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Looking Back on Gianluca Petrachi’s First Roma Presser

Roma’s new sporting director had hammer blows for Dzeko, Zaniolo, Inter Milan, Conte and anyone who wants a piece.

UC Sampdoria v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images

We were all thinking it: A razor-shaved bald, bearded man sitting in the Roma sporting director’s job. Set your mind to hearing the same old, same old catchphrases that’ll be used against Petrachi once things turn sour. If it happened to Monchi, there’s no reason it won’t happen to this guy. Or is there?

In more than one way, Monchi is the best sporting director this club could have hoped for. Gone were players who manipulated fan sentiment for pay-raises while their actions spelt personal unhappiness, repression and taking the team for a ride. Not just Bruno Peres tweets about “love for the club” right before Peres went on a drink-drive bender, but the false heroics of Radja Nainggolan; a player who - while in Rome - spent so much time pandering to falsehood that he threatened to become a caricature of his own success and year-after-year contract extensions.

Even Francesco Totti had no punches to pull on Nainggolan’s time when, in Totti’s final resignation press conference, Roma’s icon revealed: “I was one of the few who felt Nainggolan had to pay. Because when you show disrespect to the team, there’s no future there. Whoever makes a mistake has to pay. Even I made mistakes in my own time.” But you’d have to attribute this new “code of ethic” Roma is trying to instill in the dressing room to Totti and not Monchi or Di Francesco for now.

Because with Totti’s name, you can pretty much sell anything. Even Nainggolan tried to sell his return to Rome in the name of Totti, when the Belgian midfielder sanctioned leaking his own WhatsApp audios to the media proclaiming “I’ll talk Totti into taking me back.” (Obviously the jig is up on that now.) If you attribute anything to Monchi, the same principles become a tough sell.

By the time Monchi figured out his message wasn’t getting through over the microphone, it was already too late. So where does Petrachi figure he lands on the spectrum of power in Trigoria?

We played back the video of him cutting his first ever Roma promo today.

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On Paulo Fonseca:

“I’d followed him in the last few years because there was a Shakhtar player I wanted to sign, so I had to go see Shakhtar play. In those three games I watched, I saw clearly what the coach was about: a style of play, a compact team, an aggressive team that wins the ball back as soon as possible. That’s a style I admire and love. Speaking as a former player who may not have had the most prestigious career, even if I played a few games in Serie A myself, I can say that if I’d been coached by someone like Fonseca then my career would have gone differently.

He’s a coach that hands down very clear tactics without forcing the players to fit his ideas. He’s open and attentive to the players he has, and his desire and determination has already captivated me. I think Fonseca can give Roma fans a clear team identity to believe in, by the way the team will play every Sunday. I hope that people will see what I’m saying from the very first game. It will definitely take time, because bringing in a certain philosophy of play won’t be easy, but I’m very optimistic about Fonseca. We have clear ideas together, we run them by each other often and we have the same ideas about football. That’s fundamental in a relationship between any coach and sporting director for everything to go well.”

CdT Verdict: Most of this stuff is standard fare, and it comes about simply because Francesco Totti made it a popular talking point last month. But Petrachi’s signings (so far) show he’s on the same page and backing Fonseca. If there’s anything we can take from this segment, it’s that everyone who talks about Fonseca seems to get taken in by the coach’s charisma. So much so that when Fonseca turned up at Fiumicino, after just collecting his bags from Swaggage Reclaim, Federico Balzaretti resigned. Evidently the city isn’t big enough to fit both men’s wardrobes. It would have been unfair on the rest of Rome.

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On Roma’s transfer strategy:

“I think you have to be realistic. And that’s part of my character. Today, Roma is at ground zero. This is a team that has to start over, starting from principles and values. It has to start with players who bring moral qualities here. I always look at the man first, then the player second.

To raise the level of the squad, they first have to meet that standard. I’m hearing and reading about all these pseudo stories of the club getting turned down by players. Roma isn’t a branch that you can just swing off. Whoever comes to this club has to want to be here. They have to have that same look in their eye that Spinazzola had when he introduced himself to you all. It’s not as if he left Poggibonsi to be here, with all due respect to them, but he left Juventus. I want that kind of enthusiasm in all the players I’ll bring to Roma from here on in.

Last season there was a sense of belonging to the team that was missing. It’s up to me to bring discipline and that sense of belonging. I want players who run for ninety minutes, and who the fans have to be able to see themselves in. That’s the message I’ll send to all my players, from the youngest of them to the senior players.”

