Roma vice-president Mauro Baldissoni sat down for an interview with Sky Sport Italia on Tuesday, as he reflected on Francesco Totti’s decision to leave the club.
Baldissoni responded to inquiries about a number of talking points that arose from Totti’s press conference on Monday, including the suggestion that the ownership were looking to 'De-Romanise' the club, Totti's ongoing integration into the club's decision-making process, and much more.
Here's what the vice-president had to say.
Let’s start on Totti’s resignation. He walked away because it was impossible for him to have a say in the technical decisions. Could he have been involved more?
“I believe that first of all you need to take a broader look at, something that probably deserves a deeper analysis, at the moment when any great footballer – and, in Francesco, we are talking about probably the greatest player in Italian football history – has to become something else, whatever that might be. It is not an easy transition, and it is not a quick one, and it usually means a learning process where you are helped by others along the way.
"We were always very aware of this, we were convinced that we needed to be patient and wait for him, not looking to impose things on him. As he said himself yesterday – and where possible, I want to try and use the words he did – perhaps for him in the first year it was difficult for him to get his head around everything that was happening. But I must say that midway through the second year, after the disruption of Monchi left the club, the club offered him the role of technical director – the role he always thought would best suit his characteristics and qualities. We gave that offer to him in February, and we still had not heard an answer.
“Because of that we are all disappointed to hear his perception of things, that he was not really – to use his words again – given the chance to express himself. But he himself acknowledged that he had suggested the choice of Claudio Ranieri to replace Eusebio Di Francesco, and despite other opinions among the directors and those in the technical sector, that was the suggestion the club agreed upon – that that was the best choice. And then following that was the suggestion that we pursue a very interesting option, to convince Antonio Conte to become the Roma head coach – a difficult pitch that the club was a part of too, as CEO Guido Fienga was there – so the head of the club was supporting the overture too. So it is clear that we are talking about a progression, but that he did have the opportunity to make suggestions that the club took into great consideration.
"Beyond that, I do not work in the technical area and so I don’t know about the other scenarios whereby he says his input was not given greater consideration – but this can happen anywhere. Again I have to stress that, in the context of what has happened, this was not going to be a short or simple path, but we hoped that he would become more integrated in things and continue to grow and develop inside what, it should always be remembered, is a team effort. Because nobody – and I don’t think just at Roma, but at any other football club or indeed any other business – nobody can decide things alone, there always needs to be agreement among a group.”
Another part of his press conference that drew headlines was about the ‘De-Romanisation’ of the club. Totti said, ‘In the last eight years the Americans have done everything they can to get rid of us’.
“This saddens me a lot, I am really disappointed if that is his perception – and perhaps it is something said out of the sadness of the moment. But on something like this we can only respond with facts, because the words and the ideas come and go but the facts are what they are: Francesco received two new contracts as a player under this ownership, and then one as a director for another six years – with the subsequent option to become the technical director from this February.
"Speaking about Daniele [De Rossi] as well, who Francesco mentioned in that discussion, he also had two playing contracts with the club for a total of seven more years and was then – a decision made rightly or wrongly, it is not my job to judge and I don’t want to get into it – offered the chance to start a new career in the administration of the club, working alongside the chief executive, or as an assistant coach. Daniele then made his own decision.
“But it doesn’t stop there. If we are still talking about the pitch, we should also remember the other investments the club has made to bring other kids that came through the youth system into the first team, even if they had to go somewhere else to complete their development. But that meant a concrete monetary investment on the part of the club – I’m talking, clearly, about Alessandro Florenzi and Lorenzo Pellegrini – in order to bring them back, and the club did not hold back from doing so. We should also recognise Luca Pellegrini, for whom we congratulate on a great recent performance at the Under-20 World Cup, who was promoted to the first-team squad at the start of the season despite his youth, and had a role to play until January – where we decided to give him more opportunity to play regularly elsewhere.
