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Walter Sabatini: ‘I Gave Up A Lung For Roma. The Club Gets Into Your Bones.’

Sabatini tells Corriere dello Sport his truth behind Iturbe, Nainggolan and threatening Max Allegri.

Torino FC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

It’s never a dull moment when Walter Sabatini bears his soul to the press. Saba may skirt the line between genuine charisma and plain self-indulgence, but his work as Roma’s sporting director is still the bedrock upon which current sporting director Monchi was able to launch an assault and sign so much young Giallorossi talent today.

Salah, Rudiger, Paredes, Nainggolan... all key sales that gave Monchi the kitty to start his own legacy at the club in the last two summers. Lest we forget Sabatini also signed Alisson for next to nothing, too. More than any of that, Sabatini free’d Roma from the influence of Moggi and his Sith apprentice Daniel Prade, bringing back notorious straight-liner Franco Baldini as a consultant to Roma once Prade’s meddling behind the Sensis backs was finally gone from Trigoria.

He’s also just recently done Sampdoria the same favour, ousting Prade once again as their sporting director after winning a lifetime achievement award at the very same ceremony where Monchi won Italy’s DS of the Year.

But Sabatini’s new Sampdoria desk hasn’t stopped him from opening up to the Corriere dello Sport this week about his time in Rome once again.

Sabatini on Roma:

“I’m trying to cure myself of the Roma disease that I’ve carried around with me. Roma isn’t a team, it’s a part of your soul. It’s love and venom. It’s the lung I lost, to not even talk about what else I lost to that club. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions.”

Sabatini on retiring after Roma:

“When I said I’d retire after Roma, I really believed it at the time. Roma has that effect on you. After that I worked for Suning, not for Inter. Then I came back to reality. Only now after two years can I speak on Roma with a certain amount of detachment.”

Sabatini on returning to Roma:

“Never, it would be impossible. Not to mention it would be a mistake.”

Sabatini on Baldissoni:

“He’s a well-meaning guy but ineffective. He has a pure kind of intelligence. He’s more analytical than streetwise. He’s great at putting things in order but hard to get a hold of. His one weakness is he’s lived a perfect life. I always tell him: ‘How much do you suffer under this boss you have?’”

Sabatini on Spalletti:

“He’s a generous man unlike many. It’s impossible to pay him back for everything he puts in, which is rare in a coach. His behaviour is often down to defending himself against his own fears ahead of time, and some complexes that don’t give him an easy life. But he’s a top coach and a great person.”

Sabatini on Monchi:

“We’ve very different. He has a method, I don’t. Let’s say he’s more sensitive to catering to the benevolence of others. But I have to say he has always publicly recognized my work.”

Sabatini on Kolarov:

“He’s amazed me. I wasn’t expecting to find that same desire to run up and down the wings. He’s an invicible warrior like Strootman.”

Sabatini on Strootman:

“I’d never get rid of him. Strootman is my hero and he always will be, because he plays football for the whole week and not just on Sundays.”

Sabatini on saying Pastore can’t handle competition:

“I’m an agent provocateur. Pastore is like my son and I’ll tell him what I want. In his first year in Paris he did unstoppable things, then he slowed down. He knows it too, and I told him this in private. But he’s a genius of football and has that Argentinian pride. At Roma he will entertain you.”

Sabatini on Ricky Massara:

“I definitely think the world of him. He’s a problem-solver, intelligent and loyal like few others. I pushed him to go back to Roma because I didn’t want him to get typecast by staying around me. And Ricky has Roma under his skin like me.”

Sabatini on Nainggolan:

“After his sale, I don’t feel like it’s my Roma anymore. It was right to change this much, every cycle has an end and you have to know when ahead of time. There are two explanations behind Nainggolan’s sale. The first is the 38 million banked before 30th June, of which 14 million was paid back through Santon and Zaniolo. The second is that Roma had enough. They couldn’t put up with supporting his excesses anymore. Spalletti, on the other hand, controls him well enough. Spalletti’s method was to make Nainggolan sleep with him at Trigoria. Each of them in their own separate bedroom, with the door open between them. Spalletti is a genius when handling these things. For someone like Radja I wish him well, he’s a kid that always fascinates you. I think he will give the best of himself to Inter and show people things they weren’t expecting. He’s a player that works off his nervous energy, not his physique.”

Sabatini on Roma’s mercato so far:

“I think the world of Kluivert. That was a big deal. So was getting in the adopted Frenchman who will play behind him. I think they will sell Alisson to Chelsea for 70 million. Look, at that price goalkeepers can get sold. Otherwise you’d have to be in a position to offer a contract extension at 5 or 6 million per season and for me, Roma isn’t in a position to do that.”

Sabatini on De Rossi:

“A great soul. One who would cut off his arm for Roma.”

Sabatini on Totti:

“I wish him well. He’s a intangible monolith of Rome. If you touch him you’re dead. It’s not his fault. Already at twenty years old, everyone taught him to think: ‘Rome is me.’ He’s a fun guy and an immeasurable champion. I’ve seen him do unprecedented things on the pitch.”

Sabatini on his best signing:

“Marquinhos at 18 years old. Signing him and then selling him on that fast. Credit to Zeman too, who had the courage to play him.”

Sabatini on whether his two biggest ‘instinct-signing’ fails are Iturbe and Gerson:

“Gerson showed some important signs but he’s a lazy player. He still hasn’t understood he has to make the most of his enormous physical advantage. He never takes on his man. He gets too satisfied with himself. I tell him to play more all the time. One time I wrote to him: ‘You’re going to give me runs up the pitch with the ball but then you’re going to dribble past your man just every once in a while?’

Iturbe had a problem that we choose to hide. He started off very strong with Roma. Then he probably ruptured his cruciate ligament and we didn’t send him to surgery. We chose instead to send him to therapy to recover naturally and from that point he wasn’t himself anymore.”

Sabatini on Stekelenburg:

“We were unlucky with him. He’s a great goalkeeper but very self-entitled. A Dutchman with frail personality and a big disappointment. Something that Alisson isn’t. But let’s not also forget the kick in the head that he took from Lucio at the San Siro. After that he lost confidence.”

Sabatini on Allegri:

“The other day I threatened him: ‘It’s as if you’re accusing me of being a director who tries hard but has never won anything. I’ll go get the contract you signed with Roma from my desk right now.’ But he’s had a big hand in the victories at Juventus, he’s a great coach and a fine strategist. One time he told me: ‘I’ve got weaknesses but I know how to identify players.’ That’s true. Just look at Pjanic at regista.”

Sabatini on Rudi Garcia:

“I wish him well. The first year together was like walking on water but by the third year it was like his head was lost under the water. With Rudi, the president was rude. There was no need to knock a man down when he’s brought you Champions League qualification for two years in a row.”

Sabatini on Pallotta:

“He’s an insecure man. We’ll only remember the denials from him.”

Sabatini on Di Francesco:

“I like how he’s managed the Roma squad. He’s given room and chances to everyone, and then he reached a semi-final of the Champions League and almost a final. He’s made the Romans proud after such a long time.”

Sabatini on finding himself supporting Roma in the Champions League:

“I didn’t surprise myself. I support Roma without shame.”