For AS Roma, Wednesday night's friendly against the MLS All-Stars will be the first chance they get to test their new players, new coach, and new identity in front of a big spotlight.
Roma, who are coming off a disappointing season in which they finished sixth in Serie A and lost in the Coppa Italia final to derby rivals Lazio, have gone back to the drawing board in hopes of being Italy's top team this year and securing a place in next year's Champions League.
Now in their third year being owned by Boston Celtics shareholder James Pallotta, Roma have undergone Americanization. The Boston-based braintrust has taken a series of steps to increase Roma's stature on the international stage, unveiling plans for a new soccer specific stadium, remodeling and adding to the seemingly ancient Stadio Olimpico which Roma will call their home stadium for at least three more years, and starting to reach out to supporters groups in Asia and the Americas as has been done by higher profile clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Manchester United.
This effort is all to create a brand name that is recognized worldwide, not just in the Eternal City. But while Roma has made great, sophisticated strides to attain more global recognition, the product on the field has remained the same.
Roma are Italy's version of the Red Sox. They are the sports' pulse of the city. People sing "Roma, Roma, Roma, cuore di 'sta cittą" (Rome, Rome, Rome, heart of this city), and "Giallo come il sole, rosso come il cuore mio" (yellow like the sun, red like my heart), as well as other chants, as proudly and loudly as Bostonians sing "Dirty Water" and "Sweet Caroline."
And every year, the team promises to be one of the league's best teams, capable of winning the title-- just like the Red Sox. But titles go to Roma as infrequently as they've gone to the Red Sox. Though Roma won the Scudetto in 2001, it was just their third all-time (their other titles came in 1942 and 1983).
So Roma is hoping that this year's All-Star game won't mark the start of another season in which supporters, players, and staff say just buck up and say, "here we go again."
Tasked with turning Roma into a global force, which at least includes qualifying consistently for Champions League, is Rudi Garcia, a French manager who signed in June from Lille. The situation he has inherited isn't dire, but it's certainly not straightforward, either.
Last year, Roma had two coaches: Zdenek Zeman and Aurelio Andreazzoli. Zeman was sacked in February and Andreazzoli, now an assistant coach, was hired in the interim. That means Garcia will have to strip away the two diverse and intermingled styles his new players are used to and teach them his tactics.
In regards to player personnel, Roma is in danger of losing the heart and soul of the team. Italian World Cup-winning midfielder Daniele De Rossi is entertaining a switch to Chelsea, while the entire Roma family is bracing for the possible retirement of longtime star Francesco Totti at the end of this season.
Garcia has maintained that he would rather see De Rossi stay and Totti stay longer. But he also understands the reality of player's decisions and has decided to line up some reinforcements. In midfield, Garcia has added Kevin Strootman from PSV Eindhoven and issued a hands-off warning on all clubs interested is US national team midfielder Michael Bradley, who scored in a preseason friendly versus Aris last week.
For the offense, Garcia has successfully engineered a deal that should see young Italian national team forward Mattia Destro stay in Rome permanently. Roma staff are also looking to retain the services of last year's team-leading scorer Pablo Osvaldo, currently disliked by a sizeable amount of the fanbase for his lackadaisical and inconsistent play. Arsenal's Gervinho could also join and a trade involving Marco Boriello to Genoa for Alberto Gilardino would further bolster team depth.
All of this means that Roma's transfer table has a lot of moving parts. Garcia and his staff have had it rough trying not only to rebuild a team, but also create a champion.
Meanwhile, the work of the team's management is relatively straightforward: financial stability and building a brand name. They've done their part, too. When Pallotta and other parties took over Roma in 2011, the club was in a fiscal disaster. Former club owners could not pay off debts, so when Pallotta and new owners stepped in in 2011, Roma was finally on the right path.
Using foreign investors is a good strategy to gain global recognition. It's a formula which has been used, and continues to be used today. Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates set the standard when he took over Manchester City, pumping enough money in to build a world class team. Russian business man Dmitry Rybolovlev is attempting to do something similar with Monaco.
Though Pallotta isn't being as aggressive with Roma, he's still investing foreign ideas and capital into the club.
Wednesday night's All-Star game will probably not be the most beautiful soccer game ever played. The All-Stars roster is composed of 22 players, most of whom have never played with each other. Roma is only just beginning preseason and have made 16 transactions, including nine new signings.
The result only matters in regards to global recognition. MLS will try, once again, to show the progress that American soccer has made. Roma, hungry to to show their US and global fanbase what their new brand is all about, will go after a victory and showcase their famed players.
Neither team is a favorite to win. The fact that neither the All-Stars nor Roma's new players have had much playing time together ensures that. But the game could be a stepping stone, or perhaps the foundation, for a new powerhouse club to take root.
A new Empire is looking to rise.
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