Thursday morning saw the club unveiling the most expensive signing of the summer in World Cup champion Steven Nzonzi. Monchi also used the opportunity to declare the club are satisfied with incoming signings, and working on outgoing as reported earlier in the week on CdT.
With a day left to go in the Italian transfer window - was that really the club’s stance or just Monchi’s final poker card played to other clubs in the mercato?
Either way, Steven Nzonzi is kinda like a big deal in all midfield positions. Monchi is adamant Roma are not just a selling club. And everyone seems relaxed and ready for the season to kick-off.
At this point are you satisfied with Roma’s mercato? In particular do you personally feel like you’ve reached the goals you set out at the beginning of this summer?
Monchi: “The incoming mercato finishes tomorrow. There’s just a day left to keep working. And the outgoing mercato stays open. But I really think we’re coming to end of our mercato and we can take stock.
I’m happy with what we’ve done, I’m convinced that you can always - always - do better. But I think we’ve done what we had in mind, we moved quickly from the very first moment of the mercato to get the squad practically done.
The first 10 arrivals came before the ritiro began, then came Robin Olsen. As soon as that was done, we’ve done what we feel we can do extra. To keep looking at any important opportunities in the mercato to improve the squad.
When someone does exactly what they had in mind at the beginning then they can be happy. I’m happy but I repeat you can always do better, but that goes for every team in the world.”
For Steven: There’s a lot of curiosity because your story is very different. You started out as a striker, then trequartista, then ‘El Pulpo’ like Sampaoli used to call you. What kind of player are you and what can you bring to Roma?
Nzonzi: “Well I’m a central midfielder. It’s a position where you have to get the ball back, play the ball and not lose it. To bring the team forward and playing forward. There are many facets and all midfielders are different, so it’s hard to say what kind of midfielder I am. But I aim to bring the maximum of what I can do, for the team.”
Arriving at the end of the mercato, after having played the World Cup, how long do you think it’ll take you to get back to top shape?
Nzonzi: “As fast as possible, I hope. Holidays are over, and you have to think only about Roma. I hope to be ready very fast. I feel well physically, I’m working to get in top shape and I hope to get back there very fast. I can’t give you a date but I hope to play very soon and be able to help the team.”
Nzonzi is the first player you sign from your old Sevilla. What pushed you to sign him a second time?
Monchi: “(laughs) It means I have faith in him, if I signed him twice it’s because I think he’s a strong player. No but... He knows well how far his performances for the team can go. I had him practically two years at Sevilla, and for me he’s a strong player.
Together with what we have right now in the team, he will become considerably even more stronger. To have the possibility to play together with De Rossi, training with De Rossi, being teammates with Cristante, Pastore, playing with Dzeko - strong players. I think he can become even stronger.
As I said before, as soon as we finished the first part of our mercato we started to search for what could bring that extra to the team. A team that was already strong. And I think he gives that something extra to the team.”
You are running into top competition lately. In the France squad you were up against Kante. Here there’s De Rossi, another world champion. Which is the most difficult challenge - that of Kante or the one waiting here with De Rossi?
Nzonzi: “Both of them are big players, I can’t compare one with the other. They have different profiles so I’m not comparing the two. It’s enough to say they are experienced players, who’ve both won, they’re both fine players.”
(Claudio the translator suggests Nzonzi should add something else.)
Nzonzi: “Ok and so they’re also two players that I’m not necessarily in direct competition with, because when I played as a starter for France against Denmark I played alongside Kante. So it’d be a pleasure to play alongside De Rossi, I’m not necessarily in direct competition with him.
There are plenty of places in the midfield, I can evolve in different positions. At all three positions, if we’re playing in a three or both positions if we’re playing in a double pivot, so it’s not a problem.
After that, to know with who it’s more difficult to make an impression on, I don’t know. France and Roma are both two big teams with very good players, they’re different teams so I can’t make comparisons right now.”
The incoming signings have been a lot. There are young players who - especially at the beginning - could struggle a lot to find playing time. I’d like to ask you if there’s a possibility of loaning Zaniolo and also Coric?
Monchi: “We’ve really been surprised with the level of both those players together. Really surprised. Because, at the end of the day, our job is to observe a player at their club but there’s always the doubt of seeing - when they arrive here - if they know how to stay at the same level. Truly with Ante and Nicolo, we remain happy and satisfied with their level.
