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How Will Gianluca Petrachi Reshape Roma?

We play armchair sporting director, looking to the year ahead for the incoming Gianluca Petrachi.

Empoli v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Because Roma cannot make their minds up on what kind of football direction they’d like to build towards, Gianluca Petrachi is coming in as the club’s fourth sporting director in the last three years. We have to give ourselves some credit for nailing Petrachi as a candidate all the way back in March, but his pick for Roma’s next coach goes against the grain of what we wrote about him back then:

What kind of head coach would he bring?

No one who believes in beautiful football. After all, he’s partly responsible for Gian Piero Ventura getting called to the Italy bench. Which led to.... yeah, let’s not revisit it.

And then Petrachi hired Paulo Fonseca.

The Portuguese coach is a man known for possession-focused football and positional play tactics. That’s a step away from the teams Petrachi has built to date even though, for Roma, it represents continuity in the search of that ultra-attacking football identity. The same identity that eluded the Giallorossi teams of seasons past.

We take a look at what stands in between Petrachi either meeting success or, like many names of the last decade before him, a pink slip from Pallotta.

Step 1: Goodbye to De Rossi and Edin Dzeko

Roma’s current annual player wage bill - Summer 2019

Note: Players like Luca Pellegrini, Daniel Fuzato and others were omitted from the graphic above.

Roma ended the 2018/19 season with a 23.39 million euro loss on the accounts. We’ve read a few news stories about Roma needing to raise 40 million euros by June 30th but, as far as we can tell, those stories are baseless.

For one, Roma doesn’t live within any hard-and-fast settlement agreement with UEFA anymore. The club’s deadlines (we assume) are much more fluid as long as Roma shows intent to make ends meet (though why they should do that with the free passes given to AC Milan is a question for Pallotta). Secondly, within the club’s public announcement itself is Pallotta’s plan to hold a shareholder meeting on June 25th, where the club will ask permission to use 25 million in the club’s capital reserves to cover that loss.

But we all know the quickest way for Roma to make ends meet is through player sales.

Take a look at the budget above and there are many bricks on that Jenga mountain that don’t add up for fans like us. Petrachi has inherited a mish-mash of divergent ideas from predecessors Walter Sabatini and Monchi, and we don’t envy him. It seems like Petrachi’s first move on the market (besides clearing out Daniele De Rossi’s 5.4 million yearly wage) is to wave goodbye to Roma’s second-most expensive player, Edin Dzeko.

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

Because Dzeko’s been at the club for four years on his original five-year deal, his amortized value to Roma is now no more than 4.5 million euros heading into next season. A sale at anything above this number represents a plusvalenza for Roma.

Then there’s the fact Roma reportedly offered Dzeko a new 3-year deal (we assume at lower wages) two weeks ago. It was an offer Dzeko has now refused and pushed away for a move up north to play for Antonio Conte - the same man who already sought him out to play for Chelsea last season.

Make of all that what you will; the point here isn’t for us to demonize Dzeko on his way out the door, but to show the club is making the most of tight situation. Roma are getting Dzeko’s yearly amortization costs and wages off the books (a total 12.6 million euros in annual cost), and we’re yet to find out if the 13.5 million cash will include an Inter talent in part-exchange on top to boost the book value of the deal.

All personal feelings about how both players could have contributed to Roma’s next season aside, saying goodbye to DDR and Dzeko could save 30 million euros or more on Roma’s annual budget by the end of this week.

Step 2: What About All Those Mid-Level and Loan Players?

AC Chievo Verona v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

Looking at the middle of our Jenga-like expenses, there’s a number of clangers from Walter Sabatini and Monchi alike. Bruno Peres, Gerson, Gonalons, Karsdorp. Three of those 4 names are out on loan playing elsewhere this season and it’ll be a hell of a job if Petrachi (the man who originally sold Peres to Roma) can find them all permanent homes this summer.

For argument’s sake, just getting Defrel, Peres, Juan Jesus, Gerson, Gonalons, Karsdorp all off the books would represent 42 million euros worth of costs saved alone for the year. And that’s before you even add in the transfer fees recouped for each player.

I might have good feelings towards some of those names mentioned above (I do), but even I know nobody would miss any of these names for long if at all.

