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Play Me Some Petrachi: Getting to Know Roma's New Director

Getting to know Roma’s new sporting director, through the days of Torino fan riots and his famous folk-singer father.

AC ChievoVerona v FC Torino - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Not much is known about the man who was finally allowed to work for Roma off more than a pre-paid phone card and pizza delivery to his hotel room. We thought we’d set that right. Gianluca Petrachi’s finally been made the official sporting director at Trigoria, and the city of Nottingham was just as invested in his appointment as Rome itself. Why?

Well, it turns out Forest called at the EUR office reception, Gianluca. They’d quite like some of their money back.

Here follows some Petrachi trivia you may or may not care to know in preparing for the Roma 2019/20 season:

Nottingham Forest Remember Him 20 Years On (But Not Fondly)

Back when David Platt was trying his hand at football management, he was trusted with Nottingham Forest’s bid to get promoted straight back into the Premier League at the turn of the millenium. The former England star chose to spend nearly half of his entire 12 million pound summer 1999 transfer budget on the Serie A talent pool at the time; Platt being no stranger to Italian football himself.

Gianluca Petrachi

Among Forest’s three signings from the peninsula was Platt’s former Sampdoria teammate Moreno Mannini, defender Salvatore Matrecano, and a Salento-born midfielder winding down his own playing career at the age of 30. A younger Gianluca Petrachi traded the rossobianco of Perugia for the red-and-white of Forest. The move to England was a disaster for all three players.

Apparently it was bad enough to make a lasting impression with the Nottingham Post, who’ve kept tabs in the last few years on Petrachi’s management career. They broke the news of Petrachi’s appointment to Roma this week before even some Italian sources managed to report it.

Some signings you just don’t forget. I wonder if we’ll be reading on Juan Iturbe’s managerial moves in CdT 2039.

He’s No Stranger to Walter Sabatini

It seems there isn’t an Italian front office at which Walter Sabatini hasn’t left a half-finished cigarette pack behind. Roma’s former transfer guru was the very same Perugia sporting director who brought Petrachi back to their club in 2000.

According to Petrachi himself, it didn’t take long for Sabatini to start pushing Petrachi towards his future calling.

UC Sampdoria v Genoa CFC - Serie A Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images

“When I returned to play for Perugia,” Petrachi said to Torino Channel in 2017, “the sporting director back then, Walter Sabatini together with Alessandro Gaucci, would be asking me to help them during a few kids’ tryouts. I’ve always had the nose for seeing a player’s potential, even from the way they do a simple move or stop on the ball.”

“Today, the players aren’t like they were back then. I’ve gotten older and sometimes [this job] calls upon you to be brutal with them.”

He’s Been In Worse Jams Than Irate Roma Fans

On the day Petrachi first walked into the Torino job a decade ago, he was little more than a man who’d done a good job at Pisa. Petrachi had guided the Serie C1 outfit all the way up to the Serie B promotion playoffs; little Pisa just missed out on making a return to the Serie A big-time before Petrachi left them in 2008. It didn’t take long for fellow Serie B club owner Urbano Cairo to put Torino’s resurgent destiny in Petrachi’s hands less than a year later.

But Petrachi’s CV didn’t impress Granata fans at first, while the circumstances under which Cairo sought out change at Torino were far from idyllic.

“On my presentation day [at Torino], there were fans outside throwing cherry bombs,” Petrachi recalled to Torino Channel. “They were immediately hostile towards the new face. That year was everyone for themselves and not a thing was going to plan. Torino had been three points away from falling into the Serie B relegation playoffs, then something really unpleasant happened: Our players were assaulted at a restaurant. I’d just been appointed and found myself in the middle of all this.”

He Won’t Hesitate to Clear Out a Toxic Dressing Room

The Torino fans getting violent can all be traced back to a November 2009 game that Sky Italia described as “too funny to be real.” Only no one in Turin was laughing.

Aside from the 2-1 home loss to Crotone (above) costing Roman-born coach (and lifelong Roma fan) Stefano Colantuono his place on the Torino bench - briefly replaced by Mario Beretta for just a couple of months - rumours came out of 3 “high-profile” Torino players laying on a bet for that game. And, yes, you guessed it: they were rumoured to take the near 9-to-1 odds of a shock Crotone victory before taking to the field itself.

You can see the goals Torino conceeded in the video above and judge for yourself. Ahem.

The fans frustration boiled over two months later, at Davide Di Michele’s birthday celebrations in that restaurant, and their assault on 10 Torino players pushed sporting director Rino Foschi to resign after 7 Toro players asked to transfer out of the club immediately during that January transfer window.

Two days later, on January 9th, came in an unproven Gianluca Petrachi to the task:

“When I walked in to talk with the players who’d been assaulted, it opened my eyes to everything they said about how things really were at the club,” Petrachi recalled to the Torino Channel. “I was telling Cairo: ‘We need to completely start over here or we risk being relegated.’ The next step was to fire [Torino coach] Beretta. I didn’t get along with him, and I’d ask the president to re-hire Colantuono. Talking with him struck the right chemistry. [Cairo] firing him [the first time] brought back the right kind of anger [into his system]. We did everything together and our ideas matched.”

“I’d get rid of all the players who didn’t want to play for Toro and we worked that transfer market without spending a single euro.”

He Won’t Hesitate to Slash a Wage Budget

If there’s one thing we’ve seen Petrachi trending towards with Roma’s transfer business, it’s that he’s not afraid to go for talent that still has something to prove and helps keep the budget down. Petrachi told the Torino Channel how he restructured the Granata along similar - if not more extreme - lines back in 2009:

“Our wage bill fell from 23 million to 12 or 13 million. We brought in players with hunger, who wanted to smack everything in sight for the Torino shirt and show what they can do. Pestrin, Barusso, D’Ambrosio signed from Serie C2, Scaglia, Garofalo, Antonelli.”

