“You’re the best in the world.” “You’re my hero.” “I love you.” “Marry me please.” “I wanna have your babies.” These are all quite common lines to be fired from football fans in the direction of their sporting heroes, but each of these phrases has also been directed at someone else at AS Roma. Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi have heard similar cries of affection, but so too has the manager of the AS Roma English Twitter account, someone who has never kicked a ball in earnest for the Italian club.
Welcome to AS Roma admin, the Lionel Messi of football Twitter. This world is an often vicious and tribal place, yet a dose of fun and lets-not-take-life-too-seriously-ness has been injected by the Roma digital team and, in particular, by their English Twitter account. Their tongue-in-cheek tweets have changed the landscape of football Twitter, so much so that several others – clubs from Germany to the US – have tried to embrace a similar style. Some would call it straight up copying, yet nobody does it as well as Roma, who continue to lead the way in most metrics imaginable and in genuine humour.
At the end of 2018, the account posted a thread of highlight tweets from the year and followers would have immediately recalled the posts when reading titles like “the German club behaviour one” or “the IKEA one” or “the Mark Wahlberg one”. From the self-depreciation over the failure of the club to finalise the deal for Malcom when his transfer had already been announced – and indeed their follow-up wishing him good luck in Russia after a failed season in Barcelona led to a move to Zenit – and the mocking of the incessant spurting out of photoshopped images of new transfers, to the sharing of the pure joy of pulling off a Champions League comeback against Barcelona, the rollercoaster ride of being a Roma fan has never been more truthfully and entertainingly documented.
While the change in approach can be traced back to 2017, it really all began with the 2015 acquisition of Liverpool’s head of international digital development, Paul Rogers.
Mohamed Salah and Alisson Becker may have brought a European crown to Anfield after going the other way, but Rogers has made Roma the European champions of social media after his own transfer. For the Englishman, his main goal was to remove the language barrier that prevented international fans from keeping up to date with Roma. This was achieved by a rebuilding of the website and apps and an increase in quality and quantity of content on the English platforms. Once the benchmark had been established, it was time to get creative and the reporting of the club’s transfer activity in the 2017 summer window changed the game completely.
Speaking to These Football Times, Rogers recalls that summer of Twitter love: “We’d always been quite traditional in how we announced incoming transfers on social media, but I think the first elaborate revealing we did was when Lorenzo Pellegrini signed,” he explained. “We’d recently launched our FIFA eSports team and we decided to have the player play himself in the game. It was nicely filmed and the feedback from both fans and the media was great.”
The ball was all of a sudden in other clubs’ court and they responded by trying to create their own clever announcement videos. By the time the ball was back over the net in Roma’s half, i Giallorossi responded with a mic-drop shot that stunned everyone. They’d helped start the slick player reveal craze, but they weren’t going to carry on with it.
Cengiz Ünder was only 20 at the time he joined the Serie A side from Başakşehir, but he went viral after his announcement video was dropped. Keen to move away from the other mundane tweets of that transfer window, the digital team decided to create a bad parody of the kind of fan-created goals and skills videos that appear on YouTube when a player is linked with another club.
“At AS Roma, we don’t like to follow what others do in terms of content, so for our next announcement we wanted to do something completely different,” Rogers says of that Cengiz video. “We made it as embarrassingly bad as humanly possible – mimicking the terrible graphics and music these fan videos use – and then we just put it out there. Everyone who saw it knew exactly the type of video we were making fun of. I don’t think we were trying to be weird, but we thought it was funny and the reaction on social media was great.”
The following summer, the club shot the video reveal completely dead with the signing of Iván Marcano, killing their creation by posting 60 seconds of a black screen with nothing more than some hip-hop music playing in the background and a caption detailing the details of the transfer. They’d even announced the signing through a fake burner account, completely stepping away from the slick and increasingly humourless Hollywood-esque video reveal culture.
It was the Cengiz video, though, that was the gamechanger for the mentality of the whole account. “We knew that if we injected some humour into our video announcements then they’d entertain our followers and, after that video, we really started to push the boat out and have some fun,” Rogers recalled. “People in the media