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Cause “it’s (expletive) Rome”: Pallotta on why AS Roma, American soccer, USWNT

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On the fourth anniversary of his installation as president of AS Roma, Jim Pallotta remains as fired up about the project as ever.

The American executive, 58, has a plan to lift Roma into the Top Ten clubs in Europe once i Lupi finally move into their own stadium, finding a critical stream of revenue.

He’s navigated the skepticism of Italian fans to raise Roma’s profile while pushing Serie A in progressive directions, implementing the lessons from a life as one of the world’s top hedge fund managers into the game of world football.

[ MORE: Danny Williams eyes the Premier League ]

In an exclusive interview with ProSoccerTalk, Pallotta discusses all of that as well as $100 million transfers, the USWNT’s pay rate, the future of soccer in America, and what he’s learned from the Premier League.

PST: It’s been interesting to monitor your acceptance by Roma’s faithful. You definitely knew that it would be a challenge as an American owner of a massive European club, but was it as challenging as you expected?

Jim Pallotta: “Way more. And it still is challenging, frankly. It’s just a very different sport in Europe, as you know, in how things are done than being a partner in the Celtics or any other sport in the U.S.

“At the end of the day it’s rewarding but some things we’ve done pretty well, some things we’ve made mistakes on, some things we’re doing resets on. Net-net, from the outside, most people would think we’re doing a really good job but I don’t have a lot of patience. I tend to dwell on the mistakes and the things that we still have to do than any of the things we’ve done that’ve been successful. It’s the way I managed hedge fund money for 25 years. I could have five stocks having a great day and one that wasn’t and I’d be p***** at myself.

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CAMBRIDGE, MA - JULY 27: Juan Manuel Iturbe #7 of AS Roma celebrates a goal with Edin Dzeko #9 during a friendly match against the Boston Bolts at Ohiri Field on July 27, 2016 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

“There are five or six levers that we haven’t even begun to pull in terms of the revenue side that gets us up there. We’re one of the top if not the fastest growing team in social media and digital media. We’re certainly leading the charge in terms of technology and things that we’re doing that no other club have done yet. We streamed a game live on Facebook, first team to that. Periscope, Twitter chats, Facebook chats, Medium and long format stories for our players and coaches. Using Google glasses and streaming it on YouTube and probably a dozen other things. We’re doing a lot of interesting stuff but we’ve got a long way to go, on merchandise, on stadium, on the entertainment district, I could go on and on, but the plan’s coming together.”

PST: Another way you’ve been out front is the devotion to analytics, something near and dear to your family as your son runs a company Tag that’s helped the club along.

JP: “We had an investment in his company Tag, but it’s one we use once in a while. We’ve built-in our own internal data analytics, both in Rome and Boston. We have some pretty sophisticated stuff that we’ve built on players, on performance on training. We just hired a couple more senior, not really data scientists, but higher end professors from a couple of schools where we respect what they’ve done.”

PST: Last year at BlazerCon, Roma execs discussed how Serie A would learn from the success of the Premier League. What have you taken from the PL?

JP: “What they do well, the Premier League, is the league is run well as a league. First and foremost they figured it out a dozen years ago or so. They run it well, more in line with U.S. leagues. Not quite the same but it’s 100 times better at the league level. That’s changing at the league level in Serie A and La Liga. It just has to.

It’s stupid that we don’t take advantage of the fan base that we have around the world.

“On the domestic TV front, Serie A has a really good TV deal. It’s the international one that’s not been a good one and La Liga just went up to $600 million and that’s way below the Premier League. There’s a massive opportunity in the next 10 years, let’s say, in Serie A, for the league TV rights to go up 10 times.”

PST: Roma isn’t waiting on the league, though. Your branding and marketing has been aggressive, and you have the advantage of having a unique and memorable color scheme and logo.

JP: “I’ll give you an example. There’ve been some studies that say the Roma colors are the most recognized colors in football in the world. Our designs we’ve been doing with Nike, we’ve been getting votes as one of the Top 100 uniforms. Copa 90 yesterday voted our away uniform the No. 1 uniform this year. I made us put on that wolf logo versus Romulus and Remus and people were going crazy. When I walk around a lot in the United States, if I’m playing golf and wearing a baseball hat, I’m either wearing a Roma hat with the colors or the one with just the wolf and everybody asks me, ‘What is that? The wolf head?’

A couple of years ago, I was asked why we looked at (investing in) Roma. I started talking about it and after a couple of minutes I said I could go on for 30 minutes but at the end of the day, it’s f****** Rome.”

PST: So I grew up a Celtics fan. We have that in common, but in Buffalo we learned to hate (Boston Bruins forward) Cam Neely, though I secretly loved him as a hard-nosed, nasty, but skilled player. Not necessarily the guy you expect to be on the board of AS Roma. What were you looking for in leadership when it comes to Roma’s board of directors?

JP: “The whole thing of putting the board together is people who could help us as opposed to getting a big name on there. Cam’s (pictured below) a good friend of mine for a long period of time, president of the Bruins, so he brings the sport side of it. Charlotte Beers is the original Madwoman and is great in terms of how we think about marketing and branding. Stanley Gold ran the Disney family, has a lot of experience in real estate and branding. John Galantic is the COO of Chanel. As we branch out our licensing business, John will be really helpful. The board has been put together with that thought in mind, versus just putting names on a board.”

