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Grading Roma's Recent Transfers, Part II

While the first part of our assessment wasn't glowing, it was nevertheless quite solid. However, in the final installment of our report card, Walter Sabatini's genius begins to shine.

Claudio Villa

In case you missed the first half of our assessment, Walter Sabatini earned passing marks for bringing in the likes of Adem Ljajic, Rafael Toloi and Morgan De Sanctis. None of these transfers overwhelmed the Roma faithful this year, but they were all solid components in the Giallorossi's record season. Even at his supposed worst, Sabatini put a master stroke on Roma's transfer campaign in 2013-2014. Now that we've got the less than stellar reviews out of the way, we turn our attention to the remainder of Walt's portfolio, the moves from which Sabatini earned his honor roll status.

First up, the man who insisted he wasn't a gamble.


Transfer Details: Free transfer from Manchester City, signed through June 2015.

Season Statistics: 28 appearances, two goals, 31 chances created, 43 tackles, 87% passing.

Sabatini took several gambles this summer, none larger than Douglas Maicon, though, thanks to an impressive season, that was more figurative than literal. After all, Maicon wasn't quite as hefty as some other Brazilians on whom Roma has gambled in the past. We're looking at you, Adriano.

Maicon was a near instantaneous upgrade on the right flanks, providing the Giallorossi with service not seen since the days of Christian Panucci. Despite a minor spate of injuries in the winter, Maicon was a fixture in Garcia's lineup and led all Roma defenders in shooting, dribbling and passing. He may no longer be the player who shined for Inter, but he erased all the miserable memories of his brief time in Manchester.

Transfer Grade: B

Much like the De Sanctis move, Sabatini adequately addressed a perpetual area of need for his club, but only in the shortest of terms. With a successful season in the books, Maicon earned a call up in Luis Felipe Scolari's Brazilian side for next month's World Cup. All honors aside, Maicon will be 32-years-old before next season starts, and for a player whose fitness is a constant concern, it begs the question, how much has he got left? Yes, Maicon was up to snuff this season, but in the long run, it seems as though Sabatini has merely put a band-aid on a bullet wound.


Transfer Details: Purchased outright from Arsenal for €8m, signed through June 2017.

Season Statistics: Nine goals, ten assists, 50 chances created, 75 successful dribbles, 86% passing.

If you harken back to last summer, you might recall a deafening groan ringing from every corner of the earth the moment Gervinho's name became connected with Roma. Gervinho was yet another among a host of fancy dribblers long on flash, short on results. He shot far, he shot wide, he flubbed on crosses and he ran himself out of scoring position, and Walter paid how much for him!? Good lord, what was he thinking?

Well, you were there, you saw what happened, Gervinho, for the most part, put his ghosts behind him. Sure, he still missed a few sitters and took too many dribbles, put the Ivorian Enigma, when we include Coppa Italia matches, cracked a double-double in goals and assists. What more could we ask for? Simply put, his athleticism is unparalleled on this team, if not the entire league. That in and of itself is an asset, no matter how hard he makes you smack your forehead, no pun intended.

Transfer Grade: B+

I have no doubt this will be the most controversial mark on this imaginary report card, but results are results. Gervinho, along with Francesco Totti and Alessio Cerci, was one of only three players to tally 10 assists, while his 2.3 dribbles per match were ninth in the league. Even the areas in which he traditionally struggles, accuracy and finishing, saw improvement this season, converting on 18% of his goals and putting 66% of his shots on target, the latter second only to Ljajic. Ultimately, credit Sabatini with this much: he listens when Garcia speaks; Rudi's confidence in Gervinho reaped many rewards for Roma this season.

Radja Nainggolan

Transfer Details: Six month loan from Cagliari, €3m upfront fee, €6m option to buy.

Season Statistics (Roma only): 17 appearances, two goals, three assists, 39 tackles, 33 interceptions, 20 chances created, seven questionable haircuts.

If this wasn't the capture of the winter, I don't know what was, mostly because I don't care about the other 19 teams in the league. Blinders or not, Nainggolan was a revelation for Roma, providing everything one desires from a fourth midfielder. Nainggolan was rock solid in his defensive duties and was remarkably effective in attack, pulling off 39 shots, averaging 67 passes per match and finishing fifth on the team in key passes per match.

