AS Roma need to grab the chance, despite their financial limits

WHEN José Mourinho joined Roma, it looked like a statement of intent, a sign that the giallorossi were eager to become genuine contenders. They might not have been getting Mourinho circa 2004, but any club that aspires to win trophies is attracted by his track record. 

Roma’s 6-1 defeat in Norway in the Europa Conference League was a shocker for their fans and the Italian football community, Mourinho teams don’t lose like that and even with a weakened team, there was no way that should have happened. Roma should still qualify for the latter stages of the Conference League despite that humbling against Bodo/Glimt, but the Mourinho image was a little damaged by such a setback.

If that result was embarrassing for Roma and their coach, then the club’s financial condition is also a worry, despite the new ownership of the Friedkin Group. Roma lost € 185 million in the 2020-21 season, which continued the negative financial impact of the pandemic on Italy’s Serie A. Roma may also face sanctions in connection with breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.

Juventus announced their results recently and made a loss of € 210 million, which at the time was the highest ever for a Serie A club. Inter Milan topped that with a € 245 million loss in their title-winning season. AC Milan’s loss was € 96.4 million, a huge deficit but much lower than 2019-20 when they lost almost € 200 million.

In spite of these setback, Serie A has become very attractive for US investors like Friedkin owing to the competitive pricing of clubs and future broadcasting rights. Seven members of Serie A and two from Serie B currently have US backers in some capacity. 

Roma’s revenues actually increased by 35% to € 190 million, but their wage bill accounted for a very disconcerting 89% of income. Unsurprisingly, matchday income declined by 37% and since 2018-29 has dropped by 62%. TV income was up by 44% to € 124 million and commercial and other streams were up by 50% to € 53 million.

The biggest anxiety surrounding the financial results could eventually be the Financial Fair Play issues. The club’s press release said: “On the basis of the final figures as at June 30, 2021, a deviation from the UEFA break-even requirements for the reporting period for four years has been recorded. Therefore, the club may be subject to the sending of more economic-financial information and, subsequently, the Club Control Body in charge of the control, may requiest any contradictory clarifications for the appropriate assessments.” 

This may mean the club will face sanctions, although the rules are currently being rewritten and FFP punishments suspended. When they become operational again, a number of Italian clubs could be compromised.

Roma were less active than Juventus, AC Milan and Parma in the transfer market in 2020-21 but in 2021-22, they are so far the biggest spenders in Serie A having acquired € 100 million of fresh talent, including Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham (€ 40 million). Roma’s ability to spend underlines the confidence the club’s owners have in their objective of challenging at the top of Serie A and in Europe.

The Friedkin Group recently injected more cash in the club bringing Roma’s net debt to over € 300 million. They are, however, planning a capital increase of up to € 460 million, to be completed by the end of 2022. When they took the club over in August 2020, the company’s CEO, Dan Friedkin, proclaimed that Roma could become on the greatest names in football. 

But since the takeover, Roma have shelved plans for a planned new stadium after earlier signs that the project was gathering momentum. In February 2019, the city’s mayor said private financing was willing to contribute € 1 billion towards the cost. The new 55,000 arena was being driven by the club’s previous owner, James Pallotta. Friedkin subsequently analysed the scheme and came to the conclusion the financial, economic and legal conditions were unsuitable. It’s not completely over, though, as the club has confirmed they are in talks with the Rome authorities and reviewing their options, including a green and sustainable stadium for the future.

Last season, under Paulo Fonseca, Roma reached the semi-finals of the Europa League but were heavily beaten at Manchester United (6-2) at Old Trafford and eventually went out 8-5 on aggregate. They also finished seventh in Serie A, thus qualifying for the inaugural Conference League. 

Absence from the UEFA Champions League (and the Europa) will cost Roma dear in 2021-22. Every point in the group stage of the Champions League earns € 930,000 and just qualifying for the knockout stages wins a further € 9.6 million. With Serie A clubs suffering more than most from the pandemic, the income from the Champions League is vital, especially in the current climate. The Conference League prize money is, understandably, much lower, € 500,000 for a group stage win and winning the group yields € 650,000.

