ROME: In a country known for boisterous soccer club presidents, the new American owners of Roma are bucking the trend with the silence treatment.
Dan and Ryan Friedkin have frustrated Italy’s lengthy all-sports newspapers to no end by not conducting a single interview since they purchased the club from fellow American James Pallotta last year.
Unlike the more outspoken and often foul-mouthed Pallotta, who largely preferred to direct the club from Boston and Miami, the Friedkins (father and son) are showing their dedication to the club in a more old-fashioned manner — by being constantly present.
The Friedkins — who made a fortune distributing Toyotas in Texas — have been a fixture at the empty Stadio Olimpico all season, quietly observing the team’s troublesome campaign in Serie A and successful performance in the Europa League.
Dressed in suits as always, they were sitting in their usual spots in the otherwise empty VIP tribune for a 1-1 draw with Ajax on Thursday that earned Roma a spot in the semifinals of Europe’s secondary competition.
Seventh in Serie A and losing sight of the Champions League places, Roma is desperate to win the Europa League to earn a spot in the continent's elite tournament next season.
“I’ve never reached a semifinal before, so this makes me very proud, especially as we are representing Italy right now,” coach Paulo Fonseca said, referring to Roma being the only Italian club remaining in European competition. “It’s a source of pride for Roma.”
Fonseca reportedly needs to guide Roma to the trophy to keep his job, so reaching the last four apparently doesn’t secure his future.
“It doesn’t change anything. I don’t know if I will be the Roma coach next season, just that I will be the coach for the next game, Fonseca said. “As I’ve always said, I’m not remotely concerned with the future. All that matters now is Roma. The club owners have always been very close to us all and we feel their presence.”
Edin Dzeko’s late equalizer secured a 3-2 aggregate victory for Roma and brought a sense of redemption for the veteran striker, who was stripped of the captaincy by Fonseca following an alleged dispute with the coach earlier in the season.
At the final whistle, young center back Gianluca Mancini dropped to the grass distraught over a yellow card that will force him to sit out the first leg of the semifinals — raising the question of whether former United defender Chris Smalling can return from injury to play in his old stadium.
It will be Roma’s second European semifinal in four years after stunning Barcelona to reach this stage in the 2017-18 Champions League.
Roma’s next opponent is Manchester United, which brings back memories of a dark page in the Giallorossi’s history.
In the 2006-07 Champions League, Roma was routed 7-1 at Old Trafford — a game that current United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played in.
“If we’ve reached this point, it means we can play with anyone,” said Roma midfielder Jordan Veretout.
Indeed, Roma has won nine of 12 Europa League games this season.
The toughest part for Roma might be maintaining its focus for Serie A, with a tricky visit to relegation-threatened Torino coming up on Sunday.
“I never get too excited,” Fonseca said. “I’ll go home now and celebrate with my wife but then after that I’ll focus on the next game.”
As for the Friedkins, they’re one step closer to closing out their debut season with a European trophy.
“We feel that Roma is somewhat of a ‘sleeping giant,’” Ryan Friedkin told the club’s website in September in what remain the family’s only public comments.
“There is no reason that, in time, this club can’t seriously compete for trophies at all levels,” he added. “With the fans, and the city, behind us, anything is possible at Roma. The club is very special.”