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Gianluca Petrachi Reflects On All Things Roma: Part I

Petrachi gives his frank view on Franco Baldini and text messages. The most complete English version of his radio interview here.

Gianluca Petrachi, sporting director of AS Roma, looks on... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

I was personally done with Gianluca Petrachi and his monologues. But with time and perspective on his side, the former Roma sporting director delivered a coherent, nut-and-bolts interview to Rome’s Radio Radio, this past Friday afternoon, that changed my own perspective. It was surprisingly insightful, with more talk about football and less worrying about who’s the bigger victim of his short stint in the Eternal City.

Below is the full transcript of his Radio Radio interview... and it’s lengthy. Even cutting some segments out and giving the cliff notes instead, this still turned out at over 8,000 words over two parts. So may as well save some page space and just get to it.

This will likely be the last time I ever go anywhere near a Petrachi interview again, but the football side of it and his way of valuing players made it worth it.

The interview really begins at 4:42 onwards. The first segment is made of personal questions where Petrachi confirms he’s religious, he never knew his grandfather on his father’s side but was fond of his grandfather on his mother’s side and feels he had a good, carefree childhood.

Petrachi is thankful to his relationship with his father, but feels it was too brief, as Petrachi left home at 18 years old to become a player and his father died prematurely at 54 years of age.

There’s a still image of Petrachi Snr. as an amateur football player before he went on to become a celebrated folk singer in the family’s home region.

Petrachi on Crossing Urbano Cairo and Torino Memories

Radio Radio: I want to ask you this. What’s the thing that’s missing here in Roma? Because I’m sensing this adventure with Roma was one on eggshells, and maybe you earned a reputation for being a drill sergeant. Do you find this image of you in Rome embarrassing?

Gianluca Petrachi: I find it embarrassing because, on the bottom line, I came to the club with so much enthusiasm. And I think everyone could see that. I believed so much in Roma’s project, I believed in the things I was told. And I’d like to remind everyone that I had a pretty big discussion with my former president [Urbano Cairo] to be able to come to Roma. Because even though he knew it was the last year [of my contract with Torino], he still did everything possible to not let me go, to keep me there.

Radio Radio: Who, among others things, is a very powerful man. He’s a senior editor of major television shows and papers...

(*CdT Note: Among those papers, Cairo’s group owns Gazzetta dello Sport. Aside from being the most recognisable newspaper in Italy, GdS is the “media partner” of A.S. Roma.)

Gianluca Petrachi (left), Sinisa Mihajlovic and Urbano Cairo... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Gianluca Petrachi: Absolutely. It wasn’t simple and still isn’t today, because he’s a man of power like you said. And he manages many things. But that doesn’t matter much to me. What mattered was the chance to come to Roma, and believing I could change something because everyone in the football world knows it, and says it: The atmosphere in Roma has always been a difficult one. If a league title hasn’t been won for 20 years, it can’t just be that there haven’t been enough great players, great coaches or great sporting directions. I think there are bigger problems then that.

But I thought I could overcome all of that. I told myself that my hardheaded-ness, my routine, my way of doing football, I told myself that sooner or later, just like I’d managed to change Cairo in my nine years there... because Cairo had it all his way when I came there, not my way. He’d managed to do a few seasons worthy of A, but many only worthy of B. He lost 66 million euros, and he wasn’t a fan favourite.

I looked to help him to grow in those areas. He helped me in certain other areas, and it’s important to remember that. He raised me on many fronts, especially in negotiating skills, managerial skills. He’s a great entrepreneur and manager, and naturally I looked to steal those skills off of him as much as I could. But I also looked to teach him football, how football was done and how it’s done today. And I have to say the results were big. Because aside from the fact we’re managed almost 200 million total in plusvalenze over the years, Torino reached a level in football where it hadn’t been for years. We did that by managing the bang-for-buck together with the footballing quality of the team.

In my time there, we managed to qualify twice for the Europa League. And it’d been a few years since Torino [had done so]. So I want to say that I had it in mind to come to Roma, knowing that I was bringing people by my side that could give me the power to change things in Rome.

SS Lazio v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RR: But above all, sorry for interrupting you, later I’ll pass you to my colleagues, but I just wanted to remind everyone that among others things, you brought Ciro Immobile there when you were at Torino, who’s now the Golden Boot.