CdT Verdict: Absolutely nothing new said here. The last guy was all about signing the man first, then the player second. Only the intention didn’t match the end product, so we’ll see whether Petrachi is a better judge of character and self-interests within the dressing room, calling them on their bluffs before they bring down the team with their egocentrics. It’s too easy to blame your Mirantes, Cristantes or Nzonzis when really you gotta have the balls to pull the card of your Tottis, Manolases and Nainggolans before it turns into a soap opera.

Edin Dzeko of Bosnia and Herzegovina looks on at the end of... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

On Dzeko, Manolas and Diawara negotiations:

“First of all, it has to be said right now that no one can just wake up one morning, decide they want to go and just blackmail us. Roma shouldn’t be blackmailed by anyone. Anytime someone doesn’t want to stay at Roma or decide they no longer have the right motivation to be here, they have to show us there’s a team out there that wants them, that will show us the money and will pay the right price to have them. Then they can go. I don’t force anyone to stay but I don’t like to be grabbed by the throat.

It doesn’t interest me if a player has an agreement with another club, which already is not the right way to do things, but I’m only interested in a player knowing he can’t act as if he’s got his feet up at home. He has to be one that gives a helping hand to that home, to push it higher and support it doing well. But that doesn’t mean he’s the boss of that house. It’s the owner who makes the decisions. And Roma, as a club, I can guarantee you won’t be grabbed by the neck by anybody.

I think all the early choices we’ve made so far have a logic behind then, and make footballing sense. Because Manolas’ exit was born from a player who was wanting to go. I was talking with his agent and he was the one who put the [Napoli move] on the table. I told Mino Raiola: ‘If the kid wants to go, make sure they pay the release clause and it’s not a problem.’ For as long as the money that we’re asking for isn’t there, the player stays here. If he’s got the desire to train and put in work at the club, even better. But it’s not up to him to decide whether he wants to do that.

The reality is Napoli made a sizeable offer, and I believe we took the opportunity to grab a player in exchange who needs only to find his confidence again, but I believe that Diawara is a great example of that type of player I was just talking about before. Meaning a player who comes here with a ton of motivation, a ton of desire. Just yesterday, he called me and told me: ‘Director, I’m ok with skipping the holidays. I don’t need a single day of holiday if I can fit in better with the team by coming immediately.’

And this is a player who’s still finishing his season. That’s the sense of belonging and desire that I want to find in all the players who’ll be here.”

CdT Verdict: We just said he needed to pull cards, and he’s done it. It would have been easier to walk diplomatically around Edin Dzeko and Kostas “I turned down six clubs last summer to be here” Manolas. But hey if you’re not happy to be here, act like an adult, clean up after yourself and we can part in the way that’s best for all involved.

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On interest in signing Gonzalo Higuain:

“I think whoever questions Higuain’s quality is crazy. Maybe he’s just a player who’s lost self-esteem. It’s not up to me to judge a player like that. We definitely could have space for Higuain if the day comes when Dzeko leaves, but motivation counts for a lot. Should we ever open talks with Juventus, Higuain is the first one who has to believe in the move.

If Higuain wants to find the real Higuain again, he won’t find a better place than Roma. He can follow in the footsteps of Batistuta, who left an unforgettable mark on this club. But these are decisions that will be looked at moving forward. For now, Dzeko is still a Roma player and I hope he understands that the atmosphere here is changing. If he should still want to go, then Inter has to pay up for the player, that way I can go back on the transfer market with a bit of money in hand. Otherwise it’s a deal I won’t make.”

CdT Verdict: Strikers are expensive. Top quality goalscorers? Even more so. Absolutely no one at this club is hanging their professional future on something as fantastical as Patrik Schick exploding into the hitman striker the kid never was. Can Schick learn to become one in time? Robin van Persie did.

But time is something Roma don’t have and, if a world class goalscorer is on offer today, that’s exactly who Petrachi is going to leave the door open to - whether it be Dzeko, Higuain or whoever Roma can realistically make room for.

Roma v Liverpool UEFA Champions League 2/05/2018. Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

On whether Roma has enough money to match ambitions:

“I’m not used to working with a budget. Cairo never told me how much we can afford to spend, and when I spoke with Pallotta he told just to put together the team I wanted, try to get young players when possible, ones who are talented and really have that desire to play. We have to build the team to start off on the right foot again, but we also have to wait for our younger players and help them grow. I gave 2-3 guidelines on the players I had in mind to bring here and it hasn’t been said to me: ‘No, Gianluca, we can’t do that because it costs too much.’ Actually I’ve only ever heard: ‘Gianluca, if you really like that player then go ahead with the negotiations and try to seal the deal.’

