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Roma's new American owner reveals ambitious plans

By Andrew Dampf
AP Sports Writer / November 18, 2011

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ROME—Roma's new American owner revealed ambitious plans to make the team known the world over through new marketing techniques.

Speaking to an elite group of Roman industrialists late Thursday, Boston executive Thomas DiBenedetto said he wants to open Roma youth academies all over the globe -- starting in the United States -- and make matches more enjoyable for fans.

"I see tremendous potential for our organization and our team," DiBenedetto said. "We want to make AS Roma a place where families, diplomats and students come and watch and feel safe."

DiBenedetto leads a four-man American group that became the first foreign majority owners of a Serie A club when they closed the deal for Roma in August. He said Roma has already reached a deal with a Boston-based academy with 8,000 youth players spread over five American states.

"We want everyone at these academies wearing Roma jerseys, so they, their friends and their relatives become Roma fans," DiBenedetto said. "This is how we hope to spread the Roma brand around the world."

DiBenedetto is also one of approximately 13 limited partners in the Boston Red Sox ownership group. The other members of the group that bought Roma are James Pallotta -- a minority owner of the Boston Celtics -- Michael Ruane and Richard D'Amore.

Roma plays at the 72,000-seat Stadio Olimpico, which features a running track and poor sightlines for soccer. The Americans would like to build a new stadium.

"We have had meetings with the mayor and met with some developers," DiBenedetto said. "We're studying sites, financial analysis and feasibility."

The Americans also have also been pushing to develop new methods for ticket sales, since fans buying tickets for Italian games usually need to go in person to a sales center and show an ID -- with no tickets available more than a week or two before matches.

And they have caused a bit of a stir by indicating they want to eliminate the huge VIP section at Stadio Olimpico -- where seats are given away -- and sell the best tickets instead.

"Rome is known for its culture, history and food and that brings a lot of people here," DiBenedetto said. "We want those people to also enjoy football. And we want them to become fans of our team, so that when they go back to their own countries they will be followers and supporters."

As for the squad, the Americans lured former England national team assistant Franco Baldini back to Roma with the position of general director. Baldini has put into action a youth movement rarely seen at the upper levels of Italian football.

While it's clearly a long-term project, the new Roma has so far had mixed results. Entering Sunday's game with Lecce, Roma is seventh in the 20-team Serie A at 4-4-2.

Roma last won the Serie A in 2001, and missed the title by just two points in 2010.

Roma spent more money -- 58.4 million euros ($78.7 million) -- on new players in the offseason than any other club in Serie A.

The youth movement is modeled on European champion Barcelona, and so it was no coincidence that former Barcelona youth coach Luis Enrique was hired to coach Roma.

Like Barcelona, Roma has put a premium on Spanish and Argentine players, signing the likes of Pablo Osvaldo, Erik Lamela, Fernando Gago and Bojan Krkic -- plus Bosnia playmaker Miralem Pjanic.

Osvaldo, a 25-year-old forward, was born in Argentina but also holds Italian citizenship. Another forward from Argentina, the 19-year-old Lamela, scored in his first match as a starter last month.

The 25-year-old Gago, an Argentine midfielder, was cast aside by Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid.

The 21-year-old Bojan, a Spanish forward with a Serbian father and a Spanish mother was signed from Barcelona. It was then discovered that he is a distant relative of Barcelona standout Lionel Messi, the two-time FIFA player of the year.

One of the few veterans Roma signed was 29-year-old goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, who helped the Netherlands to the World Cup final last year.

While Francesco Totti has been injured for several weeks now, Luis Enrique struggled to integrate Roma's 35-year-old captain into the lineup at the start of the season, drawing fans' ire. Roma still hasn't extended the contract of its popular midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who was born and raised a Roma fan like Totti and is considered the club's future captain.

"I'm confident that Baldini will work it out with De Rossi's agent," DiBenedetto said. "And I can guarantee you that nobody wants to win more than Luis Enrique. And that's also what we want to do with Roma."

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