James Pallotta Soaks In Roma’s Stunning Win
At the end, for once, James Pallotta was still. It is not something that comes easily to him. Pallotta, A.S. Roma’s president, is, by his own admission, inclined to motion. When he attends games, he prefers to stand, rather than sit. At home, in Boston, he turns on televisions in five rooms and paces between them.
For that one moment on Tuesday, as the final whistle blew on Roma’s 3-0 defeat of Barcelona, the culmination of one of the greatest comebacks, one of the greatest shocks, in Champions League history, he simply stopped, and watched.
In the stands, 56,000 Roma fans were hugging, bouncing, singing and celebrating Roma’s charge from a 4-1 deficit after last week’s first leg against what was shaping up to be one of the great teams in Barcelona history.
“Thousands of people, crying their eyes out,” Pallotta said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
On the field, the players and the coaching staff were racing, ricocheting around. In the directors’ box, the club’s executives veered between ecstasy and astonishment. Only the president took a step back, and soaked it all in.
He did not leave the Stadio Olimpico for some time that night. There were news media interviews to do, guests to greet, each of them passing on breathless congratulations. He went to the locker room to celebrate with his players and his coach, Eusebio Di Francesco.
It was deep into the small hours of Wednesday morning when he arrived back at the steps of his hotel, the Hotel de Russie, around the corner from Piazza del Popolo. He has stayed there on every visit to Rome since he took control of the club, in 2012. When he returned, the Roma fans among the staff were decked out in the club’s colors — yellow and a red verging on burnt orange — to welcome him.
“One of them, Alessandro, told me that there were thousands of people on the piazza,” Pallotta said. “He said, ‘You go, you go.’ ” Pallotta obeyed. On the way, a member of his coterie suggested he should jump in the fountain that sits in the center of the square. Pallotta, 60, thought it sounded like a great idea.
He took off his jacket and removed his cellphone and credit cards from his pockets: This, it turns out, was not his first rodeo. He strolled up to the fountain, sat on its lip, and tumbled in. “And then I thought: Let’s get something to eat,” he said.
It was only later, in his hotel room, that it occurred to him that Rome’s authorities do not take kindly to people jumping in its fountains. On Wednesday, he apologized to the city’s mayor and accepted his $280 fine. He also pledged $280,000 to help restore another fountain, in front of the Pantheon.
“I do not condone people jumping in fountains,” he said. “But if you do, you should pay to fix them.”
Tuesday night was that kind of night in Rome. Roma had not reached the last four of the European Cup since 1984, and few had given the team a hope against mighty Barcelona, against Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez and the rest. “When the draw was made, all of the Spanish newspapers said it was easy,” Pallotta said. “One of the headlines was ‘Roman Candy.’ ”
By the time he had eaten, dried off and gone to bed, he could still hear gleeful fans singing in the streets. It was the sort of night, in other words, when the billionaire American owner of an Italian soccer team jumping into a fountain felt like a “great idea.”
That they are both here, within touching distance of a final, of glory, is vindication for all they have done; it also offers hope to others that the latter stages of the Champions League are not an entirely closed shop.
Not that Pallotta, at least, is quite satisfied. Not long after he took charge of Roma, he gathered together the club’s staff at its training facility, Trigoria. He gave a presentation outlining his ambition for the team, then spoke with another 150 or so employees outside, by another fountain.