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Is Qualifying for Champions League Necessary for Long-Term Success?

Seems like an obvious question, but are there other routes to success?

Real Madrid CF v AS Roma - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Romanisti tend to be a passionate, opinionated bunch. As such, consensus regarding anything A.S. Roma related is rare among us. Nevertheless, we all seem to agree failure to secure second-place in Serie A this season ought to be regarded as a disappointment, since finishing any lower would prevent direct qualification into next seasons Champions League. Qualification is considered to be a necessary step for our club, in that revenue generated via participation in the competition would allow Roma to cope with financial constraints attributable to debt and adherence to FFP regulations. Additionally, involvement in the Champions League can be used as a bargaining chip when negotiating transfers, which is crucial given Roma’s limited transfer budget and inability to offer high salaries to players targeted by Monchi & co this summer.

Champions League prize money would go a long way in lessening the debt. According to Forbes, Roma had an operating income of €-16 M as of April 2016. Although the exact amount of revenue participation in next season’s Champions League would generate cannot be known at present, this year’s distribution of prize money funds can be used to provide a rough estimate. Roma could earn between €15.2-25.7 M depending on how well they perform, whereas making the semi-finals of the Europa League would result in a reward of approximately €8.6 M. That said, the giallorossi would be taking quite a financial hit by missing out on the Champions League once again. However, the board could still increase profit through other means. Commercial revenues from new sponsorship deals and out-going transfers, for example.

Furthermore, Roma does not need to appeal to the allure of Champions League football to attract good players while complying with FFP. The aforementioned Monchi is admired by football insiders and fans alike for building cohesive teams on a budget, and rightfully so. His ability to find hidden gems through his analytics-based scouting network enabled him to bring talents such as Dani Alves (€1.3m), Julio Baptista (€3m), Carlos Bacca (€7m), and Grzegorz Krychowiak (€4.5) to Sevilla; even though they were not involved in the Champions League when these players agreed to join him at his former club.

It is also important to note the team may look rather different next season. Current manager Luciano Spalletti stated he would relinquish his position if he failed to win any trophies in March (we shall see if he is a man of his word soon enough). Since then Spalletti has been spotted eating lunch with Fiorentina director general Pantaleo Corvino. A rather significant event considering the Certaldo native vowed to coach Fiorentina one day in an interview with Radio Blu in 2012. It is also widely believed he is on Inter’s shortlist of replacements for Stefano Pioli.

These events, in conjunction with Monchi’s arrival, have culminated in reports claiming Unai Emery or Marcelino could occupy the bench next season. The media have also linked honorary Roman Eusebio Di Francesco to the job throughout the current campaign. Advancing to the knockout stage of the Champions League with any of these managers at the helm is far from guaranteed. Marcelino and Di Francesco lack Champions League experience, and Emery is responsible for what many consider to be the greatest collapse in the competition's history. It is also the case whoever replaces Spalletti will require time and patience to ingrain his tactical approach into the squad.

Speaking of the players, some key departures may occur during the summer mercato. Kostas Manolas is likely to leave and the board seem willing to part with Radja Nainggolan for the right price, meaning replacements would have to be brought in. Integrating another striker into the team, restoring depth to central midfield, and acquiring a legitimate right-back should also be prioritized by the higher-ups at the club.

Given that it appears next season will mark the beginning of (yet another) transitional phase for Roma, the rigors of the Champions League might prove to be overwhelming, resulting in minimal financial rewards from Champions League success, and potentially jeopardizing a top-four finish next season. Conversely, returning to the Europa League presents an opportunity to rotate players and test tactical schemes, allowing the new manager to enhance his knowledge of the squad in a competition in which Roma should do well without diverting too much attention from domestic aims. The obvious downside here is it may take a little while longer for the club to clear the debt. But, I can live with that provided the Europa League experience is a path to something greater.

After all, to quote Monchi; "No one takes a ‘what great economic results’ banner to the stadium."