(Though Petrachi doesn’t name him, that transfer market included bringing in Simone Loria on loan from Roma. Yeah... hard times.)

“They were 10 to 12 players, and they were already calling them the Torino team of ‘pee-ons.’ There were a few who tried to pull my leg, but I just went forward on my own path convinced that we were doing something right. Bringing in players who’d never seen Serie B action before was exciting.”

“We made the playoff final [that same 2009-10 season] against Brescia, and everyone remembers Arma’s goal unjustly ruled out, with our dear friend [referee Antonio] Damato of Barletta that gave them that gift*. It’s a shame because Torino deserved that promotion.”

(*You can see Arma’s disallowed goal in the video above from 6.15 onwards - we assume the goal was called out for the most minor of shirt pulls on the defender as Arma raced towards goal.

The video finishes with the touchline reporter on the day highlighting Petrachi as the one losing it on the sidelines at fulltime, waiting for the referee at the tunnel and shouting “what did you whistle for? what did you whistle for?”

Damato’s hometown of Barletta and Petrachi’s hometown of Lecce are only a couple of hours apart and bitter football rivals among the many of Puglia’s regional derbies.)

He Believes a Club Owner Should Keep Their Distance

Petrachi wouldn’t say it in as many words even before he fell out with Cairo, but he admires Torino’s owner for having taught him a few things. And vice versa.

“I’m not arrogant [about our relationship]. Actually I can say I’ve learnt a lot from Cairo. How to negotiate contract talks, pragmatism, knowing ‘when to count to ten’ when before I’d struggle to even count to two. Today we understand each other almost immediately,” Petrachi said back in 2017.

“But the president, having a big character and an innate ability in communications, thought that running a football club would be easy, like a business. Football is a very different reality. When I first arrived, Cairo has an open line with players and their agents. The players were calling the president directly, and that’s something that you should never say about a football club. The president should be like the Pope for them. I arrived and we had our differences, but [Cairo] always let me work with full autonomy.”

“He became a better president after his mother died. From the moment she departed, bringing Torino to the highest possible level became his mission. Because she loved Torino like crazy.”

He’s Found Middle Ground Between Business and Sentiment

AS Roma v Parma Calcio - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

“It’s difficult to explain a project to fans, because they think from the gut. they want to go to the stadium every Sunday to celebrate. They don’t see the long term picture. I remember once I got into it with some fans who wanted us to extend a player’s contract because he was their idol. But, for me and for the coach [Gianpiero Ventura] that player had finished his story with Toro.”

“I was telling them: ‘This player isn’t part of our plans because he’s stretching the team by 40 metres [on the pitch].’ All this to say it’s up to us not to reason like fans, but be assertive and detached.”

“That being said, fans shouldn’t be neglected but feel like they’ve been heard. Because they see the attitude of a player too, and they understand before anyone else whether that player feels attached to the shirt or not. The fans can let you know something that’ll set off a light bulb in your head.”

He Likes Scouting Brazil

Some of us Roma fans are hoping for the combination of Petrachi-Fonseca to #MakeRomaBrazilianAgain.

The sporting director has a lengthy track record of mixing young Italian talent with South American signings, and claims “if there wasn’t a non-EU limit, I’d go spend six months straight in Brazil.”

Manchester City v FC Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League Group F Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

“There [in Brazil] is so much talent that it seems like an oil field. We’re watching foreign leagues around the clock. It’s difficult to get a player who’s ready for Italian football from the Romanian or Bulgarian leagues. But the leagues to follow are the Serbian, Croatian, Polish and Swedish leagues.”

“We have the chief scout [Antonio Cavallo - who followed Petrachi to Roma], his assistant and two or three lads who we send to go watch games. They suggest a whole host of players and then it moves on to talking with the coach. The signings always have to be agreed upon with the coach, because they have to understand who I want to sign and why. I’ve done that with every coach I’ve ever had. I’ve never tried to be the kind of hero that says: ‘I’ll hand you this player, and then you’ll see.’”

“For me, every choice has to be shared. And I definitely like to go watch players play in person. Then we talk money, and the next step is to go ask the president for the investment.”

And Finally... The Petrachi Family

Mention the Petrachi name back around Lecce, and you’d better make it clear whether you’re talking football or folk music. Roma’s sporting director may sound brash and extremely self-confident, but that’s likely from a lifetime of dealing with public attention as the son of Lecce’s favoured folk singer Bruno Petrachi.

And no, I didn’t know him either. I’m more of a Pino Daniele fan. But while Gianluca isn’t shy of singing, himself, we’ll post a little of Bruno here:

Petrachi Sr. passed away in 1997, leaving behind two sons Enzo and Gianluca; both brothers were present three years ago when Lecce decided to grant a popular petition to name a local park, road and annual festival after their father.

Brother Enzo named his own son Bruno Jr.; the 20 year old goalkeeping nephew of Gianluca is currently a free agent searching for a club this summer, just a handful of years after starting out in Lecce’s youth ranks. The entire Petrachi family will be pleased that Lecce are back in Serie A for 2019/20, which will no doubt bring back memories for Gianluca and his own playing days.

“Whenever people ran into me in the airport on away games,” Gianluca told a press conference back in 2016, “before ever asking me if I was a football player they’d ask: ‘Are you really the son of Bruno Petrachi?’ That tells you just how much dad left behind. Even when I was at Nottingham Forest, some of my teammates wanted to hear him sing.”