“But that goes hand in hand with all the other initiatives that I think have been an improvement and development for this club. We have inaugurated and helped establish the club Hall of Fame which, beyond celebrating those great players who are nominated to join its ranks, means that any player who has made at least one appearance for the club can return to Trigoria or the stadium with just one phone call – whenever they want. We have got so many ex-players involved in the club in so many different ways – I’ll name a few, although forgive me if I forget anyone. But I’m talking about Desideri, Chierico, Rizzitelli, Righetti, Candela, Nela... and that makes the objective of the club completely clear: whenever it is possible, to give important roles to those who have represented this club with distinction.
"I could also mention the large investments we have made to bolster the club’s historical archive, a constant process to bring back objects, memorabilia, photos and more that reflect and represent the life of this club throughout the years. From a communication and a commerical point of view it is clear that this idea of ‘De-Romanisation’ would be contrary to all that and would be totally stupid and self-defeating.
“The history that these players all represent – and so, above all, is represented by Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and players of that calibre – is something that provides an immeasurable value from an emotional, commercial and familial point of view. How could we possibly be so stupid as to turn away from that? So those are the facts and they demonstrate that things are not like that. I’ll tell you a story, from when I went to meet with Francesco while the Americans were still in the process of trying to buy Roma and the deal was still far from done. I wanted to explain to him their motivations behind wanting to invest in the club and I explained to him that, at the time, Francesco Totti was statistically better known around the world than AS Roma and there were people that knew of Francesco Totti, and knew of Roma, but perhaps didn’t know that Francesco Totti played for Roma – and so his value was a huge factor in the desire to invest in Roma. So nothing could be further from the truth that the club wanted Francesco Totti out.”
Totti also said that he did not hear from Pallotta for two years. That Pallotta’s absence is a factor in the club’s problems. Will he be more present in the future?
“Well, in terms of his presence I just want to note one thing: everyone knows that this year the two biggest European trophies were won by Liverpool and Chelsea, and I would ask someone to work out just how often John Henry or Roman Abramovich are present at their respective club offices.
"As for this suggestion that they did not speak, I remember perfectly – and it’s a known fact – that Pallotta has said publicly and recently, and even from the first moment Totti stopped playing, that he was invited to come and spend time with him in the United States, that he could spend six months with him in Boston to understand all aspects of his investment in Roma and everything that is going into this project. Even recently he invited him to spend time at his house, near Boston, out on the sea. Obviously I realise that there are some issues with the language, the culture, that don’t make communication easier – and perhaps we could have done more to bridge that gap between them. But we can say that the president’s desire has always been to have these great players as close as possible.”
Totti said in his press conference that ‘Mauro Baldissoni has always tried to guide me, although I’m not sure where...’ What was the relationship like between you?
“Well, firstly I think it is always a mistake to fixate on personal relationships in these cases. I saw that Francesco smirked a bit at that remark. I will say that, for me, Francesco was my hero as a kid – I once even did something that was out of character for me, and I wrote a letter to a journalist to defend him. A journalist from Corriere della Sera who attacked him during the [Mario] Balotelli incident. Between the two of us there was always a mutual understanding, there was respect and courtesy.
"I am not involved in the technical area, where he was, so I did not have much reason to see him on a day-to-day basis but, during the first year especially, I always tried to make myself available to him and I invited him to come with me a lot. My door was always open for his questions, or even for him to just come in and read the papers or witness things first hand, to get an idea of what it is really like inside a club. Perhaps that too could have given him an idea of what he wanted to pursue, because early on we would speak about the fact that he didn’t really have a clear idea of where he wanted to focus his efforts on in the long-term.
"But, as I said, I am not in the technical area and so I did not have a lot of reason to encounter him day-to-day, but I can simply confirm that I was always at his disposal and that remained the case up until the end.”
There was another point from Totti, with him talking about potentially returning under a new ownership. A point that it was suggested was delicate when talking about a club listed on the stock market. Are there legal issues with making such suggestions?
“We could not help but notice the repeated references to a potential return under a new owner. Even if, to be clear, they were pushed more by journalists than from Francesco himself. We simply wanted to remind everyone that any potential change of ownership needs to be conducted in a very specific and lawful manner, following all the rules and regulations that are demanded of a listed company. Having said all that, the president has been absolutely clear on countless occasions, even very recently, and he wanted it to be clear again yesterday: Roma is not for sale and the actual owner is not interested in selling the club and it is good that the market is aware of that.”