Right now we’re here in this press conference while I’m working on closing a deal with a player today even, and I hope we manage it.”

CdT Verdict: These are the words by which Petrachi will be hung out to dry if things go wrong. “I gave him carte blanche and he just kept signing players...” you can hear the radio interview in your head right now. Good luck, Gianluca.

On Nicolò Barella:

Belgium v Italy: Group A - 2019 UEFA U-21 Championship Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

“There have been so many half-truths said. Long before I came to Roma, his agent was here talking several times with the club and they agreed on all the finances, and [Barella] was more than happy to come to Roma. That’s what I was told. I’ve never spoken with Barella, and in the meantime there has been all the sliding doors and Monchi leaving, and talks got lost along the way.

Then Inter came in and made their proposal to Cagliari. The player got a phone call from Antonio Conte who’s very good at convincing any player he wants, and it’s perfectly understadable that the kid wants to play Champions League football and doesn’t see Roma at the same level as Inter right now.

But personally I never went looking for Barella, it was Cagliari who came looking for us telling us that Inter are knocking on the door. For me i always thought it’s difficult to make this deal happen before, let alone now. Cagliari want to give him to us, and he wants to go play for Inter. Either Barella gives me a call and changes our minds, and then we can talk about it. But for me this is a closed chapter. Money doesn’t buy character and a player has to want to be here. If he doesn’t have that motivation, it’s only right he goes to Inter.”

CdT Verdict: Missing out on the top 4 cost Roma their Barella signing, but Cagliari were still hoping to make a bidding war out of it.

The way Petrachi actually finished off this segment by saying ‘it’s only right to go to Inter’ was said as if he’d just gone done reading a piece of paper with ‘Inter’ written on it and threw it in the wastebin, along with everything else Inter-related. It was hilariously dismissive.

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On Franco Baldini:

“I’ve gotten calls from Baldini, like I think my predecessors have gotten them. He’s Pallotta’s consultant, and as his consultant he’s suggested sporting director candidates to him. Baldini putting me on his shortlist of candidates is a vote of confidence. I was clear with him, just as I was with Pallotta and I am everyday with Fienga of my one condition: I don’t make choices by debate committee. The club can tell me ‘we can or we can’t make this deal happen’ but, on the explicitly technical choices, it’s me who assumes responsibility for the signings.

Cairo never imposed anything on me when it came to technical choices. The choices were always mine. It won’t be Franco Baldini who’ll be the one to start influencing me or be the one to tell me what to do. For me, Baldini can be a big asset. He lives football, he’s done the very same job I’m doing now and he knows how difficult this role can be. So if it keeps going like it has done in the last few weeks where he calls me to say: ‘Gianluca, we’ve got a chance to sign this player. If you like him, I’ve got the right channels open by which we can make it happen.’ At that point I say: ‘Great, move on it and then I’ll talk with whoever I have to.’ That’s the kind of relationship between a consultant and sporting director.

I can guarantee you all that if ever it were otherwise, I wouldn’t be sat here today. And if ever it is no longer like that in the future, I won’t be here.”

CdT Verdict: So there you have it, Petrachi is Baldini’s man. Here, Gianluca Petrachi does nothing more than set the record straight about who will have the final say on transfers because I doubt Petrachi wants to spend any more time talking about this melodrama after today.

Far from being the boogey-man, Franco Baldini is a guy who’s brought about some of the most successful times at the club with Capello. Then he tried his own hand at being the sporting director and failed badly, while projecting some of his own ambitions onto the career of Totti that frankly weren’t Baldini’s to project. But other than that, Baldini’s one of the few who’s shown integrity in an era where everyone and their mother was trying to sell Roma down the river to Juventus and Moggi.

By remaining so close to the club through thick and thin but refusing to pander to the press with his side of the story, Franco Baldini has become nothing more than an easy target for people to blame for the lack of success and pain of change.

Italy U21 Training Session & Press Conference Photo by Danilo Di Giovanni/NurPhoto via Getty Images

On Nicolò Zaniolo:

“He finished off the season well off from where he could have done. I think he’s already beyond being considered a youth player, obviously training well and being on point. But Zaniolo is just like all the other players. Each player who wants to talk about renewing their contract with us is doing it with an eye to the transfer campaign we’re looking to put together. The club wants to give him an offer, and I want to put a big deal on his table. But here there tends to be myths built around a player after 15 or so games at the top.