Step 3: Prepare to Find 100 Million More From the Sofa

US Sassuolo v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

If there’s one thing us armchair accountants have learnt from the latest Roma annual budget announcement, it’s that participation in the Champions League brought in a minimum 67 million euros per year for the club. Give or take a semi-final run, here and there.

Add in the 25 million or so losses Roma racked up this year on top, and you’re looking at Roma having to find close to 100 million euros before summer 2020. We’ll just say ‘100 million euros’ for now, because that’s what all the newspapers and football-site headlines will run with, when they want to wind you up into a fight-or-flight frenzy next season.

How will Roma solve this? We’ll find out if Petrachi favours the last-minute approach of Sabatini or the pre-emptive Monchi, who himself preferred to start looking for money before it was needed. This often led the Spanish DS to accusations of chopping and changing the team too fast. But what difference does it make at this point?

If Petrachi’s move is to settle everything in one summer, then say goodbye to Kostas Manolas and Cengiz Ünder this July at the very least. But if Roma waits until next summer, we’re prepared call it Nicolò Zaniolo’s last season in a Roma shirt for 2019/20.

Speaking of which...

Step 4: Contract Extensions for Roma’s New Core Players

Italy Training Session And Press Confernce Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Zaniolo’s family have already made it known the kid is happy to stay in Rome but, should the club choose to sell, his preference is a move to either Juventus or back to Inter Milan.

Before Roma can command the biggest value possible, they have to extend and increase the contract value for players like Zaniolo and Stephan El Shaarawy.

There’s still some uncertainty about whether Zaniolo’s reported contract demands are for 3 million euros a year net or gross, but I believe the latter makes more sense. That would reward Zaniolo, after a encouraging debut season in Serie A, by placing him alongside Lorenzo Pellegrini in the wage structure. Seems fair.

But then there’s the question of giving Lorenzo a pay raise to take out the release clause in Pellegrini’s contract. Damn, this DS job ain’t easy.

Meanwhile, SES is reported to be asking for 4 million euros a year to extend beyond 2020. With just one year left on his current contract, Roma have to find an agreement with SES this summer or risk losing him for nothing in 12 months time.

Step 5: Don’t Just Sell Good, Buy Good

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

The big picture of Monchi’s moves were nicely structured in our Jenga expenses graphic, despite all the criticism, until you get right to the very top. Cristante, Nzonzi, Pastore. Where to begin? When it came to major-money moves, Monchi doesn’t draw a lot of water in this post-Neymar world of football. That’s before we even touch on the fact Patrick Schick has been Roma’s most expensive player for the past 2 years.

We’re hoping Petrachi does a better job of making not just statement signings, but signing players that are ready-made for the coach’s ideas and/or indisputable young talent transcending the demands of Italian league football. For every dud signing, there’s a next Alisson or Salah in the making.

Aside from what’s needed for Fonseca’s football to work - experienced attacking midfield players who know how to drag defenders off the 18-yard line, technically strong possession-based midfielders, visionary-passing deep-lying mids and a goalkeeper comfortable with his feet - there’s the need to show Roma’s current playing staff in their best light for the sake of market value. Not least of all Cristante and Schick.

Only 4 names in the squad - Fazio, Kolarov, Marcano and Nzonzi - count as experienced, big-game players with a possible role next season. None of these players’ future at the club is certain. Then there are a few players in their physical prime - Florenzi, SES, Manolas - but these men all have questionable mental strength when the going gets tough.

Good luck to Petrachi.

Signing the experience and on-the-ball talent needed to hand Fonseca a Roma squad that isn’t both emotionally and technically weak sauce is no easy feat. Doing it on a cost-cutting budget would be something akin to magic.

Step 5: Pray Your Boss Finally Moves Some Weight

There’s one major step the club can take to make this whole armchair-DS exercise a completely different discussion: Getting that stadium built.

Truthfully, a lot of this talk may not matter in the big picture of the oncoming European Super League around 2023/24-ish. But Roma’s existence depends on being able to host any competition within the walls of a modernised, privately-owned stadium regardless. And they’ll need to get back to making noise among the European competition, too.

The club knows that making a splash on the European scene has done more to expand A.S. Roma commercially than success in Italy - as a second-tier league - could ever bring today. In that sense, Paulo Fonseca represents a practical choice for the Roma bench, despite all the familiar gambles attached with the kind of football this latest Petrachi-Fonseca era wants to bring to the capital.