Roma's Cup triumph leaves owners pondering sale

May 25, 2008

ROME, May 25 (Reuters) - AS Roma's Italian Cup final victory may be the Sensi family's last triumph as owners amid renewed speculation that billionaire financier George Soros is close to buying the Italian club.

A 2-1 win over Inter Milan on Saturday brought a modicum of revenge for Roma, who were beaten to the Serie A title by Inter on the final day of the season last weekend.

Roma, who have played some of the most attractive soccer in Europe this term, also went further than other Italian clubs in the Champions League when they reached the quarter-finals.

Their success has left 81-year-old president Franco Sensi and daughter Rosella, the chief executive, mulling whether now would be a good time to sell and allow the club to possibly hit new heights with fresh investment.

'It is a victory for the president. Now is the moment to party,' Rosella told Rai television when asked after the match about a possible sale.

Media reports have said Rosella is the most reluctant in the family to sell, having previously seen off other interested parties.

Representatives of 77-year-old Soros, from his global sports investment arm Inner Circle Sports, have held discussions with Italpetroli, the majority shareholder of Roma controlled by the Sensis.

A deal looked possible last month with the share price surging higher but when Roma suddenly put themselves back in the title race, talks were put on hold until the end of the season.

An Italpetroli statement on Friday, one of several in recent months, said no show of interest or offer had been received from Soros and that no agreement had been reached.

However, the statement was worded differently from previous press releases, sparking media speculation a deal could be sealed early this week with the club sold for €283 million and Rosella Sensi staying on the board.

Another statement issued shortly before Saturday's final tried to dampen the speculation.

'No sale process is underway. No meeting is foreseen between representatives and those of Inner Circle Sports to finalise an agreement for the sale,' the Italpetroli release said.

Roma coach Luciano Spalletti failed to halt the rumours in his post-match interviews.

'I must try to improve my English because I have problems,' he told reporters when asked about a possible sale to U.S.- based Soros, who was born in Hungary.

Several foreign investors have bought clubs in the English Premier League, the world's richest, in recent years.

Manchester United are owned by American tycoon Malcolm Glazer while Chelsea, beaten by United in Wednesday's Champions League final, are bankrolled by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Few clubs outside England have been the target for investors but Roma would be relatively cheap, has a loyal fan base and has good growth potential.

Bologna, who play in Italy's second division, are also interesting an American investment fund, their president Alfredo Cazzola has said.