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Home - Virtus Roma, the end of the story?

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  Virtus Roma, the end of the story?

By Alessandro Fiorelli

lega basketIn a time of economic crisis it is quite evident that companies, enterprises and businesses could go down more easily and basket makes no exception in this respect. However, this is not the case of Virtus Roma which apparently has no economic trouble, but it is indeed at risk of disappearing next year for a series of reasons which are not related to economic aspects in any way.

The era of Claudio Toti, current owner of the team and wealthy house-builder in Rome, started in 2001 when he decided to invest in basket with the objective of refreshing the old glory that Virtus Roma used to experience in the 80s and early 90s. He actually poured quite a lot of bucks to build up a competitive team, but the strategy appeared shaky since the very beginning. Despite the arrival of top-class players such as Myers, Bodiroga, Parker, Lorbek to mention a few, led by top level coaches like Svetislav Pesic and Jasmin Repesa, the team did not win any single trophy in 10 years.

The amount of money spent for the team was the highest in the Italian league for several years, but the weaknesses of the Mr. Toti’s management hampered the success of Virtus Roma. The most visible weakness was related to the fact that some personalities in key roles of the organizational chart were not competent enough (maybe at all to be less diplomatic) to cope with the challenges that this kind of role entails in a top team of a big city. To this extent there are a couple of stories quite famous among Virtus Roma supporters which can clarify the inconsistency of some Virtus Roma managers.

The first story concerns Anthony Parker who joined Virtus Roma in 2003. He was simply impressive and he represented the icing on the cake for a team formed also by other big players like Myers, Santiago, Jenkins and Marko Tusek. Roma got into the Euroleague after many years and the basis for a successful future seemed to be established. Nonetheless, there was a problem on the training camp located in the outskirt of Rome (Settebagni). Parker (or more probably his wife) showed his discontent for this and tried to push the management to change it. His request was not met despite the support of most of his teammates and in the summer he decided to move back to Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The funniest part of the story was that Virtus Roma decided to change the training camp some months later to move right in the downtown of Rome. It is obvious that Maccabi offered advantageous conditions to get this amazing player back (and they won 2 Euroleague trophies), so his departure was only partially due to the Virtus Roma training camp location. However, it demonstrates the lack of experience and wisdom in the then general and team managers to deal with great players. Sometimes it is necessary to fulfil some of their wishes, especially if they are reasonable (every single roman can guarantee that Rome has much more to offer than just Settebagni) and shared by the other players and staff members.

The second story regards the rough relation with Svetislav Pesic who joined Virtus Roma in 2005. He was without doubt one of the best coaches in Europe supported by a top class players such as Dejan Bodiroga, David Hawkins and Vlado Ilievski. However, Pesic strong character put the team against some of the most influential people in the Italian basket. He repeatedly argued with the referees (particularly with Facchini, a powerful and influent referee well-known also in Europe because of his need of being the centre of attention) and with the Italian channel Sky commentators who were not objectives in his opinion (funny when during a match he sarcastically asked a supposed impartial commentator who shouted more than expected  “Are you happy”?!).

The hesitant position of the Virtus Roma management led Pesic to believe that he did not have a full support and in summer 2006 he signed off a 3 year contract with Girona in Spain. The chairman Mr. Toti got furious about Pesic decision and threatened to sue the coach for breaking the contract clauses (no news if this lawsuit was ever started).

In 10 years, Mr. Toti was not able to win a single trophy despite his large budget, and he has now the intention not to continue his experience in the basketball. He is trying to sell the team but no buyer has come forward in the last 6 months and he has threatened that if no buyer comes up in a few months, Rome will not have its basketball team anymore. The recent actions taken by the management continue to be bizarre anyway.

In a press conference the vice president pointed out that the main problem is related to the low attendance of the Virtus Roma supporters in the last years. This is actually a big concern as Roma was the European team with the lowest arena attendance in the Euroleague and in the Italian league in the last 5 years. He added that this trend continues despite having the cheapest ticket prices in Italy. The analysis is without doubt right but he missed crucial points. Why on earth a city that used to have almost 15000 people in the 80s and early 90s became suddenly so cold and detached to its basketball team? What were the reasons why supporters have never felt completely involved in Mr. Toti’s project?

These questions continue to be unanswered and the conclusion of his press conference would have been very funny if the situation was not that serious. He warmly invited the Virtus Roma supporters to buy a season ticket for next year without giving any guarantee on the existence of the team for the next season! It is clear that there is a lot of confusion and frustration around Virtus Roma at the moment and none knows what will be happening in the near future.

Meanwhile, the players apparently feel the structural uncertainty going on and Virtus Roma will certainly miss the play-off for the second year in a row. After losing the Euroleague licence last year, the situation continues to get worse and worse. The attendance this year was the lowest anyone could remember but at the same time more and more Virtus Roma nostalgic supporters remember and share their memories on the web concerning the old glorious Virtus Roma moments.

Virtus Roma is at serious risk of disappearing but it does not come out of the blue as many want to make believe. It was a long process, there were many signs in the recent years and this is probably the inevitable end. And the supporters understood it much earlier than the management.

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