As football has become more and more of a global phenomenon, it has also become more and more of a cash cow, both for club owners and players. Of course, the most explicit example of this is the transfer market, where player values have ballooned to obscene amounts - Neymar’s transfer to PSG cost €222, placing his fee somewhere in between the Gross Domestic Products of the Marshall Islands and Palau. Year-on-year salaries are also an indicator of how big the sport has become, with even a medium-large club like Roma spending nearly €65 million per year on player salaries alone. Examining a club’s payroll can allow us a chance to look at the health of a club and predict where the club may be headed in the long term.
The Good: The Kids Are Alright
It doesn’t take a world-class accountant to note that Roma has done an excellent job of keeping its young talent on manageable, long-term deals. Particularly following the renewals of Cengiz Ünder and Nicolo Zaniolo, the Giallorossi have a nice variety of wonderkids on the payroll. Barring Mirko Antonucci and Alessio Riccardi, academy graduates who haven’t proven anything yet, every hot prospect is being paid just enough to show that the club sees them as part of the future, while leaving enough space between those prospects and the established stars of Roma that there is room to grow inside the wage structure.
Even if Gianluca Petrachi decides that one or more of Ünder, Zaniolo, Kluivert, Mancini, Diawara, Pellegrini, Cristante, or Cetin needs to be sold to balance the books, having these players on reasonable contracts means that the DS can hold out for less of a Mo-Salah-to-Liverpool deal and more of an Alisson-to-Liverpool deal. For a club like Roma that is trying to balance super-club aspirations with a small checkbook, this is critical. Buy low, sell high works a whole lot better when you have a stronger position to bargain from, and the Roma wage structure for its hot prospects does this excellently.
The (Kinda) Bad: The Top Half of the Payroll
We’ll get to the elephant in the room at the top of the payroll eventually, but even beyond the obvious, Roma’s top half of the payroll leaves a little bit to be desired. Yes, it made sense to hand Edin Džeko a renewal, and yes, the practice of raiding the Premier League Misfits Drawer has paid off before, but it’s still not ideal to have the top half of the wage bill be filled up with players who may already be past their prime, or at the very least question marks.
I’m honestly surprised that Diego Perotti is still in Rome (though with Cengiz Ünder’s recent injury, I’m grateful); I still expect him to return to Argentina eventually. With Džeko staying until 2021 and Patrik Schick most likely gone for good, I’m worried about Roma’s future up front. This is the first time in recent memory that Roma hasn’t had a striker-in-waiting, whether that was Patrik Schick or Mattia Destro. On the bright side, however, once Džeko either retires or leaves, that €5 million a year can probably go towards catching a somewhat big fish for that spot up front. I certainly wouldn’t mind a move for Andrea Belotti or Moise Kean, but that’s a conversation for another time.
I do find it incredibly fascinating that so many of Roma’s highest wages are going to players on loan with the club; Smalling, Mkhitaryan, Kalinic and Zappacosta are all being paid quite a bit by the Giallorossi. However, I’m not too worried by this because worst-case scenario, these players underperform, Roma doesn’t exercise any of their options to buy, and the wage bill becomes significantly lighter. This plan of filling up the team with loanees allows Gianluca Petrachi increased flexibility on the wages front next summer, which may be incredibly necessary if the Giallorossi don’t reach the Champions League.
The Ugly: That Pastore Contract
I mean at this point, what is there to say. Pastore was supposed to bring La Maggica back to Rome, and due to injuries more than anything else, he simply hasn’t. I would’ve loved to see him light up the Olimpico, and those backheel goals he kicked off last season with were fun, but having the club’s second-highest paid player warm the bench is unsustainable for a club like Roma, rumored-Qatar-Airlines-backing-or-no. With rumors saying that Pastore may be heading to Qatar full-time, this problem might be incredibly short-term, but as of right now, it’s the largest flaw in Roma’s wage structure by far.
Roma’s gross wages come in at around €125 million, dwarfed by Juventus’ €294 million but neck-and-neck with Inter Milan’s €139 million. This type of wage bill, Pastore contract or no, means that Roma needs to be shooting for the Champions League each and every year; anything less will most likely result in a fire sale.
Gianluca Petrachi should be given an enormous amount of credit for getting rid of a lot of the Monchi-created dead weight in the squad; gone are Patrik Schick, Robin Olsen, Steven NZonzi, Maxime Gonalons, and more. Romanisti may have a right to be slightly concerned about life after Džeko, and the number of high contracts handed out to loanees does raise the question of how long this core is intended to last. Yet the excellent contract work on Cengiz Ünder, Nicolo Zaniolo, and the other hot prospects in the side means that at the very least, Roma will not find it hard to make a profit if worse comes to worse.
There’s certainly room to grow for the Giallorossi, but the Petrachi reign has brought some order back to the Giallorossi payroll.