A.S. Roma Director of Sport Walter Sabatini finally bit the dust yesterday, breaking the hearts of many a cigarette and somehow not outliving Ser Jorah Mormont’s life on Game of Thrones. Bren has already written a good run-down of Sabatini’s highs and lows while working for i Lupi, and although I will personally look back on the past five years as ones of relative growth for the club, the past is the past. So bon voyage Walter, and have a good time trying to find the cure for Greyscale.
As of now, Sabatini’s former second-in-command, Frederic “Ricky” Massara, has replaced his boss at the head of the food chain. However, despite Ricky being so fine and being the one that blows my mind, many reports indicate that he’s only a temporary fix, with a few high-profile Directors being linked to the job. Will the new DS be able to find that twenty-four karat magic, or will Roma simply replay the last few years and continue its role as The Old Lady’s perpetual bridesmaid? It’s obviously too early to tell, but let’s look at some potential Sabatini replacements and start thinking about Roma’s future.
The Coach’s Pick: Marcello Carli
First, it looks as if Luciano Spalletti didn’t even let the ink dry on Sabatini’s resignation letter before proposing his preferred replacement, namely Marcello Carli of Empoli. Carli was linked to Roma this spring when Sabatini was also thinking about jumping ship, but here’s a quick refresher course on the man for those not in the know about Directors of Sport for small Italian clubs. Carli’s been called a “young Sabatini” before, and some of his purchases for Empoli have been impressive for a club of that stature: Lorenzo Tonelli, Elseid Hyaj, Piotr Zielinski and Riccardo Saponara are the highlights.
Although Carli certainly doesn’t have any experience working at a club the size of Roma, he is an interesting option if Roma wishes to both please its current manager and have a young(er) Italian Director of Sport.
The Romantic Gamble: Federico Balzaretti
Federico Balzaretti, also known as an The Honorary Roman, has been plying his wares for Roma on the management side of things for a few years now. Although as of now he has mainly focused on maintaining good connections with on-loan youth prospects, there have been murmurs every now and then that the end game in James Pallotta’s mind is to have the bespectacled Italian one day run the Roman transfer market. Let’s face it, it’s a beautiful image, isn’t it? The man who ran crying to the Curva following his first goal in a Roma kit (that just happened to come at the perfect moment against eternal rivals Lazio) leading the club to glory through shrewd purchases and the appropriate number of Roman superstars? What’s not to like?
Well, lack of experience for one. Balzaretti would definitely have to be seen as a long-term project, and if he was supported properly by more wizened transfer market gurus he could truly thrive with i Lupi. I personally think it’s more likely that he moves on to become Director of Sport for a smaller Italian club (perhaps a Pescara team up with everyone’s favorite, Zdenek Zeman?) and then returns with more experience to help Roma succeed. Whatever the case may be, watch this space. Balza looks like he might one day be the one smoking cigarettes on the roof of Trigoria.
The Spanish Superstar: Ramón Rodriguez Verdejo
Although Carli does seem like a likely pick for a variety of reasons, some sources have said that Roma’s part-time lover Franco Baldini will have final say on the new Director of Sport. Interestingly, Baldini seems to be leaning towards Directors of Spanish origin, with the Directors of Sport of Sevilla, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid being name-dropped in the Italian press recently.
Barcelona’s Ariedo Braida has understandably dismissed the rumors, but perhaps the most interesting choice out of all three Spanish directors hasn’t dismissed them just yet. His name? Ramón Rodriguez Verdejo, currently of Sevilla. Also known as Monchi, the man is essentially Sevilla’s answer to Francesco Totti: he started playing for Los Rojiblancos in 1988, retired in 2000, and was promptly given the job of Director of Football. Sevilla has gone on to win a multitude of titles, all the more impressive considering they share a league with Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid.
To be frank, Monchi’s record with Sevilla puts Carli’s record to shame: he’s found the likes of Dani Alves, Ivan Rakitic, Carlos Bacca and Roma’s former midfielder Seydou Keita in the transfer market for incredibly cheap. Meanwhile, Monchi has also done an incredible job developing homegrown talent at Sevilla, with Sergio Ramos, Jesus Navas, Alberto Moreno and José Antonio Reyes all breaking through to the senior team during his tenure.
What’s the catch, though? To put it simply, if Carli is Sabatini Jr., Monchi is Sabatini on steroids. Undoubtedly Monchi has found a multitude of incredible cheap buys and youth products during his time at Sevilla, but at the same time he has gone on to sell most of these players. Ring any bells? To put a positive spin on it, Monchi knows how to succeed in an environment where players must be sold one way or another; he would certainly be able to function in Rome. Yet the question remains if Monchi would be the right Director of Sport to help Roma’s front office grow a little cojones.
The Bottom Line
The role of manager is often considered a more important hiring, but Roma may be in that rare spot where the Director of Sport is even more important to achieve long-term goals. Whoever Jim Pallotta, Franco Baldini, and the rest end up choosing as Walter Sabatini’s long-term replacement will have quite a job ahead of them. Juventus only looks to be growing stronger, Napoli isn’t going away anytime soon, and the two Milan clubs may seem dormant, but for how long?
Buckle up, folks. No matter who Roma end up hiring as Director of Sport, Serie A looks like it will only get even more interesting in the near future.