GP: Right. That’s right, because someone claimed he was discovered elsewhere. In reality, I signed him after he’d scored just 3 goals at Genoa, and after I sold him to Borussia Dortmund for 22 million euros, if I’m remembering it right. Then I took him back, after a year and a half where he badly abroad, first at Borussia and then Sevilla. And with me he played a further six months at Torino, because I re-signed him in January. And those were six great months, because he could have scored maybe 12 or 13 goals. I know the final stats weren’t great, but he played very well.

RR: Let’s not forget Belotti. Who’s a club stalwart at Torino by now...

GP: Belotti. Belotti is a bit of a point of pride for me, because he wasn’t even playing at Palermo so I was able to sign him for 7 million. He’s an extraordinary kid, a special kid is Andrea. I’m very fond of him because he always gives credit. He knows how much I did for him, he knows how much I helped him in his growth, naturally also thanks to all the coaches over the years too.

But I think Belotti knows well the opportunity I gave him, and the atmosphere he came to where he felt loved immediately, despite the first two or three months where he “was playing Ciapa No” like we say. He couldn’t even hit the target. Then he gained momentum and then, one year he could have practically been sold elsewhere. Then Cairo told us don’t get too caught up over the offer and so [Belotti] stayed. But that was another time where, if he had been sold, we would have made a mega, mega plusvalenza.

CdT Verdict: We could have skipped this segment, but we included his reflections on his time at Torino because it’s one part of how Petrachi judges players, regardless of whether they’re on a hot streak at the time or not. Both Immobile (twice) and Belotti were down in the dumps when Petrachi came calling for them.

Roma will be hoping they’ve just done a similarly astute piece of business with Borja Mayoral, who you don’t have to go very far wading through Youtube comments to find lukewarm (to put it politely) comments about his career prospects.

Petrachi on Refusing Into Play Roma’s Politics

AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

RR: So let’s return to the present and the current mercato. With your strong character, such as in the very first press conference where you were saying ‘I don’t give news, information or priority to [xyz journalist over xyz journalist], and so in my opinion right there you created some enemies for free. But to sum it up: was it you who didn’t get Roma or was it others who didn’t get you?

GP: I believe they understood me well, and for six months they even supported me to the point where things got done, and I referred to that in the letter I published. Up until December and January, I got many things done with the help of the club. You can ask anyone about how people were no longer allowed to drop by Trigoria casually, how many people I distanced, quote unquote, from the vicinity of the first team, to maintain and heal the group. How much mentality and professionalism I looked to bring, how many fines I handed out and were paid for not respecting certain rules within a internal structure that I’d introduced. And I think that, from my point of view, things were going well if not even better than that.

When I looked to put an end to many situations that kept happening within the club, news that kept leaking, many people who were [hanging around at Trigoria] and not doing a thing... I tried to explain [to the club] that to truly be a winner, you need to start from the fundamentals. If you don’t have a family beside you with which to go to war, because every match is a war... when you go to play a match and, to give you an example, you find the physiotherapist or the groundsman isn’t behind you, and actually maybe even they’re praying that things go badly so the director gets fired. Because that effort, that professionalism that he’s asking of you isn’t congruent with ‘how things were always done’ in the years prior, then it’s obvious you’ve already lost. Because in football it’s not like you can always pretend like it’s all good.

US Sassuolo v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

On the pitch, there will be moments, even difficult moments, those people who put themselves on the line even more will [be the ones] to gel the group. And that’s when you’ll finally be ready to win something. Because it’s in the tough times that you find character. It’s too easy to ride on the coat-tails of others when things are going well. It’s when things are going badly that you have to dig deep and find attributes that help you to stay tight and together.

I believe that type of unity and togetherness, it seems to me that that’s never been there in Roma’s structure. In actual fact, many people wouldn’t dare risk speaking badly to one another, they’d look each other straight in the face and hug one another, and as soon as they saw each other walk away around the corner they’d say ‘that guy’s a bastard, that guy’s an idiot.’ And that was more or less the general song and dance there.

Since I was the one who tried to unify them, even between the people who weren’t really speaking to one another, trying to get them to confront each other and come together... then what’s the problem?

If ever it came down to people’s business that wasn’t important to the team or the footballing side of things, then it wasn’t my business. The only thing that mattered to me was we be tight. If ever there were things keep getting between us that weren’t positive, and only served to create even more confusion, then that’s where I have to distance myself from you.

And if you don’t give me the power, you as a club, to distance those issues from the club then I’ve got no today nor a tomorrow. I lose all the same. They’ll kill me. That’s how football works, lads. It’s very simple but there are some unwritten rules that count for a lot.

