Roma's American CEO keeps euphoria in check

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 29, 2014 at 4:15 am •  Published: August 29, 2014
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ROME (AP) — For Italian football fans, merely mentioning the word "scudetto" — league title — is considered taboo.

The theory goes that it's better left unsaid until your team actually raises the trophy.

Yet recently, the word has begun popping up in animated discussions inside Rome's myriad coffee bars and on the city's impassioned sports-talk radio stations.

The talk — and not only in the capital — is that Roma can put together a serious challenge for the Serie A title this season.

For a club that has won only three "scudetti" in its history — the last coming in 2001 — that's noteworthy.

It's even more notable considering that it's only been three years since an ambitious group of four Boston executives took over the club to become the first foreign majority owners of a top-flight Italian team.

"Enthusiasm is a fantastic phenomenon. But it's a delicate one," Roma CEO Italo Zanzi told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this week.

The euphoria couldn't be further from the situation a year ago, when Roma had one of its most tumultuous offseasons in recent memory.

A sixth-place finish in 2013 left Roma out of European competition and then a loss to city rival Lazio in the Italian Cup final resulted in violent protests from fans.

Yet Roma was able to quickly turn things around by bringing in a new coach, the Frenchman Rudi Garcia, and a host of new players that resulted in the team setting a league record by winning its opening 10 matches last season.

Roma went on to finish with a club-record 85 points and placed second behind Turin power Juventus, which set a league-wide record with 102 points — becoming the first squad to break the 100-point barrier.

"We're thrilled that people are rightfully excited about our potential," Zanzi said inside his office at the club's training complex. "But it's almost inverse to what we had a year ago, where it was very hard to pick people up and get them excited. Now we're very happy they're excited but in many ways we have to work to make sure that people realize the season hasn't even started yet."

Roma opens the Italian league against Fiorentina on Saturday and has also qualified to compete in the lucrative Champions League this season for the first time since the American takeover.

On Thursday, Roma was drawn into arguably the Champions League's toughest group, with Bayern Munich, Manchester City and CSKA Moscow.

"I don't think we were unlucky," said James Pallotta, a hedge-fund manager and minority owner of the Boston Celtics who is Roma's president and majority owner. "In the Champions League you have to play against and beat the best teams."

While Pallotta jets back and forth from the United States to check in on the club and attend big matches, Zanzi — who is from New York — runs the squad on a day-to-day basis.

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