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 7: Cam Neely, the newest inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, at his induction photo opportunity on November 7, 2005 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

PST: Let’s take a dive into American soccer. What’re your impressions of the game here?

JP: “You can split it up a whole bunch of different ways. The women’s program obviously has done a hell of a job in terms of how competitive they are.

I think the women should get paid more. I see the issue that they have and there’s no doubt in mind that they are all underpaid. By a wide margin, frankly.

“When I look at the youth program, they are getting better and better, and one of my guys Alex Zecca in the last 2 years has probably put together the best academy program of any European football team in the United States. We have 10 major academies, with weekly detailed programs that they all follow. We have coaches coming over looking for kids that we can bring back in Rome. Last week in Harvard we had four days of a number of kids coming in from around the country, and I think there are four kids we are bringing back to Rome to work and tryout. Kids from 12 years old up to 18. We kinda believe that we’re going to get a good look at a lot of the best kids in the U.S. that eventually can play in Europe. Those who are the best will because of the disparity of money and play today is just so different.

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“I think Don Garber has done a spectacular job with the MLS, but I don’t know how far it goes with European football. When I talk to a number of people who are owners, or looking to be owners — and I’ve looked myself too — it’s difficult to see how the monetary side of it closes, even in 5-10 years. In Europe, I think it actually widens.

“The TV contracts are just getting bigger and bigger versus the U.S. The ratings where they are, unless they move up a lot, and they aren’t going up because there are so many games being shown of European football. How many games are you going to watch? They’ve done a spectacular jobs building nice stadiums like in Kansas City, and you have a great local crowd, whether it’s Seattle, Portland or Kansas City, but it’s more localized versus global or even national. They’ve done a great job, but the numbers are gonna speak for themselves and we’ll see.”

PST: And beyond the TV numbers?

JP: “When the sponsorship deals for individual teams, or the merchandise sales, the TV contracts, or a stadium with 54,000 versus 22,000. Or if I have an entertainment complex that is a significant revenue driver, how do you get MLS teams to compete monetarily with European teams.

[ MORE: Wolfsburg adds Blaszczykowski from BVB ]

“Just look at what Barcelona, Man Utd, and Real Madrid are bringing in. And we haven’t even touched the surface on TV deals with South America, which I think is going to take a while, Asia, which is massive potential, India, which everybody forgets is another 1.2 or 1.3 billion people and they want to make football huge, and Africa which a lot of great players are from. You haven’t really scratched the surface on transmissions to games in America. When you throw in another multi billions of people watching the games, there’s a lot of revenue potential, still in football.”

PST: When I spoke with Coach Spalletti last week, he spoke of having to sell a $100 million player because you could buy 2-3 very good players with that. It struck me that even a few years ago, we’d be saying 5-6 players. It’s not surprising that transfers have gotten this far, but what’s your take from a high level?

JP: “There are clearly some clubs that have decided that spending is okay with them in large amounts. In the case of Juventus, it looks like they’ll sell Pogba. Net-net, a neutral trade. I don’t think Juventus would’ve spent that much on a striker if they didn’t have Pogba behind it. Some teams have done a good job of putting together a really good team without spending stupid amounts of money.

Obviously Leicester struck lightning last year, but if you look at even Atletico Madrid being in the UCL final two of the last three years and their revenues are about 160-70 million Euros, or Sevilla and see how well they’ve done. That’s what we’re trying to build in our academy program.

“We won the scudetto in the U-18. I went and saw our 9 and 10 year olds and I was blown away at their potential. They are playing Barca-type passing styles at 9 and 10. The real goal is to build out a good internal program on one side to find a number of 16, 17 and 18 year olds who can play with you. And we’re spending a lot more time in building our data capabilities and our relationships on finding these players young here and a bunch of other places. Not just on the data side, but people with 30 years of football experience.

ROME, ITALY - DECEMBER 20: Umar Sadiq (C) with his teammates of AS Roma celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the Serie A match between AS Roma and Genoa CFC at Stadio Olimpico on December 20, 2015 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

“Look at this year’s team, we’ve got Umar Sadiq (above center) and Ezequiel Ponce who are 19-year-olds. We’ve got an 20-year-old from Senegal (Moustapha Seck) who we think is gonna be unbelievable. We’ve got an 18-year-old right back (Abdullahi Nura) that unfortunately tore his knee up a little but in a year or two has a big career. We have a 22-year-old Federico Ricci that’s gonna get time at right forward, Leandro Paredes who we loaned out and now will fight Daniele De Rossi for starting time. Gerson who we took from Brazil, at 19 looks really good. You have to have that combination of experience, both externally and internally, and you’ll have some players who would be worth a lot.

But I’d like to see teams in tact like the old Celtics in the 60s or the Bird years. It’s just not that easy to do anymore. That’s what we’re trying to do. It takes more time than I would like it to, but it’s happening.