FC Internazionale v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by MB Media/Getty Images

RR: When was the moment where you felt alone in that battle? Was there a moment where you realised this wasn’t what you signed up for, or that there were too many obstacles in the way of change?

GP: Look, I have to be honest with you and tell you some things that naturally nobody knows. But at a certain point, I spoke with the person who was my point of reference within the club, in the middle of January, to ask: “But is the president happy with the work that’s being done and been done? Or is there a problem?”

It’s true that I don’t speak English well, so I never had a direct one-on-one with [Pallotta] except for two or three occasions in the first seven to eight months. So naturally everything had to be re-told to me [second-hand], and so I don’t actually know what was told to the president.

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

One thing’s for sure: I sent a text message at Christmas to Pallotta, a very nice message wishing well for the holidays, and I want to re-iterate that we won in Florence at Christmas time. We were fourth in the table. We were right in the thick of the fight for the Champions’ League spots, which was what the club had asked of yours truly. And Pallotta never replied to my message. To be honest, I didn’t take that well. I had to ask: ‘Has something happened? Seeing as he doesn’t reply to me, even just for the sake of politeness, with a message.’

I think that was the moment where they were looking to take power away from me, and looking to throw me under the bus. They were looking to destroy me in a very subtle way. And I was hoping things would change my mind as soon as possible, that the president would make himself known. That he would call me, that he would even want to see me face to face. In reality, that never happened and I went forward with my own plans.

I looked to bring forward the changes that I just told you about earlier and that was where they took their time. I asked for certain things and they wouldn’t give that to me. That’s when I understood that I just had to hope for the season to end, sit down and hope that we finish as high as possible and then look everyone in the eye and tell them exactly how things are. Or we do things how I say, or they have to fire me.”

CdT Verdict: This is a part of Petrachi’s ethos that I actually like and buy into. So allow me to go at length on this, Petrachi-style.

I personally get uncomfortable when I feel like I’ve been part of the get-along-gang for too long. Because no project worth building is ever done perfectly, mistakes will be made and being able to accept you won’t always be able to do your best is an important part of ... ironically ... giving the best of yourself over a sustained period of time. But you also can’t do it alone, and need to be able to trust that the people around you will share open, honest and critical (yet constructive) feedback. Even when it’s uncomfortable to do so, at first. Equally important is not to find comfort in only being seen as a confrontational character.

You don’t want to get used to only courting a certain kind of attention. There’s no such thing as “keeping it real” 24/7 - even that reveals deep, caricature-like insecurity. Sometimes you’ve done a fine job, and that’s all the needs to be said. You need to be able to be at peace with those moments, or you’ll be the one rocking the boat for no reason at all, which betrays a lack of faith in the very project you helped build.

There always comes that make-or-break moment where your faith in the integrity of the projects you help build will be tested, and that you have to believe a project can manage itself without you playing helicopter dad. Without that, you’ll never build anything that you can truly appreciate as bigger than your own individual limitations. Evidently, Petrachi had (and still doesn’t) believe in Roma’s integrity as a football club.

You can see that as justified, based on whether you believe Petrachi’s perspective or Guido Fienga’s own. Because Petrachi is so obviously going against Fienga later in this interview.

Petrachi Defends His Roma Transfer Campaign

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

RR: I want you to give a rating to this sporting director. Nzonzi sent away because he was earning 4.5 million net per year, Defrel sold with an obligation to buy, Sadiq and Marcano for 1.5 million and 5 million. Brought in: Veretout who nobody knows how much he could be worth today, Smalling on loan, Mkhitaryan on loan, Zappacosta on loan, Villar, Perez, Lopez who we’ll talk more about on the price after, Spinazzola, Mancini, Ibañez. And Diawara in exchange for Manolas. What rating would you give to that sporting director?

GP: I believed I managed to do things that went even beyond what the club asked of me. Some tried to call me a company man. The club told me to renovate. That ‘we have to sell some old players and sign some young faces, look for great potentials, the kind of players that you’ve shown in the past you can sign for a penny and then it turns out they add real value to the squad, and look to make the team a little stronger than what it is right now, always looking to pay attention to the bottom line because there isn’t that much money.’

