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Is Walter Sabatini Holding Roma Back?

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Walter Sabatini has a hit or miss approach to transfers, and given the club's still precarious financial state, this strategy has hampered their ability to compete on the transfer market this summer. So we have to ask, is he the right man for the job?

Mario Carlini / Iguana Press/Getty Images

We're really in an awkward state in the transfer rumor cycle, wherein Roma has been connected to every plausible player, ranging from Arsenal's third keeper to the Zlatan himself. Yet, the names that seem most realistic or make the most tactical sense, Edin Dzeko, Baba and even Mohamed Salah, are all being waylaid by something, what that something may be is more complicated than the banners at Trigoria would have you believe.

Jonas took a two pronged approach to this riddle earlier in the week, speculating that the lure of the city itself is no longer enough to cover up the club's blemishes, a fact exacerbated by, as Jonas rightly pointed out, Serie A's decline in stature over the past 10-15 years. While I certainly cannot deny these facts, I'm going to expand on something to which Jonas alluded in Totti Today #49; how the money they did spend is hurting them.

Much of the excitement and optimism that surrounded the American takeover of the club was pinned on, as strange as this might sound, fiscal solvency. In other words, no longer was Roma's success or ability to compete dependent on one family's checkbook. The club finally had a businessman in charge, one with the requisite finances, vision, and temerity to place Roma among the truly elite. Suddenly, we had visions, not necessarily of unchecked spending, but of an ownership group that was willing to temporarily go into the red to put Roma in a better position further down the road. Given Serie A's decline, Roma had to, like Juventus, separate themselves from the league in which they played; to make the brand larger than the league.

While I still maintain that Juan Iturbe and Salih Uçan will someday earn their keep, the protracted nature of the Edin Dzeko saga and Roma's (correct) unwillingness to part with Alessio Romagnoli each point to a larger issue at play, Roma's ambitions remain restrained by finances; their transfer reach exceeds their grasp.

This ownership group has spent big on youth and on proven assets like Kevin Strootman and Mehdi Benatia, but each of those came at a cost, namely Marquinhos and Erik Lamela. While the club can throw down €20 million plus transfers during the summer, they cannot do so without corresponding sales, and since they don't dare part with Alessandro Florenzi, Radja Nainggolan or Romagnoli, the assets they have deemed expendable, Mattia Destro, Gervinho and Seydou Doumbia, aren't exactly easy sales.

In this sense, this is both a criticism and a complement to Walter Sabatini. A criticism because, well, because purchasing Doumbia in the first place was a mistake on the order of New Coke, while every move they've made with Destro since his breakthrough in 2014 has only diminished his value; if Garcia didn't want him, they should have sold him last summer for peak value. Now their contracts and diminishing transfer value are albatrosses hanging around Roma's neck, restricting their ability to do anything of note this summer.

On the other hand, it's reasonable to speculate the length of this Dzeko debacle, and why Mitrovic held out so long and why Baba remains reticent to sign for Chelsea, is because Sabatini is working his fingers to the bone to dispatch Destro, Doumbia and Gervinho, and, were it not for the shortage of helicopters in the Middle East, he may have flipped The Predator for a substantial profit by now. While the team that Sabatini has assembled and maintained, which is quite formidable, has captivated the attention of aging stars like Dzeko and up and comers like Baba; so the man is not without positive marks on his CV.

So, when I read news that Roma has agreed to personal terms with Salah and are attempting to talk them down from their €23 million valuation, I take it with a grain of salt. I don't get upset when the stream of rumors produces little factual evidence, because I know Sabatini has substantial obstacles to overcome to outfit this team, yet at the same time, many of obstacles exist because of the moves he's made over the past 18 months.

Walter Sabatini is a capable man, yet he may very well be his own worst enemy, and given Roma's still restrained finances, we have to ask, can they truly reach the next level with his ‘win some, lose some' approach?