It’s true that we have a lot of players in the midfield, so unfortunately we have to think about whether they have - especially Nicolo - the opportunity to play for a team in Serie A, to take a next step in their career. Because first our idea was that training with us for six months was the best plan for someone who’s never played in Serie A. But really his level has surprised us, we’re happy. We think that maybe he’s ready to play in Serie A and speed things up more than what we initially had in mind.”
You debut’d in the senior French team in November 2017. Then, a month ago, you became a World champion in the France shirt. The Sevilla sporting director, a few days ago, said it was you who asked to leave. Was it winning the world title that pushed you to want a change from Sevilla?
Nzonzi: “No it’s not winning the World Cup that pushed me to want a change. It’s just that I spent three years in Seville, three beautiful seasons. I thought it was the right moment to take up a new challenge, I felt the need to take a new path. That’s why I came here, because Roma is a big club that allows me to progress as a player and an individual and just having the opportunity to take up that challenge in this team.”
You’ve built, it seems to me, an extraordinary midfield in terms of quality, physical strength, and for the many tactical options it gives. In attack, there’s only one left-footed right wing player in Ünder. Do you maintain that he can be rotated with the options Roma has right now? Or until the very last hour of the mercato, will you be looking for another option on the right wing?
Monchi: “First, thank you for being happy with the way we planned the midfield. Now we are two who are happy, at least.
I think that with the right wing, maybe that’s the position where we have the most players who could play there. Ünder can play there, Justin can play there, El Shaarawy can play there, so can Perotti, so can Florenzi, so can Shick. There are so many that can play in that role. I don’t know if we have any position in the team where so many can play there, so I think that’s where we are.”
The director and the coach have said the main goal is to do better than last season. Doing better would mean either reaching higher than third place or reaching that Champions League semi final once again. I want to ask you where can this team reach?
Nzonzi: “They did very well last season. It’s true the aim is always to progress, that winning titles is difficult and you have to work very hard. But that’s the aim of all players, of all clubs and especially big clubs like Roma. Like I said: it’s not easy, you have to work a lot. But I hope to move forward and find something beautiful with this club.
These things are very easy to say, and very difficult to make reality so it’s just a case of working very hard to achieve a better season than what they did last season.”
Pastore and Nzonzi are maybe different signings from the rest and different from signings we’re used to. In the sense of being important money spent on players who are already mature, experienced and well-known. Is this a change of strategy to do something even bigger than what’s been done up till now?
Monchi: “No. (smiling) That’s been my strategy my whole life. We signed six young players. You mentioned Pastore and Nzonzi but maybe you’ve forgotten we signed Bianda, Cristante, Justin, Zaniolo... there are so many.
I’ve always worked in the same way. I don’t think the strategy of a club like Roma can be sustained on just young players alone. Because young players need time, and in Roma as in all other big teams, they have everything they need except time. So I’ve always done the same thing, if you look at last year I did the same. We take a few young players and a player who’s well formed.
This season we’ve done the same and it’ll never change because that’s my way of working. I think it’s good to have young players because that’s important for the future of the club, and also ready-made players because we need immediate results.
If we could talk about percentages and we sign ten players, I’d say sign 6-2-2. Six young players, two slightly more experienced and then two fully formed players. It’s always been like that, you could look at my history as a sporting director. Without going too far back, last year we signed young players and then signed someone like Kolarov and Moreno - two experienced players. It was the same discussion.
Experienced players are great, strong... and they cost a lot. We also sold an experienced player at 31 years old (sic) for 38 million euros. [Nzonzi] costs 26, a little less.
The market has become like this, it’s a question of euros. When someone wants a strong player they have to spend the money, because things have changed.”
I wanted to know from Nzonzi - apart from the curiosity on the apostrophe-
(already Monchi is vigorously shaking his head here, mouthing that there’s no apostrophe - assuming he learnt the hard way from when Sevilla messed up Nzonzi’s shirt on his Sevilla presentation day)
-because you often see it spelt two different ways, so I wanted to know if there’s a story behind that... but that’s just a curiosity. I wanted to know tactically, we know that Roma almost always plays 4-3-3 and if you’ve spoken with the coach about what you can expect from him?
Nzonzi: “First off, the name is without the apostrophe. Most people pronounce it ‘En-Zon-Zi’ as if there’s an apostrophe but normally there’s none.
Then on the tactics, I’m available to the team and what the coach will ask for me. The players are here to adapt to the needs of the team and the coach. So whether it’s a 4-3-3 or any formation, we’re here to adapt. Personally I don’t have a fixed position in the middle of the pitch. So it’s just a question of communication between the players who play, and with the coach to work in the best possible in any shape with any of the players.”
