O tempora o mores

"The problem with communication ... is the illusion that it has been accomplished." - George Bernard Shaw

During the past ten or so days, the battle for AS Roma has been moved to the field of communications. One party practices it, another party treats it as unenthusiastically as a child would eating its vegetables. One party is winning the favour of the popolo giallorosso, the other is growing more and more unappreciated. Guess who's who. But first a brief synopsis of these ten days, to fill in the blanks:

  • First Italpetroli and the Sensi family admits, after wide media speculation, to contact with international suitors regarding the ownership of AS Roma
  • The media "presents" the suitors in the Swiss-German-Italian triumvirate; Fioranelli, Flick and an unidentified Italian with many dealings in Rome
  • On Tuesday, Rosella publishes a communique saying there has been no serious offers
  • The very next media cycle, the Flick family of Germany (Mick e Muck) suddenly deny after half an eternity that they are in fact the Flicks interested in owning Roma
  • This causes Rosella to exhale; the journalists in the media look like trigger happy imbeciles, confusing one Flick for another, and cannot be trusted. Everything looks like it will fizzle out exactly one year ago, leaving everyone uncertain whether there ever was an offer from Soros for Roma, or if someone named Soros even exists. Is Soros in fact Keyser Söze?
  • On the afternoon of Wednesday May the 6th, one of the journalists most eager to push the Flick story, Piero Torri of Il Corriere dello Sport, says in a radio interview that he still believes Flick is in the picture. It is unclear which Flick he even means, no clarification is given
  • At midnight the same day word breaks that the same journalist, Torri, has interviewed a well known Roman entrepreneur, Francesco Angelini, and has it black on white that he wants to buy Roma. Angelini says he has 'requested information and is waiting to hear back'
  • Rosella finds herself beginning to be backed into a corner by the sudden turn of events, and overreacts dramatically by issuing a new communique denying any negotiations and essentially calling Angelini a liar. It was the communications equivalent of blowing out a candle with a fire hose, and perfectly in character for the president who refused to answer any questions whatsoever after the Chievo game, even the ones in her supposed area of interest
  • Angelini responds by going on tv, clarifying his previous statements and his future intentions. Open war has begun, all while Italpetroli and Rosella in between all of their communiques and going on Roma Channel for an "interview" yesterday, forgets to notify anyone if the confirmed interest from the international groups still exists, or if they have broken down completely

Tell me that couldn't be a script for a movie. I'm thinking a Three Days of the Condor type title...Ten Days of the Journalist. But there's no Robert Redford and there's no finely tuned script, so right now it's more or less just a mess. But with one striking difference to previous takeover attempts, one that could be crucial; this is done in the open, after Angelini's move to go on tv. In his initial interview with Torri he reached out a hand to Sensi, saying that as a hurting fan, he wanted to help Roma in whatever way possible, even if that meant going in as a minor partner and letting Rosella retain majority and the presidency. Rosella's fire hose to a candle trick showed she would hear of no such thing, upon which Angelini, rather than quietly go away as others have, decided to beat her where she's vulnerable; by simply communicating. When Angelini went on tv he tapped into what many fans were feeling, and what they want to hear from a president; "experiencing this moment hurts me deeply, it takes away one of the joys of my life. It's taken away from me, and not just from me: I think of the guys in the curva, that returns from the stadium with puffy eyes and their scarves rolled up in recognition of defeat"; "I can't interpret the story of this new stadium. I'm not convinced of a lot of the things I read. I don't understand who'll put in the money, how or where". Some may call it populism, or mere attempts to raise one's own profile as Rosella said. And as everyone expected she would say, should be added. But when juxtaposed next to the mute Rosella, Angelini looks perfectly wondrous. Rosella may claim that she "prefers facts over gossip" and that the stadium is being built (two statements I find directly at odds with one another; for the stadium there are no facts, only Rosella's gossip). But Angelini is not a slouch out for a quick PR boost, as Rosella wants to paint the picture. Angelini is the head of a pharmaceutical giant bringing in over €2 billion a year, his stature and figure demanding far more respect in Italy than Rosella's, or indeed most currently involved in calcio. But she tries to spin it as a get rich quick scheme by some two bit hustler, insulting the intelligence of everyone who listens. I think this is a clever move by a man who realizes applying public pressure is likely to only way to go.

Angelini's PR move is important for one reason in particular; it exposes the fact that if we let Rosella dictate the conversation of a takeover, we get nowhere, fast. If an interested party conducts negotiations in private, they're made out to be ghosts, mere figments of imagination. If an interested party takes his interest to the media, he's made out to be nothing but an attention seeker, unwilling to conduct serious discussions but only profit of his new found popularity. This way, with these conditions, no one will ever be able to buy AS Roma. And even if that would have been the outcome even with a different communications strategy, being less opaque would place her and the entire management in, I believe, more benevolent light.

Solamente L'AS Roma breaks down Rosella's Roma Channel appearance and new-speak yesterday brilliantly: "Rosella starts by saying that 'I don't like gossiping, I prefer facts'. It only goes to ask whether these facts are the 54 goals let in or the eleven defeats in the league: we imagine no, because these are numbers of a team and club on the ropes, while the president-fan assures that 'Roma is working'. Other than that it's important to remember that 'Roma's example is a virtuous one. Through the self-financing we have been able to reach the highest levels': unfortunately we have also reached considerably lower levels, as demonstrated by this miserable season. But these are details. Rosella then reveals resounding truths about the stadium: 'it's not a new argument, it's something my father spoke often of even ten years ago'. And, essentially, they continue to speak; according to leaks, all that's missing is the project, the area and the funds, we're all good to go with the rest."

Rosella's preferred method of silence is put to the test with Angelini, and it's doubtful whether or not it can stand up under the pressure. The notion that since AS Roma is listed on the stock exchange, Rosella should only communicate through communiques (and that it was demanded of her to deny, for example, negotiations with Angelini even though he had never claimed any such had taken place) are smokes and mirrors designed to create an image. Her choices of when to communicate are in fact rather arbitrary, as proven by the open letter pulling the team into ritiro, her refusal to answer any questions whatsoever the week thereafter, and now the latest fire hose to candle statement. She chooses when to speak, and does not abide by any rules imposed on her by anyone else. Which is fine, it's the pretending that her hands are tied that unnerves me, and the expectation that we are to buy this greatly annoys me.