We ordinarily don't do straight copy and paste jobs here, but since we've devoted so much time this week to extolling the virtues of Walter Sabatini and the masterful job he's done as Roma's director of football, it's only fitting that we turn to the man himself for some concrete answers to the summer's most pressing questions.
Sabatini held a press conference just this morning, in which he discussed everything from the Mehdi Benatia transfer fiasco, to Rudi Garcia's role as manager, to the impact the Africa Cup of Nations will have on the summer transfer market. It was far reaching and it was fantastic, with every sentence this man utters, his esteem with the Roma faithful grows exponentially.
So let's take a trip through his press conference, shall we?
Benatia is the name pursed on everyone's lips, so let's start there.
Mehdi is a great player with a contract that expires in four years' time. We have no problem with him. He's a guy with sound principles and that's precisely what helped him have such an excellent season last term. Perhaps he slipped up with a few comments or words but he didn't intend to distance himself from Roma or the fans. I know him very well. He mentioned broken promises. That's not exactly how it went. It's true that when he signed for Roma he turned down other offers that were higher than ours. I said to him, 'You try and play like Benatia and we'll give you an improved contract.' We offered him an increase - although there was no obligation for us to do so - and we didn't agree on the amount, but he didn't mean to describe it as 'ridiculous'. He's speaking a language that's not his own, you can't slaughter him for it. He's been totally coherent with what he promised me when I met him in Milan last year. We owe him gratitude and respect. He might have slipped up on other things but I'm sure he didn't want to put anyone down. He expressed his admiration for other big clubs. I admire other clubs too, but none more than Roma. Roma has become a necessity for me.
In any case, Benatia is a Roma player and he'll remain a Roma player. Sissoko [his agent] has been amplifying it all, acting like a minstrel seeking a court where he can play his tune. I'd like to remind this man that 30 million is the price I believe Benatia's weak foot to be worth, his left. His right foot is worth at least a million more. So you do the math. This same man then goes and sneakily tries to offer players to my coach.
Can I guarantee Benatia won't leave? I can guarantee for his moral and technical worth. After I'd closed the deal with [Udinese owner] Pozzo I wasn't exactly calm because I knew it was a big deal. Understandably lots of people were skeptical. As I've said, the player is not for sale, but if his agent wants to speculate on a price for him, then any clubs who are interested should consider him to be worth 61 million. If someone were to offer that amount, then I don't think I could guarantee that he would stay 100%.
There's just so much to absorb from these 404 words, but the crux of the issue is, as Sabatini stated, Roma are under no obligation to renegotiate Benatia's contract. However, the fact that they have broached the issue, regardless of Benatia's supposed scoffing at the increase, shows that Roma are well aware that fluffing the ego of their superstars is par for the course in today's marketplace. Sabatini has shown, through the extensions given to Miralem Pjanic, Rudi Garcia, Daniele De Rossi and Leandro Castan, that he can navigate this minefield. And while the €61m valuation appears to have been a tongue-in-cheek off the cuff remark, it seems to indicate that Sabatini is prepared to play hardball with his English and Catalan counterparts, if not Benatia himself.
Benatia was crucial to Roma's domestic success this year, and will be equally important to anything the club may achieve in Europe next season. Speaking to the manner in which he will reinforce Roma for their return to the Champions League, Sabatini said the following
We'll need two for every position and an increase in quality. We're working with Rudi, we'll add to our roster and improve it, although it's very difficult to improve because we already have a great team. We'll bring in the players that we need. Obviously we're considering the fact that we'll have two games a week. In some cases we might even have three for one position to make sure the coach has plenty of choice.
The salient point from this quote is this: Roma are already really good. There is no need to strip the squad down to its bones and rebuild. Between Daniele De Rossi, Miralem Pjanic, Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan, Roma already has one of the best midfields in the game, while Gervinho, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Florenzi and Mattia Destro give Rudi Garcia an intriguing mix of attacking options. We'll save the actual speculation for a later date, but outside of leftback, I can't imagine the starting XI will change too much from last season's successful formula.
There is, however, one specific target Sabatini mentioned this morning, Juan Manuel Iturbe
Roma are interested in Iturbe, of course we are. I received a visit from one of his agents while I was in hospital and I spoke to him. It's a complex deal that we're looking into. We're always on the lookout for good players, sometimes for bad ones. I accept the responsibility
Whether its Iturbe or Alessio Cerci, it seems as though Sabatini has identified a wide attacker as priority number one. Either way, I would hazard a guess that this would be Roma's biggest financial play this summer, barring some sort of surprise striker move.
Speaking of which...
We're looking at bringing in a forward. We still have the greatest player in Roma's history here, Francesco Totti. He's playing well and saying important things for the club. I liked what he said about Benatia too. And I thank him. A few years ago I put forward an idea. I said, ‘I'd love it if Totti were to take a group of promising youngsters under his wing' And that's what he's doing now. I'm very proud of him.
Destro? He'll stay here. He's a superb player, a determined, ambitious kid. He'll have to improve certain sides of his character and his performances, but he scored 13 goals in 18 games - an impressive figure indeed
Lost amidst our collective craving for a superstar striker is this: we might already have one. I think we tend to overlook Mattia Destro, after all, Roma haven't enjoyed a full season of his services yet, so there is simply no telling just how good he can be, but his performance in 2014 was a phenomenal start--13 goals in 18 matches speaks for itself.
Walter Sabatini has said and done all the right things thus far, but now it's time for him to put his plan into action. So while we're all enjoying our summer, say a silent prayer for the man with the cigarette and hope that he can work his magic once more.