Will there be any news, in these final few hours of the mercato, on the question of Gonalons? A player who’s place - now with Nzonzi here - has become a bit redundant at the club.
Monchi: “Maxime is a Roma player, a player on who I can only speak well. Because he’s a well-intentioned man and player. It’s true, that with Steven’s arrival, there’s more competition in his spot and we have to speak with him. But we don’t have to take a decision between now and tomorrow because, like I said, the outgoing mercato doesn’t close. We’ll talk about it and decide together.”
Are you a player that likes to sit in front of the defence and shield them or do you prefer exchanging passes with the players ahead of you and getting in between the lines? What type of game would you prefer under Di Francesco?
Nzonzi: “I’ve played an entire season at Sevilla sitting in front of the defence. That’s a role I like a lot, where I feel comfortable.
But I’ve also played in a midfield flat two, and played higher up in a midfield three. I adapt to the team’s shape. Everything depends on organising with the other players.
For my part, I’ve always had a problem talking about what style of player I am. Those that watch and have watched me play can do a better job speaking about it than me.
I’m ready whether it’s about bringing something more to the attack, or sitting in front of the back four.”
Several days passed since the skipped transfer of Malcom, then comes the signing of Nzonzi. You said you’d sign a player better than Malcom. Then Roma let some time pass and changed objective. What happened?
Monchi: “Does a World champion not seem stronger to you than Malcom? I didn’t say we’d sign a player in the same position, just a stronger player. For me, Steven is a better player than Malcom. And we already have stronger players in our team.
No, but jokes aside, I said that as soon as we finished the first part of our summer plans, we’d think about improving the squad without a specific position in mind. It’s true that Malcom looked to me like an opportunity, for a stronger player at a viable price for a club like Roma. So for that, we moved on it. As soon as it failed, we kept working on finding players in the same position and other roles.
At the end, this transfer with Steven was impossible ten days ago. Then it became possible thanks to his desire to come here, for the help of his agent and his father, and for the efforts made by the club.
So nothing changed from what I said. We signed a strong player. Malcom is a strong player as well, very strong. And Steven too.”
With Monchi at Sevilla, you worked and you won together. What do you hope to re-find here with him at Roma?
(Monchi laughs with him “think carefully” before replying).
Nzonzi: “There’s no doubt Monchi is someone who helped me a lot when I arrived in Seville. Like all adventures, there are great moments and difficult moments. He’s always been there to help me, even in those moments that were hard for me. He’s someone with vast experience, who knows how to win and has won.
I’m coming to a different club that I don’t know well yet. To win, you need so many ingredients that you can never predict what’s to come. The most important is to work and not talk too much, show what you can do on the pitch and hope that everything goes well for the club.”
Roma is one of the top three spenders in Europe this summer, after Liverpool and Juventus. What signal do you want that to send on the European scene and the Italian one, after Juventus have signed Cristiano Ronaldo?
Monchi: “Can I give you my mobile phone and my twitter account and you say that? (laughs) So that maybe when they ask if we’ll still sign players, someone out there will understand that we’ve already signed someone.
We’ve done what we thought was right, to keep building the strongest team possible. It’s true that we’ve also taken in money, we haven’t just spent it. So I think the balance more or less stays the same.
Sometimes it seems like Roma is just a selling club. I like your question because I can explain that we’ve reached the third highest spent of all teams, so we’re just not a club that wants to make money, we’re a club with the ambition to build a “project” - a project I’ll say, before Luca gets angry - a plan. We have a plan to go forward and bring the club to the highest level possible.
I can say truthfully, this is my second summer transfer market. It’s true the first one was so-so because I just got here at the time. But I can say that I’d never got a ‘no’ from the club. Never. Sometimes I’ve had to take a minute to convince Pallotta. Sometimes an hour, sometimes a day. But I’ve always had the backing of the club. That’s important for a sporting director.
I’d like it if that could be the message that comes out of today: that Roma doesn’t just want to sell players, we sign them also. We’ve signed many. Realistically, the players who’ve left are Radja, Alisson, Skorupski, Defrel, Gerson... who wasn’t playing as much... and we signed many players.
So now, the season will tell us if we’ve messed up or not. That’s another discussion entirely, that’ll be my responsibility. But the club is always ready and available to re-invest and build a stronger team.”