Nainggolan, though far from the world's greatest, can do all that is required from a midfielder, and on virtually any other team in the league, he's a week-in-week-out starter. Adding Nainggolan to the fold instantly made Roma's midfield the best in the league, and certainly in the conversation for the whole of Europe. Nainggolan was a godsend following Kevin Strootman's season ending knee injury. I shudder to think where Roma would have been without him in 2014; he is, and should remain, an indispensable part of Rudi Garcia's midfield rotation.

Transfer Grade: A

The only flaw in this move was that Sabatini waited until January, as you might recall Roma nearly grabbed Radja over the summer. Nevertheless, once he arrived, Nainggolan fit seamlessly into Garcia's midfield, simultaneously alleviating the defensive pressure on Daniele De Rossi while giving Miralem Pjanic a helping hand moving the ball forward. If Sabatini opts to make this move permanent, which we all pray he will, €9m is a reasonable cost for a player as versatile, as effective, and as Belgian as Radja Nainggolan.

Good on you, Walt. Good on you.

Kevin Strootman

Transfer Details:  Purchased outright from PSV Eindhoven for €16.5m, signed through June 2018

Season Statistics: 25 appearances, five goals, six assists, 88% passing, 47 chances created, 82 tackles.

Were it not for his season ending knee injury, Roma's largest transfer outlay may have been its most successful. Strootman was the missing element from Roma's midfield, one whose impact and importance is nearly indescribable. From the moment he suited up, we collectively nodded our heads, as if to say "Ah, there it is, that's what was missing."

Whether your call him The Dutch Jesuus or simply the Washing Machine, before his injury against Parma, Strootman was one of the best players in Italy, if not all of Europe. Even with one-third of his season erased, Strootman still finished the year tied fifth in assists and eighth in tackles, all good enough to make him Serie A's 15th highest rated player, according to our good friends at WhoScored.

Strootman is the bee knees, instantly transforming the way Roma played, so there may be no training room as monitored as Roma's this coming season. Strootman, thanks to the presence of Nainggolan, must not be rushed during his recovery; Roma can mind the gap in the meantime, but Strootman is crucial to Roma's ambitions, near and far.

Transfer Grade: A+

The most impressive part of this transfer was that no one expected it; there was little to no paper trail connecting Roma and the young Dutchmen. If Sabatini can manage to fend off the advances of Luis Van Gaal and Manchester United, this grade might climb even higher.

Hey, speaking of destroying the curve...

Mehdi Benatia

Transfer Details: Purchased outright from Udinese for €13.5m, signed through June 2018

Season Statistics: 33 appearances, five goals, 70 tackles, 90 interceptions, 212 clearances, 89% passing

Thirteen point five million Euros summed up in five words: Best centerback in the world. However, if we must embellish beyond a handful of words, how about this? Last summer, we pointed out the only real flaws in Benatia's game, his injuries and his lack of precision in the passing game. Well, Benatia's 33 appearances were his most since 2010 while his 89% passing was a career high, some five points above his career average.

As for his defense, well, Benatia was, as one might expect, impeccable. Benatia pressed opponents all over the pitch, he was Roma's last line of defense time and again, he knew when to relent and when to pounce, when to take chances and when to hold steady. He was intelligent, he was active, he was peerless.

Transfer Grade: A+++

Boom! Sabatini's signing of Benatia earned him the seldom seen A triple-plus.

It's hard to point out any flaws in this deal, Benatia was simply that astounding. Of course, the sharp side of this double edge sword is that the rest of the world saw this transformation as well, leading to Benatia's recent wage demands and/or transfer requests. But this exercise isn't about the future, it's about the past, and there is no way around it, Benatia was Roma's best transfer of the past calendar year. €13.5 million may have seemed like a gross overpayment at the time, but, should Benatia get his wish and move to the Premiership, Roma stands to (at least) double their investment.

Sabatini's Summative Assessment

Over the course of the past few years, we all questioned who was really pulling the strings for Roma, was it well respected , sharp dressing Franco Baldini or the chain smoking, derelict looking Walter Sabatini?

Honestly, that question is rather immaterial; one needn't look any further than the respective records, particularly in terms of the performance of their signings, of Roma and Spurs to see who really came out on top of this split. Roma are incredibly fortunate to have a director as shrewd as Walter Sabatini; he is, without a doubt, one of the best in the business. In his short time at his post, Sabatini has shown the ability to discover previously unseen talent, ward off the advances of the wealthy, and retain the assets critical to Roma's future. Combine those traits with Roma's new found focus and increasing financial clout, and we might have a juggernaut on our hands.

But no matter what comes to pass, as long as we've got Walter, there is hope.