Roma could pave the way for foreign owners in Italy
The coming week could have profound significance for Italian football with Roma expected to start formal talks which could result in them becoming the first major Italian club to end up in foreign hands.
Roma might not be the first top-flight Italian club to have foreign owners but they will be by far the biggest, having resided in Serie A for all but one of the 78 years of their existence and having been the champions on three occasions, most recently in 2001.
Another Italian club, Vicenza, were under the control of ENIC, who own Tottenham Hotspur, between 1999 and 2005, and they spent some of that time in Serie A.
Former striker Vincenzo Montella has recently been put in charge of the Roma team. Photo: Getty
In recent years Roma have been the most prominent challenger to Inter Milan's supremacy in Serie A, finishing second during four of the last five seasons, but they have been in dire financial difficulty for over a decade.
At the end of last season, Roma owed various banks in the region of £340m, prompting the money men to demand their cash back rather than allow the club to live on the never-never.
Roma president Rosella Sensi, whose father Franco bought the club in 1993, effectively mortgaged the family petroleum company Italpetroli to the club's principal creditor UniCredit to clear the debts.
Since September, even though Italpetroli and the Sensi family still hold a controlling stake in Roma, it is UniCredit who calls the shots and they have been looking for a buyer, with the asking price believed to be around £127m.
Five potential buyers apparently came forward but the one that UniCredit chose to deal with was the American businessman Thomas Di Benedetto, a part owner of Fenway Sports Group, which is the parent company of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool.
Di Benedetto has Italian origins and his ancestors came from Abruzzo, which, not surprisingly, he has been doing his best to stress in recent weeks.
"We will not be losing sight of the fact that we will act as custodians of this great team in the name of the citizens of Rome and all of the fans of Roma," said Di Benedetto.
But the response to the possibility of the stars-and-stripes being hoisted over the Stadio Olimpico has been very mixed.
A quick look around Roma fans' internet forums shows that after years of ridiculing English clubs for losing their identity under foreign owners, they are very aware that the boot is now on the other foot.
However, Sergio Rosi, the president of one of the biggest Roma supporters clubs, the Roma Club Testaccio, took a much more positive approach last month.
"If they bring money, let them come. The world changes and we can't go backward. They are not a group from the world of soccer but they have know-how," said Rosi, momentarily forgetting their potential new owner's Anfield connection.
"However, the Americans must understand one thing though: you can't buy only the team but you must also buy the image of Roma that we take around the world.
"We are a little sceptical, that's normal to be in the beginning, but I'm ready to attach the American flag to the club if the deal is confirmed."
What would any new owner make of the passion at the Stadio Olimpico? Photo: Getty
If, or more likely when, the deal does finally go through - and UniCredit chief executive Federico Ghizzoni said that it might be as much as a month before the sale is concluded - it will bring an end to a saga which dates back more than seven years.
Back in February 2004, then president Franco Sensi, who died in 2008, said that he was about to sell his stake to the Russian oil company Nafta Moskva.
With their debts then only about half of what they were last summer, Sensi claimed the Russians had offered £340m for the club.
However, negotiations broke down, unlike what had happened at Chelsea the year before, partly under public pressure not to let the club slip into foreign hands.
Once it became known that Sensi was looking for a foreign purchaser, Rome's mayor Walter Veltroni said: "I will do my best to make sure Roma remains for the Romans."
At least one thing at Roma that looks like remaining Italian for a little longer is the coach.
Former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri resigned just over a week ago after four successive losses and in came former Italian international striker Vincenzo Montella, a Roma icon after spending a decade at the club, and Fulham fans may also remember him for his brief loan spell at Craven Cottage.
"He accepted the position with enthusiasm and determination. I don't think he will limit himself to just riding out the season quietly but aims to transmit his mentality to the lads," said Sensi.
Montella did just that and engineered a winning start with a 1-0 win at Bologna last Wednesday, and followed it with a 2-2 draw at home to Parma at the weekend, a pair of results which saw Roma rise to sixth place and kept them in contention for European football next season.
But the rumours continue to persist in the Italian media that Montella is still just a caretaker coach and Chelsea's Carlo Ancelotti will be at the helm of Roma for the start of next season.