I prefer concrete evidence, I like dealing with reality. It takes humility and hard work to get to the top. We have to keep his feet on the ground, at that age it’s normal to lose your head. In the last few months, he’s stopped doing those very same concepts of humility and hard work that served him well. And when it comes to the nonsense off the field, if you want to call it that, we’ve all done that stuff at 20 years of age. But the first talk I’ll have with him will be purely about where he has to do better, and that he hasn’t achieved anything yet.”

CdT Verdict: I mean, pretty much everything you’d want Zaniolo to hear in a nutshell. Rather than going to the extreme of putting the weight of Roma on the kid’s shoulders, just realise he’s still barely finished being a teenager and needs to be free to just focus on building himself as a player.

The free pass given to Zaniolo’s parents for their bullshit every week is something that hopefully Petrachi will put an end to. Giving public opinions on tactics, team selection and where Zaniolo should be fielded on the pitch? Wanda Nara (who’s an actual football agent and who’s job it is to protect her client) was crucified for less last season. There’s no reason why Roma should roll over and just give Zaniolo all the money and dressing room influence in the world. Such a move would betray a basic lack of confidence in this club to come together and keep our feet on the ground, instead of looking for another mythical saviour overnight.

I don’t want to see Zaniolo in 25 years time coming out in public talking about what a hard time it was for him to enjoy success here, how much he gave up, and all the times he turned down bigger clubs, etc. Kid, just do your best while you’re here and hopefully we’ll help you to be the best you can be, without ever feeling like you deserve credit for emotionally stunting yourself as an adult.

Stephan El Shaarawy of Italy during the 2020 UEFA European... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

On El Shaarawy and China:

“I heard from his brother who’s also doing the agent thing for him, and I told him I’d like it if he would stay. He was one of the brightest lights of last season and there’s the will from my side to extend his contract. There’s no need to be opportunistic though. Everybody has limits.

A new contract at the right numbers is something I think he’s earned. If he wants to stay in Rome, I’ll look to make him happy as soon as possible. I never keep anyone here by force, if he wants to go elsewhere they have to give us the money so we can replace him.”

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On childhood friend Antonio Conte saying no to joining Petrachi at Roma:

“I’ve known him for more than 30 years and I know him well. He’s one that wants to win immediately, and he’s gotten to that place where winning means that much that second is a loss. Going to Inter looked to him like something that would give him a better chance of winning immediately. And sure, he had his own reasons for thinking that. Roma has to rebuild the pillars on which the next season rests. but I told him winning a trophy at Roma would be like winning five trophies elsewhere.

I wasn’t there pleading with him or trying to convince him. I simply tried to explain to him we have a chance to run together. It was me that first saw the talent in him before anyone else, and it was me who first hired him as a coach. But he’s built the way he is. He won’t back down from anyone when he says he’s there to win. I appreciate and admire him both as a professional and as a friend. As much as I am passionate, I feel I fit it with a place like this. I feel like a man of the people.

I’d like to live in the square to feel the passion of Roma fans and to have even more reason to pass that onto my players. Fonseca will surprise you all wonderfully. Having him here already gives me a lot of confidence, and I have a lot of faith in him. As an opposition player, whenever I played against Roma i felt something different. I had goosebumps walking onto the Olimpico and I still have them today. These fans can be the twelfth man. I feel like playing for this shirt can bring some incredible feelings, and if everyone can understand that then that’s half the battle won.”

CdT Verdict: As much as everything said here about the Roma shirt is nice, it’s seriously nothing we haven’t heard before and it certainly hasn’t saved anyone from the fans turning on them. Once you’re out, you’re out. Whether you’re Monchi, Di Bartolomei or De Rossi. Once you’re playing in another shirt elsewhere, this place will move against you until you’re finished. That’s not James Pallotta, that’s the history of Roma ever since football became a spectacle. It’s Gladiator, it’s every movie about spectacle and popular bloodsport that you can name.

I don’t take professionals seriously inside of football when they say they live and die by the passion of the fans. That’s a fine way to end up with nobody having your back by the time you’re done entertaining them on the pitch. It’s much better to have family, and I like the story of Petrachi and Conte. Two lifelong friends who’ve flirted with running and gunning together but ultimately want to go different roads to the same destination. That’s how you grow and how you have people waiting to share a drink with you at the end of the road, comparing notes on the adventure.

