Today saw Morgan De Sanctis and Eusebio Di Francesco speak at the annual LUISS university conference for the study of team managers in football, with both men either currently serving or having served in the role for Roma.
De Sanctis opened up on several subjects, including saying goodbye to being a pro-footballer for the sake of becoming what is effectively Monchi’s eyes and ears inside of the dressing room. Could he handle his ex-teammates seeing him as a spy in the right way, while maintaining their respect?
He spoke on handling Radja Nainggolan’s New Years’ Eve incident as a marker that was set inside the dressing room, and many other topics including his daughter becoming a goalkeeper. We kept it to the most notable excerpts below.
De Sanctis on becoming Roma Team Manager:
“Two years ago I was the second keeper at Monaco. I left Roma with a heavy heart, but there were two good keepers at the time and I had to go elsewhere. Monchi called me at the end of 2016-17, and Totti’s final game was coming up. I thought he was calling to ask me to play, but he explained to me that wasn’t the case when we met and it was hard to accept it. But then he explained what kind of person he was looking for, someone who could represent him when he was away. That was a point of pride for me, and I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation, both because I wanted to come back to Roma and because he’d asked me himself, which sparked a lot of faith.
That’s how I became a Team Manager, and I can say the reality far exceeds what I imagined it would be. A lot of people tell you life after sport will be difficult when you’re a football player. I found myself having to live the life of an everyday person. As a football player, you work 3-4 hours a day, then you take care of your family and your pastimes and only have to be careful not to make stupid mistakes.
A Team Manager has to be available at all times, the first to arrive and the last to leave. Then there’s how you put yourself across. Before I’d dress casual. Now I’ve changed my wardrobe so that my ex-teammates understand I’m no longer one of them.
Diplomacy is an important part of the job, too. In the delicate moments, you have to be able to say the right things to the main men of that moment. I’ll tell the story of Kevin Strootman during the Sampdoria-Roma game last season. He was on the end of a referee’s mistake. I have two choices: tell Kevin that the referee made a mistake and risk seeing a player get himself sent off from losing control of his reactions, or tell a half-truth for the good of everyone. I chose the second option.
Another part of the job is education. You have to know the club’s history to get across it’s importance. You have to be educators, even working in youth football at times. I have three daughters, and I thought I’d never have to handle any of my kids becoming footballers. On the contrary, my eldest daughter decided to become a goalkeeper. I never wanted to go watch her games until I had to go one day. She conceded three goals that day in a way that was a little embarrassing, in a way that happens in your worst nightmares. One of the parents started talking badly about her in the stands, and I thought I was being set up as a prank on a reality TV show. Either I got out of there or I confront that parent. I chose the second option, and I told them that that advice was best left to the club managers.”
Di Francesco speaks on his working relationship with MDS:
“I tell the players that when you get older, you speak less. The head coach is important because he always works for everything to go well. Where the Team Manager comes in is preparing the week ahead, on a daily basis, even on the players’ rest day. That ball-breaker De Sanctis even texts me at midnight. I did the job differently to him, but I knew I too had to stay close to the players and the coach. After 3 months on the job, I knew it wasn’t for me, and I told the club I’d be leaving. I didn’t know I wanted to be a coach, that choice came much later. Being a Team Manager was an important experience, and I understand how hard it can be. De Sanctis eventually wants to become a coach, because he has no idea what he’s getting into (laughs).
“A Team Manager’s job is to always raise the spirits of the dressing room and bring in a smile, and they manage to do that even if it pisses me off at times. Sometimes De Sanctis has to do a little of my job, sometimes I have to do a little of his. Managing players face to face, and balancing that with your duties to the club is not easy.
Di Francesco and De Sanctis speak on Zaniolo-mania:
EDF: “We have to keep the lad’s feet on the ground. Balance makes all the difference in football. You never stop learning, and that’s what we want to show Zaniolo. Whether he wears the number 10 shirt is something I don’t care about at all, it has nothing to do with his growth as a player. A shirt like that is won on the pitch, and there’s a long road ahead.”
MDS: “When you post on social media, your personal life will be tracked. Even if you move forward in life, someone will look at your past anyway. We’ve never spoken on whether Zaniolo gets the number 10 shirt, and yet because the media are speaking about it, now some posts he made 4-5 years ago are coming out to the public, when he was just 14 years old at the time, and that has to show you how important [keeping your life under wraps] can be.”
De Sanctis on Totti’s retirement:
“Being a Team Manager, I’m not allowed to give any kind of opinion that strays away from the club’s decision. What I can do is give my opinion to the club directors before a decision is taken. Luckily for me, I was in Monte Carlo when it all happened. I have an excellent relationship with both Totti and Spalletti. Staying out of it was best for me. The team manager who was in the job at the time kept himself away from it all.”
De Sanctis on Kolarov and the fans:
“Him being one of the best players in the team and a senior player at that, there was a face-to-face with him and I. Then he had a face-to-face with the coach, the sporting director and his teammates. The most important talks he had were with De Rossi and Totti. They will both explain to you how you carry yourself around Rome to bring as little pressure on you as possible. For that reason alone, it’s important to understand the club’s past. I would have never let myself say anything to Kolarov of my own personal will. He came to us to unload, and it was a delicate moment. Sometimes you have to know when to put out fires and, despite all the rules, just use common sense. At the beginning, when a football player sees all the club rules they’ll just get overwhelmed and sign the code of conduct anyway. But instead of being a stickler for the rules, sometimes you just have to take a softer approach.”
Di Francesco on club rules:
“This year, the club have put in 200 more rules for the players. It’s important to know how to get into the heads of the younger players.”
De Sanctis on player transfers:
“A Team Manager is always gathering details. Because I’m an ex-player, I know what it looks like when a player is worried about his next move, and so does the coach. When a player says something like that, you have to hear it and talk about it with the club, a delicate balancing act. Sometimes a player would tell me I’m a company man, and I’d get angry. But at the same time, it made me proud. You just can’t lose the faith of the players, otherwise you can’t sit in the dressing room any longer. For example, I used to hang a lot with De Rossi and we’d go out on the town together. But for the sake of company lines, you can’t meet players outside of the dressing room too much if at all. We took it upon ourselves to not be seen out together much, because it wasn’t appropriate to our jobs inside the club. Monchi told me immediately: ‘Remember you’re no longer a player.’”
De Sanctis and Di Francesco on managing the Rome atmosphere:
MDS: “When you play in a place like Rome, from the outside you’ll get opinions that you’re too positive when things are going well, and you’re too negative when things are going badly. If you’re good at cutting yourself off from all of that, there’s more harmony. People will try to intrude all the same, but the goal is to isolate yourself, reading a little less and listening less to outside opinions. Zaniolo has a great game and then, a few days later, some journalists publish what he’d written on social media five years ago. Someone can delete their account but the stories stick. For that reason, it’s important to isolate yourself. Not everyone is rowing in the same direction in Rome, so you have to force it [in the way you want it to go].”
EDF: “I have the good fortune of great insiders in the press, who help me to understand what’s going on behind certain situations. The greatest strength is to not read or listen to it. I have a job like anyone else, and my biggest responsibility is being answerable to the club. It was like this at Sassuolo, too. At times, everything gets blown out of proportion. You have to have the strength to manage your surroundings and believe in the work you’re doing.”