You just knew it was coming. Given the protracted he said she said nature of the Mehdi Benatia transfer saga this summer, both sides were bound to paint their own pictures, casting the other party as the villain. While the first few weeks of the Post-Benatia era were relatively calm--Kostas Manolas was brought in and performed admirably in Roma's win against Fiorentina--today saw verbal volleys from both parties.
During his first official interview as a Bayern Munich player, Benatia spoke about the dissolution of his Roman relationship, claiming that he actually wanted to stay with the club:
I discussed my future with sporting director Walter Sabatini. He told me the club wanted to hold on to me but that there was a need to sell me to make money. That bothered me, because I wanted to stay
This has been discussed ad nauseum. The word around the campfire was that Benatia was provided certain assurances upon signing with Roma, namely, if the club qualified for the Champions League, Benatia would be rewarded with a more lucrative contract. To wit (Gazzetta dello Sport):
Roma told me I would get a nice contract if we were to qualify for Champions League football. But then they made me an unacceptable offer. I've heard claims that I was asking for €4 million per year, but they didn't even offer €3m.
I never asked for wages similar to Miralem Pjanic. I asked Roma to fulfil their promise. But the club told me to just accept their offer without even negotiating. I told them I will never sign such a deal. I prefer to stay on my current wages then
Oral contracts, as is their nature, are hard to uphold, so beyond his protestations, we may never know if this was actually true. Benatia has staked his case on this for several weeks; Roma made a promise that ultimately went unfulfilled.
Now, here is where things get really interesting and provocative. Hitting back at Benatia's claims of fealty, James Pallotta issued an official statement moments ago. Here is the statement in its entirety:
Mehdi Benatia has obviously continued with his pattern of outright fabrications over the last couple of months. We had a verbal agreement on compensation and a raise back in July in Boston. He personally said to me that he was happy after I told him flat out with no exceptions that we wanted him to stay. Over the following month he lied about wanting to stay and about the details of his compensation to both Rudi Garcia and his teammates. Lying to me was one thing which I can somewhat handle. Lying to Rudi Garcia and his teammates was completely unacceptable to me. I told Walter Sabatini he was becoming a poison and I wanted him gone, and Rudi and Walter agreed. It wasn't about the money; it was about having character in our locker room. We are in a very sound financial position. As owners of Roma, we make difficult decisions all the time. As a fan of Roma, I am deeply disappointed that one of our players could act this way.
So, there you have it. In no uncertain terms, Pallotta lays the blame at Benatia's feet, claiming they had an agreement in July and going so far as to call Benatia a poison. While I'm sure there will be other shots fired in this battle, score one for Pallotta. In the face of such a controversial sale, it was nice to see the club's President come out and support not only the club in and of itself, but his players and coaches.
Between the expenditures on the transfer market, retaining Daniele De Rossi and Miralem Pjanic, successfully navigating the always tricky Italian bureaucracy to get the Stadio della Roma in motion, and now coming to the defense of his coach and director of sport, if you ever had any doubt that this club is in the right hands, they should be virtually erased by now.