The press conference by Francesco Totti photo by Massimo Di Vita/Archivio Massimo Di Vita/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

On Francesco Totti:

“I’m sorry for what happened with Totti. He’s still a one-club man and a symbol of this city. The sense of belonging within Totti was larger than life. I would have liked to have him next to me, but he made his choice and I can only accept it as a professional. I’m sorry about that as I know him personally, he’s a good lad and he’s always left a good impression on me even if he used to anger me as an opponent, because there were some games he won single handed.

There are certain things about this place that I’ll have to find out for myself but he could have explained to me in far less time. But it is what it is, and he would ever go back on his decision I’d welcome him here.”

AS Roma v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/NurPhoto via Getty Images

On Florenzi and keeping the old team together:

“I’ve not spoken with any of the players, except Kolarov who came looking for me and wanted to ask about some things, on which I told him to come talk with my directly and not through his agent or any third party. I haven’t spoken with anyone else yet, and I will when we all meet up next week.

Florenzi is the captain and each one of us should feel like we belong, like it’s something we hold inside of us. I stand by whoever shows that sense of belonging, I want them by me and I do whatever I have to do once they show me that have that in them. But show me with facts, not with talk. Because I know how it goes as a former player myself.

When I was playing, there was teammates who’d kiss the badge after they scored a goal and said ‘I want to get out of here’ as soon as we got back into the changing rooms. I’m not talking about Florenzi, who’s Roman and would give his life for Roma. Belonging isn’t something you find in talk and big declarations of love, but something shown on the pitch. In 90 minutes you have to be willing to give your life to Roma. I stick by those players, not the ones who suddenly pick up an injury right before a game and pretend to have little niggles here and there. Then in the next game against smaller opposition they’re available to be the world-beater. I know how it is as a player, and there are many little things you can’t understand from the outside and that will never make themselves known. But they understand that I know what it means to belong.

For me, only Roma exists today and everyone here has to feel the same way. If there’s anyone who want to try and be sly or be a hero, they won’t have a long future here.”

CdT Verdict: You can either see this as a warning to Pastore, or making an example Manolas or whoever has been sent packing. As usual, time will tell whether the message has truly been received and respected because Petrachi is right: Anyone can talk.

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On philosophy of the modern game:

“You can build big teams with a mixture of experienced players and talented youngsters. Too many young players means you’re waiting to give them time to grow. Every now and then, I like to sign experienced players because they help you to mature the younger talents faster by putting them in a space where they don’t have too much pressure on their shoulders. So you have to strike up the right balance.

Mostly I go for young squads that can run and have physical power, because today’s generation are dealing with a style of football that’s physical enough and less technical than when I was playing.

Scarchilli is someone I see sitting in this press conference today, and he was all about dribbling and feints but he’d play at two miles an hour. We’d park the bus, give him the ball and he’d open the game with 40 yard passes because he had a foot that sang to the ball. But football has changed today. If you don’t have that physique, they will go around you or straight through you.

I look to build a team full of players who are well built, with power and strength. But I’d also say that the tactical ideas make the difference. I think we’ve all seen what Ajax have done lately, and everyone has them in mind. They beat whoever, and put the knocks to big teams and the biggest opponents, because they knew what they had to do and they have the courage to go to places like Turin and play football in their stadium. I think that that gap in technical quality we have, that right now my friend Conte sees as a step behind what he has at Inter, that gap can be bridged with the tactical invention that our coach can give us today.”

I think that’s a decent place to end it: Petrachi talking about football itself. Even if he was asked about a bunch of other things on De Rossi that I skipped. I’m more excited on him fuelling a potential rivalry between Paulo Fonseca and the best coaches Serie A has to offer. Whenever De Rossi or Totti or whoever’s stars align back with Roma tomorrow, all the better.

Will Petrachi’s words today be met with results tomorrow? Time will tell, but already moving on from Manolas is a sign that the club will keep putting conflicted heroes of yesteryear’s rebuilds behind them.

Instead of signing wannabe-martys who aspire to follow the 12-step manual of Totti’s playing career (“How to preach sacrifice while getting paid handsomely for your world’s smallest violin”), let’s go back to the Roma rebuild of the 1970s: Building a team of players who want to play well and, more importantly, want to win.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to win. Even less with failing as long as you gave your best shot at sticking together. And if you can’t win here, we never begrudge you going to a club where you feel you’re better off. Because Roma will be Roma just the same, with or without you.

That’s the kind of identity I ask for, and maybe Petrachi will be the one to put in a piece of the foundation towards that future by the time he’s said and done.

p.s. Happy July 4th to American readers and everyone who celebrates it.