Where does this press conference from Totti, which created so much debate, leave you as a club? Are there some positive things you can reflect on, even as far as the future transfer market strategy goes?
“It leaves us with a great feeling of disappointment and sadness, because it is clear that we were not able to find a way to continue our relationship with someone who, as I just said, has been an incredible ambassador for Roma and AS Roma. We cannot be anything but disappointed, incredibly disappointed.
"As far as the transfer market strategy goes, that is something that is unaffected by this. The club has a plan in place that continues, and will do regardless of who is working for the club. I am not involved in the transfer market, so I cannot get into those discussions [with you]. The one thing I can do, yet again, is reflect on the facts. The facts say that this owner has continued to invest in the club without fail, has wiped away all the financial issues that existed before he came – when the club was bought from a bank. He has completed a revival and has constantly invested in the players on the pitch, something that has returned pretty good results: five consecutive qualifications for the Champions League, two last-16 appearances and a semi-final run.
“He has committed to purchases that, according to recent stats, put us among the 10 clubs that have spent the most on players. Obviously that has come with sales as well, because as you know we have to abide by rules that we did not create, rules from UEFA and FFP, that everyone knows about but few seem to like to accept. What we have done in recent years we will do again – even in the year we didn’t make the Champions League group stages, where we played in the Europa League, we finished the Serie A season with the best points total in the club’s history. It is clear that we need to continue to work hard to make this team more and more competitive and, hopefully, win some trophies.
“Mistakes can happen when it comes to transfer decisions. That is not a rarity in the world of football and it is not something that only happens to Roma. This year clearly there were some mistakes, as the president has admitted himself a few times. A bad season can happen; we finished sixth and that clearly was not what we were aiming for. But this can only be a motivation to work harder and improve even more. President Pallotta, who doesn’t get much credit in this regard, is an extremely ambitious person and makes all these investments because ultimately he wants to do well on the pitch.
"I want to remember a misunderstanding he was victim of, when he made his very first interview with Sky after coming here to Rome. Talking about his experiences in other sports, beyond all his successes in finance, he had the chance to buy the Boston Celtics with a number of other partners. He had the luck that, after five years, the Celtics ended their long wait for another NBA title. And he said that he hoped a similar thing could happen at Roma. He never said that he was promising a title within five years – but that was certainly his aim, his ambition, to reach the top as he had done with the Celtics. And that still remains very much his ambition, something that only strengthens in a moment like this – after an unlucky season – where we have made mistakes but he is the first to want to set things right.”
The other suggestion about Pallotta was that the stadium remains key to him. Without a stadium, would he leave?
“It is clear that the stadium is a vital aspect. And here, in this city, unfortunately we have to state once again that there is this tendency to create confusion and murky areas. The stadium is not a new, separate economic initiative for Pallotta and his investors – it is only interesting to them as part of the AS Roma project. The stadium is vital to the club’s future, as I have heard so many people reiterate in recent times. Among them, I would like to remind you of Claudio Ranieri’s opinion – a coach who has had a lot of experience in other countries and realises how important the stadium is.
“To be able to build a stadium you own, in modern football, means you have much more room to increase the ability and potential of the team. Without it, everything becomes a lot more complicated. Not complicated in terms of risking the running and the stability of the club, but it complicates the ability of the club to compete at the highest level – which is what everyone says they want for Roma. If everyone says that the thing they want is for the team to compete, then they must realise that without something like the stadium that would change the economic ability of the club then it will always be impossible to challenge Juventus – who already make twice our turnover in a year. This is something that has to be absolutely clear.
“Clearly, if in the long run the president sees that he is not going to get the green light to proceed with this huge investment - that is entirely privately financed and will allow the club to grow and to compete - then it is evident that he could think that it is not worth the effort to continue. But you should be absolutely clear about the fact that he will not go for a very long time, and not without having pursued every possible avenue.”