Roma opens its 2016-17 Serie A campaign on Aug. 21 at home to Udinese, and will join the UEFA Champions League playoff round on Aug. 16 or 17.

DC United acquires Julian Gressel from Atlanta

Atlanta United trades for Julian Gressel
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How much is Major League Soccer’s best assist man worth?

About $750,000.

DC United paid Atlanta United that fee in allocation money for the rights to Julian Gressel, who had been at a contract impasse with the club who drafted him in 2017.

That fee could hit $1.1 million in incentives, and even so could be a bargain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Gressel was due to make around $133,000 this season and wanted an improved deal from Atlanta given his massive production since becoming the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

That salary is less than hundreds of players, most of them nowhere near Gressel’s impact. Nineteen Atlanta United players made more than him last season, so it’s understandable that the 26-year-old wanted to get paid.

We don’t know what he was asking, or why Atlanta wouldn’t get there. From MLSSoccer.com:

“If we really wanted to, we could have had him play on $130,000 this season, extend him a bona fide offer at the end of the season and (we’d still own his MLS rights),” said Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra. “We’re also trying to do the right thing for a guy who has given so much to the club and is really just a good kid all around.”

It’s a weird one, given what the club’s been paying others.

Gressel arrived at Providence College from Eintracht Bamberg and immediately started delivering for the Big East side. He finished his four years with 30 goals and 26 assists and All-American status.

There was some adapting to MLS, but he’s gotten better with every season. He scored 10 goals with 13 assists in all competitions last season.

Spurs chairman reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale

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As a neutral, the idea of Gareth Bale rejoining Tottenham Hotspur would be a delight to our Premier League matchday viewing.

Obviously this applies to Spurs fans to the nth degree, especially after a dull 0-0 with Watford at the weekend.

In the short-term, Bale would be a terrific stopgap as Spurs struggle to find themselves without Harry Kane in both the PL and Champions League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

In the long-term, Bale and Heung-Min Son on the wings of Harry Kane would be enough to make any PL power trio blush (unless Liverpool really does add Timo Werner).

A report out of Spain says Real Madrid president Florentino Perez met with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy about several things including the availability of Bale.

The Welsh star has been long admired by Jose Mourinho, and of course knows Spurs well having become a superstar after arriving from Southampton.

Bale is 30 and his wages would easily top Spurs’ pay list. His 21 goals and nine assists in the 2012/13 Premier League season join his 19 and 11 in 2015 La Liga as his top league seasons.

Spurs host Norwich City on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Guardiola praises Laporte, “the best left central defender in the world”

Pep Guardiola praises Aymeric Laporte
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Manchester City kept its first clean sheet of 2020 on Tuesday, posting a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

It took the two-time reigning Premier League champions six tries to get there, the previous zero coming against this same Blades side at the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

City manager Pep Guardiola was quick to give credit to a returning hero, as center back Aymeric Laporte returned to the fold for the first time since Aug. 31.

The club was 3W-1D at that point. They went 12W-2D-5L without him.

Here’s Guardiola, from the Manchester Evening News:

“It’s incredible,” Guardola said. “We have missed him a lot, he’s the best left central defender in the world. Imagine the best teams in the world lose their best central defender. We miss him a lot because he’s a specialist left foot where our buildup. He is fast, strong in the air.”

“He has something that we don’t have in the squad. His left foot and many actions to build up to make it quicker and better – we don’t have it, not because the other ones are not good but he has the only left foot as a central defender and for the way we want to play that is so important. His character and mentality and winning, he has all the attributes. For me, when he is fit he is the best left central defender in the world.”

If you read that as a little bit of an explanation for City being 13 points off Liverpool, you’ve similar eyes to us.

Pep is asking how Liverpool would look without Virgil Van Dijk, how Real Madrid appears when Sergio Ramos is out.

It’s not the be-all, end-all, but as I wrote when Laporte went down, this is the key piece to their defending efforts as well as where they begin possession.

We’re also grateful that Guardiola didn’t drop some sort of, “He’s like a January transfer addition,” statement (at least as far as we’ve read.

Chelsea admit they miss USMNT’s Pulisic

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LONDON — Since USMNT star Christian Pulisic was injured in training in the first week of January, Chelsea have lost against Newcastle, drawn with Arsenal and blown away Burnley.

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In the two games where they’ve dropped points they’ve missed Pulisic’s genius in the final third with both Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi easily shackled by Arsenal in their London derby. Chelsea admitted as much when speaking after the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on Tuesday, an Arsenal side who played with 10 men for over 60 minutes of the game.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about Pulisic’s adductor injury and if they missed him during the draw against Arsenal, downbeat Chelsea boss Frank Lampard noted that Pulisic, 21, was “playing really well” before his injury.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard said.

Speaking to Pro Soccer Talk pitch-side at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who scored their late second goal which looked like being the winner, lavished praise on Pulisic when asked about his absence over the last week.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said.

Chelsea’s skipper is expecting big things from Pulisic when he does return to fitness, as the fourth-place Blues now have just a six-point cushion to those outside of the top four and have played a game more.

It seems like everyone at Chelsea hopes the USMNT star can rejuvenate their attack in the final months of the season.

“After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies,” Azpilicueta said. “In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”