a move would have come to fruition.

        Reply

        • Posted by Rocky on 2011/10/07 at 1:36 PM

          I think it would have been. Again, look no further than G. Rossi. If he (Rossi) stayted in USA, he wouldn’t be the G. Rossi we know. I doubt the USMNT would even call him up (prefer athlteic speciment of Altidore with lesser skills).

          At the time Adu was considered, MLS was far cry fromw here they are now. So looking back with lens of time, he should have gone (from soccer perspective), but understand family issues may have not allowed for that.

          I’ll go on to say that any American kid who has talent and desire, should think twice, three times about either moving to Europe or taking that chance if given. College soccer is leaps and bounds behind experiecne you get in a B-team in Europe, Heck, even behind a 3rd division club.

          Reply

  5. Posted by elsubjuntivo on 2011/10/09 at 8:37 AM

    Roma should partner up with a Canadian club like Toronto or Montréal (for my own selfish reasons)

    Reply

  6. [...] the other big question. With Roma looking to get a foothold in North America, and Michael Bradley a decorated Nike athlete, what of his Kappa (Roma’s [...]

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