Roma’s goal is clearly to get among the Champions League contenders, but they will have to improve their away form in Serie A. Their home record is good, five wins and a draw and only two goals conceded, but away from the Stadio Olimpico they have won once and lost their last three games, the most recent at Juve. Their latest performance saw them hold early season leaders Napoli to a 0-0 draw, a game that saw Mourinho sent off, but one that redeemed the team after the disaster at Bodo/Glimt.

Roma remain one of Europe’s underachievers and their three scudettos – the last in 2001 – is a paltry return for such a big, well supported club. Although they have won nine Coppa Italias, their only success in Europe has been the fledgling Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1961. Although they have the potential to be champions and a European force, they are currently way behind the likes of Juventus in terms of financial clout or business acumen. Regardless of that, the 2021-22 season may be one of the most open in Italian football history, there’s an opportunity to be grasped.

Manchester City, FFP and CAS – time to move on

MANCHESTER CITY’s two-year ban from the UEFA Champions League might have been overturned, but the critics won’t let the saga close without further snipes. Managers at other clubs, league officials and media commentators have all suggested the decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was foolhardy.

José Mourinho said it was a “disgraceful decision” and asked why the club has been fined if they hadn’t done something wrong. He felt it signalled the end of Financial Fair Play’s credibility. The Manchester Evening News hit back at Mourinho, pointing to his tax evasion charge in Portugal. They also commented on Jürgen Klopp’s response, noting that he was good at changing his mind. Klopp criticised Paul Pogba’s record transfer fee when Manchester United signed him from Juventus, claiming that when football becomes just about money he would walk away. The newspaper reminded him that Liverpool’s record fee is higher than anything paid by City.

The rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester clearly extends to the media – the Liverpool Echo included remarks made by Jamie Carragher: “Yes, they have gone to court and won, but I don’t think that suspicion will ever go away so I don’t think they have fully cleared their name in the eyes of people up and down the country.”

Klopp told the BBC that he was happy City will play in the Champions League next season because if they lost the 12 games they might play in the competition, the rest of the Premier League would have no chance. He described the CAS decision as “not a good day for football”. A lot of football fans would agree with the popular German coach.

While City had won a technical victory, Ian Herbert of the Daily Mail insisted it was “no moral victory” for the club. Football finance expert Kieran Maguire said City will feel vindicated by the CAS verdict, but suggested a cartel of Premier League and European clubs had tried to impress upon the authorities the ban was valid. “Bridges will have to be rebuilt,” said Maguire.

City’s view is that the current system in Europe is designed to prevent a new name from challenging the establishment clubs like Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail confirmed that European powerhouses were united in their denouncement of City. “It is a cosy little club, European football’s upper echelons, and UEFA kowtow to it,” he said.

Samuel summed up City’s problem, which is pretty much the same issue facing Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea. “City have no constituency….They are too big and successful to hang out with the old gang, the smaller clubs, the ones who are dictated to from on high. But they are too much of a threat to be received by the traditional elite, either domestically or in Europe.”

Samuel added that rather than celebrate City’s discomfort, clubs like Newcastle, Everton, Wolves and Tottenham should cheer the club’s victory in court, for it hits back at the elite controlling European football. City may be wealthy and may win trophies, but they will always be regarded as “johnny-come-latelies” by the old masters of the game.

It is not just managers and media speaking out against City, La Liga President, Javier Tebas, is convinced they broke the rules and that most of Europe does too. Tebas is an advocate of “justice against state-owned clubs” and said PSG and City have spent more than anyone else in pursuit of success. “City haven’t signed with their own resources like Manchester United, who bring in money through TV or sponsorship. They sign with petrodollars, with money obtained through oil by the owners in the United Arab Emirates.”

Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola is demanding an apology from those that have criticised his club and the CAS decision. TalkSport reported that the City manager has told Klopp and Mourinho to give him a call to discuss their issues. “If they want to talk I’m here. They know my telephone number, but I think we don’t have to discuss a lot because the sentence was clear. All the suggestions that we were lying or cheating, it was not like this. We were clean. We should be apologised to.”

Guardiola hit a raw nerve when he admitted he did not expect other clubs to defend City, but the club had the right to defend itself. “I know for the elite clubs,  like Liverpool, United and especially Arsenal, it is uncomfortable us being here. But they have to understand we deserve to be here. If we want to compete with them, we go onto the pitch and try to achieve what they achieved in the past, decades ago, and what we have done this decade.”

Sources: Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo, TalkSport, BBC, AS.


Picture: PA Images