But the idea was that if you did things the smart way, you can make Roma stronger, more solid. For sure, it’s not something you can do overnight. I believe good deals were done, on many of them we were forced to do some things that’s part of how the real transfer market works. It’s not fantasy football, where you buy, you sell, you give them the money and the story ends there. There are so many other things, whether it be making a plusvalenza or looking to do intelligent and crafty deals, how I like to put it.

For sure, I believe the development started off on the right foot. Worthy young players were signed, and they proved themselves. In my time there we had to build up at least fifteen players, among which half of them were meant to be sold. And some of them were players who, objectively speaking, didn’t have much demand for them at the time.

For a sporting director, it can be hard to move players on and get money for them after playing a season that wasn’t so good. I definitely want to re-iterate that the foundations for some transfers were laid, but there were players who rejected any move ahead of time. There were three players who rejected moves that yours truly had found for them. But that’s all part of the game. But it’s still true that some of my players rejected moves and they’re still there at Roma today.”

Torino FC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

RR: Don’t you think that we should mention Kalinic, too? As an example of how not all things worked out well.

GP: But Kalinic was someone I signed on a free loan, and they even agreed to pay his salary. Because Kalinic was earning 5 million a year at Atletico Madrid, and from us he was earning 3. And all the same, Kalinic, from my point of view, paid the price for a season where he wasn’t up to top shape because he hadn’t been playing for a while. But if he had played more by the end of the season, and I felt he could have been played more, he would have been able to give us a bigger hand in my opinion. But naturally these are all matters of opinion, but it’s not as if we can say Petrachi paid 20 million for Kalinic, and now we have a burden on our hands that we don’t know how to get rid of.

In my opinion, those are the real problems that a sporting director can create. Paying not just 4 or 5 million a season in wages, but spending 30 million on a player that you don’t even know where you’ll make it back because he’s not even managing to play regularly for you above all.

(Awkward silence).

GP: Excuse me if I interrupted you, there.

CdT Verdict: Not much to add to this segment. I actually felt Kalinic was one of Petrachi’s better deals, even before these new details behind the move were revealed. It’s also notable that Petrachi felt Fonseca could have played Kalinic more, and maybe he felt the dependency on Edin Dzeko was heavy-handed. Fonseca has recently been accused in the media of giving star, veteran players too much autonomy and respect (yet respecting autonomy is the very thing that Paulo Fonseca’s core coaching staff praise him for in this interview).

This is one of the few culture clashes between Petrachi and Fonseca. One tends to play helicopter-dad to his players on the regular, while the other has known to be ruthless in cutting players from his squad but, with Fonseca, once you’re in the inner circle, you’re trusted to manage your own affairs.

Petrachi Rants On Roma Journalists

RR: Despite the fact you did such solid work, even beyond the Kalinic issue which was really just my way of firing you up, don’t you think that your way of communicating counted for more? Both in terms of how you put yourself across to others within the club, and with the general atmosphere surrounding it...

GP: But that’s the choice you make. Because I’ve always been that way. So when Roma chose me, they knew Gianluca Petrachi was built that way and I have to get certain things off my chest. Naturally, in a broken system like Roma’s, because there there really is a broken system, where everyone thinks they have to right to news because a newspaper editor calls me and tells me ‘do you have any idea who I am?’, another calls me and says ‘don’t you know I make the news around here?’, it’s normal that I have to put a stop on that way of doing things.

Because if I talk with one person tomorrow, then I have to talk with everyone or there will always be someone upset. I’ve always kept it simple, and I said in my experience, be it in Pisa, or Torino or anywhere else I’ve worked, I’ve never had a confidential relationship with any journalist and I’ve never gone for a coffee with a journalist.

AS Roma Sport Director Gianluca Petrachi attends the press... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/LightRocket via Getty Images

If you listen to my press conferences, I’d always been very at ease. It’s been said that there were things I didn’t like, I don’t know if I said a few words out of place, maybe I said something at times that I should have kept to myself, because the kids could be watching and there’s a need to set an example. But they used my way of taking to make me out into something I wasn’t, just because it was easier to throw Petrachi under the bus.

(*CdT Note: This ramble is where Petrachi loses me for a moment. I don’t miss translating these monologues. He goes on about how he could list first and last names of journalists who made idle threats to him if he didn’t work with them, and repeats how the club didn’t support or protect him when he expected it. Ok, the point has been made, but surely Petrachi cannot believe he’s as important to the centre of the Romaverse as he makes himself out to be here.

