Billionaire owner jumps into famous Italian fountain to celebrate special Roma win

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Suresh Nair

SOMETIMES we do the funniest stuff at the most unexpected moments of joy and jubilation.

Yes, we tend to go cranky just to let our hairs down.

Italian Serie ‘A’ club Roma owner James Pallotta did just that and made the global headlines as he reflecting on his team’s sensational Champions League victory over Barcelona and the celebrations that followed.

He jumped in the Piazza del Popolo fountain!

“I don’t think you’re supposed to jump in the fountains any more,” he said to himself. “I’ll probably get a phone call and a fine.”

Two hours later, the phone duly rang and the 60-year-old American was told to pay 450 euros. He agreed, apologised to the Mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, and further donated 230,000 euros towards the restoration of the famous fountain outside the Pantheon.

It’s one way to celebrate your team beating Barcelona 3-0 at home to reach the Champions League semi-finals. And Pallotta has no regrets about it.

‘GOING BANANAS’

“I have never seen anything like it,” Pallotta said of the euphoria among the 56,000 Roma fans. “People were just going bananas.”

“There was no point where I thought I shouldn’t have done it,” he added “I have a history of going one step too far, going all the way back to college, so it didn’t faze me at all.”

“I thought, ‘why not start a thing called fix a fountain?’ If you jump in one you have to buy or fix one.”

After Kostas Manolas’ crucial third goal late on secured a 3-0 victory on Tuesday and progress on away goals, Pallotta stayed in the stands at Stadio Olimpico to “have a bunch of hugs” with fans before greeting each player individually as they came off the pitch.

Even the Italian media widely celebrated at the Stadio Olimpico, having witnessed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in Champions League history. Roma, rather extraordinarily, came back from a 4-1 first-leg defeat to beat Barcelona 3-0 and qualify for the Champions League semi-finals.

“I didn’t go into the locker room after because it’s all about them and I said to them what I wanted to say about how they played,” he said. “I didn’t see how crazy they were going in there until I saw some videos later on.

DRESSING ROOM DRAMA

“I’m not one of those owners who think they have to be in the dressing room. In many cases they are going to have much more enjoyment without the owner around.”

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 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, doing a backward somesault. “And then I thought: Let’s get something to eat,” he said.

Soaking wet, he returned to his hotel with friends and was given some towels to dry off.
“We sat around for another couple of hours shaking our heads,” he said.

“What a feeling – the atmosphere in the stadium and looking around at a lot of the people who work at Roma and seeing how much it meant to them as well as the fans.

“I wasn’t happy so much for myself. I was happy with what I was seeing and it didn’t really strike me until that point how important it was for the city and how Roma really needed it and wanted it and deserved it.”

Speaking after his (pre-scheduled) meeting with Mayor Raggi, he said: “I thanked the mayor for a well-deserved fine of 450 euros. I got caught up in the euphoria of the moment and I think it was an incredible night. To be clear, I do not want to encourage anyone to jump into the fountain, unless you want to fix it.

“And to demonstrate this I’ve decided to donate 230,000 euros (£200,000) to restore the fountain in front of the Pantheon. Love this city like me, do not dive into fountains unless you want to contribute to their restoration.”

Pallotta, 60, is a billionaire American businessman and entrepreneur. In 2009, he founded Raptor Group, a private investment company. Prior to forming Raptor, Pallotta served as Vice Chairman at Tudor Investment Corporation.

SIR ALEX FERGUSON

Pallotta told reporters after the game that he even invited legendary former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to watch the match.

The Scot attended at the Stadio Olimpico with his wife, Cathy, and Charlie Stillitano, the executive charman of Relevant Sports, who host the International Champions Cup.

Coincidentally, for Sir Alex, 11 years to the day prior to Roma’s victory last night, their newfound good luck charm led his United side to beat the Serie A giants 7-1 at Old Trafford.

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.’ ”

If Pallotta’s celebration was exuberant, though, the work that made it possible was significantly cooler-headed. Since taking control almost six years ago – he first invested in Roma, in a minority, passive role, in 2008 – Pallotta has done all he can to turn what was once a debt-ridden, chaotic club into a sleek, sophisticated outfit.

Should Roma now do the impossible and reach the Champions League final, should the unthinkable happen, Rome’s Mayor can expect another apology, and another donation, by the end of May.

But, end of the day, tongue-in-cheek, Pallotta makes it clear that fountain-jumping should never be encouraged.

“I do not condone people jumping in fountains,” he said. “But if you do, you should pay to fix them!”

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