These are stirring times for AS Roma. Probably the most significant Serie A result of last weekend was Roma’s emphatic 3-1 away win against an in-form Inter.
Tomorrow night, they are “away” to city cousins Lazio in an Italian Cup semi-final that will be nothing if not ultra competitive. Then on Saturday, second placed Roma entertain third placed Napoli for a Serie A game that could effectively enshrine them as the only remaining obstacle on the Juventus path to a 33rd league title.
Roma’s win at the San Siro last Sunday night saw the club extend an excellent start to 2017 which has seen them win seven out of eight Serie A games confirming their second place position and travelling at a pace matched only by leaders Juventus. Despite this rash of good results in the New Year, however, Roma last week registered arguably their best result of the season at City Hall rather than on the pitch.
That came when Rome city Mayor Virginia Raggi gave a qualified “green light” to the club’s ambitious project to build their own stadium on the site of the former racecourse of Tor Di Valle, in the south-west of the city on the banks of the Tiber. AS Roma’s US ownership, led by President James Pallotta, has long argued that this project is absolutely crucial for the club’s future financial well being.
Yet, there were moments in the last month when the new stadium became such a hot political potato that it seemed possible that Mayor Raggi, of the Five Star protest Movement (M5S), would cancel the whole project. City Hall seemed to be backtracking on agreements arrived at between the club and previous Mayor Ignazio Marino.
In its current form, this project has been around since 2012 when President Pallotta and building tycoon Luca Parnasi signed their first agreement for the stadium to be built at Tor di Valle. Since then, we have had a lot of talk, various presentations, a deal of speculation but no new stadium.
Originally due to be built with a capacity of 52,500, this largely steel and glass structure was intended to be a “state of the art” stadium which would combine 356-days-per-year modern amenities and technology with an “intimate” pitch which would allow the Roma fans to sit right on top of the action.
That all sounds fine but many critics, particularly within the M5S, were suspicious that the whole project was more about building speculation than about creating a new home for AS Roma. For those not intimately familiar with Italian politics it is worth pointing out that the M5S, a protest movement which claimed an astonishing 26% of the vote on its first outing at the 2013 General Election, comes from a background of grass roots activism linked to environmentalist issues.
Not surprisingly, the Rome stadium issue almost split the party last week with many of the M5S faithful calling on Mayor Raggi to block the development. In the end, after a tense last minute meeting last Friday, the Mayor gave the green light but only to a greatly “re-dimensioned” version of the plan from which, for example, three huge residential skyscrapers were removed.
An artist’s impression of Roma’s planned new stadium.
In theory, the new stadium project is up and still running. In practise, there are a myriad of problems, still to be surmounted. For example, two former Rome Mayors, Marino and Francesco Rutelli, argue that the new, revised and slimmed down version the project is destined for enormous traffic flow problems. They point out that a number of public works, due to be financed by the developers, such as pedestrian and traffic bridges over the Tiber to the nearby Roma-Fiumicino autostrada, have been dropped from the revised plan.
Furthermore, plans to renovate another key traffic artery, the Via Del Mare, which passes nearby, as well as plans to extend the Rome metro’s “B” to Tor di Valle have been scrapped. The result, say the experts, is guaranteed traffic chaos. Without easy public transport access, fans in their cars will choke up not just the whole area around the stadium on match days but also two major traffic arteries out of the Eternal City to the sea.
Roma deny this, arguing that there will be plenty of both private and public transport access whilst the stadium will have huge parking space. Furthermore, they say that the project still remains “green” and will still include the planting of 10,000 trees and the creation of 11 kilometres of cycle paths. That all remains to be seen.
On top of all that, one unexpected problem suddenly arose last week when Rome’s eternal, footballing city rivalry burst into life when Lazio President Claudio Lotito said: “Dear Mayor Raggi, we notice that your administration has overcome the (environmental) problems and reached an agreement with Roma for the construction of a new stadium…We now expect you to afford equal treatment (par condicio) to the many Lazio fans and allow Lazio to build their own new stadium…”
In truth, there is nothing new about Mr. Lotito’s interest in a Lazio stadium. As far back as 2007, he proposed to build one out at Valmontone, some 45 kilometres south of Rome. In more recent times, he has moved his proposed site much closer to the city. If he revives his plan again, it will be hard to deny him if and when a new Roma stadium has been built.
That is for the future. What is certain is that the successful outcome to last week’s meeting between Mayor Raggi and AS Roma director general Mauro Baldissoni may turn out to be Roma’s most important victory in this successful winter campaign.
It may, too, not be irrelevant that when Roma coach, Luciano Spalletti, tweeted “Let’s Build This Stadium” last week, his tweet received over a million “likes”, many of them of course being from Roma fans. Now those Roma fans get to vote in mayoral elections, no? Now, that’s a thought for a Rome Mayor to ponder…