Serie A and your typical school have an awful lot in common; they both have bullies, they're both full of the eternally optimistic and the perpetually pessimistic, you'll often find people on their phones at inappropriate times, and they both have teacher's pets--Serie A's happen to wear black and white stripes. And, whether you were looking to cash in on all your hard work or seeking shelter from your parents scorn, this time of year meant only one thing, report cards.
If you were anything like me, this meant you were probably working on your litany of excuses for getting a D in trig, covering your ass for all the chemistry classes you skipped, and trying to explain to your parents how one earth one actually fails PE...I just couldn't master that rope climb!
As far as the Roman rolls are concerned, there is only one student we're assessing, Walter Sabatini. Big Walt had himself a hell of a year, there's no debating that, but if we view each one of his signings as separate pieces in an academic portfolio, we can pull the veil back a bit and assess the components of Sabatini's school work.
We'll grade Sabatini's work in reverse order, worst to first. For the sake of this exercise, we'll cover only incoming transfers from both transfer windows; no sense in grading the sales, he nailed those, nor will we factor in players like Tin Jedvaj, who only made one appearance, promising as it may have been. (Please note, this was written before any Benatia news that may or may not come down today, so let's be nice to Walt)
Six month loan from Al Ain, €1.1m fee, €3.5m option to buy
16 appearances, 457 minutes, 1 goal, 85% passing
After cashing in on Michael Bradley and finding a temporary home for Marquinho, Walter Sabatini and Rudi Garcia were desperate for bodies, active and athletic ones capable of taking on opponents in one-v-once scenarios, at least that's what they told us in the winter. That was the floor of this move, there was no actual ceiling. Bastos' arrival was always a depth move, and anything he achieved on top of that was pure gravy.
Unfortunately for Bastos, I don't like gravy. Outside of a 90th minute goal tacked onto a 2-0 victory over Sassuolo, the results from this experiment were ambiguous at best. Bastos provided Garcia with some small measure of tactical flexibility, appearing as a fullback, midfielder and even a forward, but the returns on this short-term investment were rather bleak.
Transfer Grade: D+
Not great, but you know what means, don't you? I'm gonna graduate!
Ultimately, Bastos proved little more than a warm body, so we'll consider this the base of Sabatini's report card. Whether or not Roma exercise their right to purchase his contract will say a lot about what sort of depth they feel is necessary for next season. Bastos isn't the worst option as a reserve, he's athletic and can play a few positions, but he doesn't exactly instill confidence, now does he?
Six month loan from Sao Paulo F.C., €0.5m fee, €5.5m option to buy
5 appearances, 379 minutes, 9 tackles, 8 interceptions, 91% passing
The biggest knock on Rafael Toloi may be the cost of his buyout option, as €5.5m might ultimately prove prohibitive for Roma's reserve budget. Further complicating this decision is the simple fact that the book on Toloi is incredibly short and full of mixed messages. Toloi looked awfully shaky in his first few appearances, but finished strong and certainly looked like a capable understudy to Mehdi Benatia and Leandro Castan, practically looking like a younger and less experience version of his countryman, but there just isn't enough meat on this bone yet.
Transfer Grade: C
Sabatini receives the most mediocre of marks on this transfer, the positives being the promise Toloi showed against Atalanta and Milan, while the demerits rest largely in the relatively high price tag associated with retaining such an inexperienced player. If New Roma has the luxury of spending that kind of money on a reserve defender, this grade will surely rise, but until then, a C it shall remain.
Purchased outright from Fiorentina for €11m, signed through June 2017
28 appearances, 6 goals, 5 assists, 33 chances created, 91% passing
Ljajic, signed just days before the end of the summer transfer window, was the nominal replacement for Erik Lamela, both in form and function. This is, admittedly, the toughest move to assess, as his talent is unquestionable and arguably exceeds the man he replaced. However, if you've been with us throughout this season, you may have noticed a theme; Ljajic's ass planted firmly on the bench. Whether this was due to his own shortcomings or simply the emergence of Alessandro Florenzi and Gervinho, we cannot say, but the young Serbian went the full 90 on only eight occasions this season. When Ljajic was afforded some match time, he seldom disappointed, looking every bit as advertised: dangerous, tantalizing and effective in attack. If they can find a proper role for him, Ljajic is about as good a building block as you'll ever find.
Transfer Grade: B-.
Ljajic has had some issues in his nascent career, so the manner in which he responds to his intermittent playing time this season will tell us a lot about his maturity level; is he willing to fight for a spot in Garcia's XI? Is he enough of a professional to realize that his time will come in Roma, or will he sulk his way out of town? It's tough to say at this point, but he is absolutely talented enough to make his mark anywhere in the world, so will the extra matches and an additional year of familiarity be enough for Garcia to find a role for Ljajic?
Purchased outright from Napoli for €0.5m, signed through June 2015
36 appearances, 23 goals conceded, 21 cleansheets
Sabatini opted for the safe, proven route on this one, perhaps learning his lesson from the Stekelenburg and Goicoechea disasters, and, based on the results, you'd have to say it was a lesson well-learned. MDS led all Serie A keepers with 21 cleansheets and was second only to Gigi Buffon in save percentage.
Transfer Grade: B
Sabatini earns high praise for getting an experienced keeper at a low cost, but this transfer does little to address Roma's long-term concerns at the position. De Sanctis was not without his moments of frustration, however, but it's hard to argue with 21 cleansheets and 23 goals conceded.
We'll take a look at Sabatini's highest marks in the coming days, but Benatia sale or not, Sabatini has yet another critical summer market ahead of him.