It’s a flip-flip argument where he claims he’s both the reason why Roma’s media printed headlines in the morning, and yet also the reason why they weren’t able to print as much news as they wanted. We’ll pick it back up at 24:58 minutes)

Petrachi on His Final Text Message to Pallotta

AS Roma v Juventus FC - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

RR: Would you send that one text message to Pallotta again, if you had the chance?

GP: Well, it wasn’t a nasty message. It was a message looking for a confrontation. That then in reality never happened. That never came to pass. I didn’t offend anyone and I consider myself to be an educated person, I know how much respect is worth, I spoke about how my father taught me that at the beginning [of this interview].

In that message, I wanted help. Come here, protect me and give me the power because I’m looking to do work for you, I’m trying to show you that things are going a certain way, I want and would like that everyone of us is representing you in the best light, trying to change a trend that isn’t working. And that isn’t just the opinion of Petrachi, but the opinion of the whole footballing world.

So I’d definitely send that text message again. Because otherwise I would have just suffered a long and painful death, like so many other coaches have and so many other directors have, and so many people that have been at Roma. And I repeat, I’ll tell you here, it’s not the pressure of the fans. Because maybe that’s the most beautiful thing there is in Rome, maybe there isn’t enough importance given to what Roma means to the fans, to the carnal passion there is among the Roma fans and faithful. And unfortunately, something things aren’t clarified and people don’t tell it straight to the Roma fans.

Maybe it’s the fact that I had to say it, when it really wasn’t up to me to say how things were, that’s what annoyed them. If you were to blame me for anything, maybe it’s that, to be too honest with the people and the fans about how things were. That’s all.

CdT Verdict: This segment comes off as pandering and manipulative. Maybe his legal case against the club plays into it here, as Petrachi is nothing but evasive on this subject. Moving on.

Petrachi on Franco Baldini

AS Roma Unveils New General Manager Franco Baldini Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

RR: Was there ever a block on what moves you could make on the transfer market?

GP: No. I was always free to decide. There was never any outside influence. Not even what some people were incorrectly saying about Franco Baldini giving me the budget. Franco never allowed himself to tell me who to sign or force me to sign a player. He always respected me and my role. As far as any private conversations between him and the president Pallotta, I never knew nor did I ever need to know.

But from a purely footballing point of view, Roma let me do whatever I wanted. The problem wasn’t ever really that, it was all the rest that needed their support. Because I repeat-

(*CdT Note: Skipped this part because he’s already gone into detail about difference of opinion on club leaks, and feeling like staff were hoping for the club’s failure so that he could get fired and they have their way. He cites leaking the change of formation to 3-4-2-1 as another example, but even the journalist points out in their next question that that kind of stuff happens everywhere to all teams, including Antonio Conte’s Euro 2016 Italy squad ahead of games, and isn’t specific to Rome. Petrachi also says he agreed with a recent Luciano Spalletti interview where Spalletti describes Trigoria is being the home of the Three Blind Mice.)

CdT Verdict: I’ve maintained for some time that Franco Baldini was nothing but a loyal servant to Roma. Did he have a couple of bad transfer campaigns in his twenty plus years at the club? Yes. But he’s also the last sporting director to win a league title with Roma, the guy who signed Walter Samuel, Gabriel Batistuta, and the guy who near-single-handedly kept Roma out of Calciopoli trouble when everyone else in the Sensi dynasty was getting cozy with Moggi’s Juventus.

Baldini’s only real crime is the same as Petrachi’s: Refusing to give interviews or information to Rome’s journalists upon his return in 2011. Oh, and falling out with Francesco Totti.

But I seriously question any journalist who’s spread baseless stories about Baldini without quotes, facts or any real process of induction. They are the same journalists who will sell you a story about how Roma’s problems are unique, special and somehow belong to a Star Wars epic of the permanent battle between forces good and evil.

Not the more everyday, banal story that Roma is a club that - by Petrachi’s own account here - consistently fails to align their long-term goals with the short-term interests of the very people who work at the club. That it itself is a very Italian and Southern European problem, too.

The day Roma can provide and protect for their own, in a way where it every club member can see the benefit of hanging tight for a league season, and not just selling the latest gossip to a journo for street cred and a few euro, or tanking games and feigning injuries knowing that the coach will get pay the price with his job, is the day Roma can call itself a big club. Until then, we’re like a lot of other clubs out there. But with nicer kits.

Stay tuned for the second part of Petrachi’s radio interview, coming later over a jam-packed finish to the week.