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Gianluca Petrachi Reflects On All Things Roma: Part II

Petrachi gives his frank view on Pau Lopez, Paulo Fonseca, Ibañez, Zaniolo, the Friedkins and more.

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

Welcome to the second part of Gianluca Petrachi’s Radio Radio Roma interview. It’s nearly as long as the first part so, once again, let’s just get to it. You can read part one right here.

Petrachi on Roma’s Annual Winter Meltdown

AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RR: Do you have any view on what could be behind all the injuries? Because a leaked change of formation could help an opponent, yes, but in my view what weighed heavily on last season were top Roma players not able to play throughout the season with any kind of continuity...

GP: (Petrachi won’t let the point about club leaks drop, so I skipped this part until 31:05). I’ll give you another example to get to the point: If I walk into my dressing room, and talk to my players, and then it gets out that Petrachi, after the Sassuolo game, checked his team and explained to them that they have to give more, that the last thing they need to lose is face, being as we conceded 20 goals in 30 minutes...

RR: Did they really throw you out of that dressing room, Gianluca?

GP: Who could have thrown me out?

RR: We’re asking because, in Rome, it’s said that Fonseca sent you out. But that’s not the case?

GP: Absolutely not. No one ever threw me out, and no one could have allowed themselves to. That can’t be for real. But that’s not the point. The point is that the match hadn’t even finished, and already between the beginning and end of the second half, that headline came out. Who leaked that story? I don’t think it came from any of the players on the pitch. So you have to go back to the point that maybe there was someone in the core who claimed Petrachi was sent away from the dressing room. And that’s what not right, how can you win like that? Maybe there was someone there who was busy winding up Petrachi.

As far as the injuries, you should be answering questions. If there was an entire change of staff, and everything else, then definitely something wasn’t right. But it’s not me who can answer that, it’s you who make news out of that.

CdT Verdict: Again, Petrachi is evasive here.

Petrachi on Pau Lopez

Alejandro ‘Alex’ Berenguer of Torino FC competes for the... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

RR: One of our listeners Giuseppe asks: Who talked [Petrachi] into believing Pau Lopez was a great keeper? And are we now really forced to start playing a keeper who’s nearly 40 years old?

GP: Who talked me into it? I believe Pau Lopez is a fine keeper, I believe he more than showed that in the first half of the season. And that choosing him was the right choice. I believe he found a good home within Fonseca’s footballing beliefs, meaning the team having an extra “libero”, because the coach loves to build up from the back and having the strength in numbers at the back. And Pau Lopez completely fit what the coach wanted.

I certainly believe that, up until the derby game, everyone was not just happy with him but beyond happy. None other than Walter Zenga, who’s the last person we could call an idiot [when it comes to judging goalkeepers], said: ‘Congratulations to whoever signed Pau Lopez because, for me, he’s one of the most beautiful examples of where goalkeeping has come to in Italian football this season.’

Then, after the derby, something certainly hampered him. I believe that a little insecurity started to get into his head, and that certainly doesn’t help him. Because mental strength is something goalkeepers definitely need to have. But he has to dig himself out of this, himself. It’s only you who can help yourself. Then, unfortunately, he broke his wrist after I left [the club]. That’s another negative deterrent for a keeper. If a keeper breaks his wrist... you’re a keeper and you rely on the use of your hands... there’s definitely going to be a few problems in your head. Whoever has played football will understand these things, and whoever hasn’t will think it’s no big deal.


It doesn’t mean I’m going to justify Pau Lopez’s mistakes, because he’s given some performances, especially in that game in the Europa League, that aren’t up to scratch with his best quality, which is coming off the line. If we remember the save he made at Bologna, when we won [at the death], that’s the sharp Pau Lopez that I know.

And what’s more, I would like to say this: It’s not true, as has come out, that 30 million was paid for Pau Lopez. That’s not the truth. 18 million was paid for Pau Lopez, plus [giving away 50% on Sanabria’s future sell-on fee]. And then whoever wants to quantify how much half of Sanabria’s playing rights is worth today, you can do that, but really what what paid for Pau Lopez was 18 million.

I believe - and you can check if I’m lying - that Pau Lopez, if he returns to being himself mentally, then he can return to being the keeper that, already mid-season last year, people were already calling me up to ask about him, because Premier League clubs already wanted to sign him. That’s something I can say here, freely. I hope for his sake that he re-finds himself.

AS Roma v Wolfsberger AC: Group J - UEFA Europa League Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

Everyone can take risks and everyone can get it wrong. Up until today, you’d certainly have to say the performances from Pau Lopez have not been good enough. But I still believe I didn’t make a mistake at the time, especially based on what he showed me and what I’ve seen him do. One last thing is that Mirante was interviewed the other day, who said: ‘I’m happy to be a starter once again, but I can guarantee you that Pau Lopez is truly a great player.’ His words, not mine.

So it has to be said no one can deny Mirante his opinion, because he’s seen keepers come and go and he’s trained with many, many good good ones. If he expressed himself that way, it wasn’t just to be nice. I believed in that and I believe in what he said.

CdT Verdict: This is one of the most interesting segments, as Pau Lopez can’t stop attracting people who vouch for him around Rome. This comes just a couple of months after Roma’s former Scudetto-winning keeper coach Roberto Negrisolo also fully vouched for Pau Lopez, how Lopez has played and what the keeper can achieve. That being said, former Roma keeping coach Guido Nanni weighed in last season by claiming Pau Lopez was nothing special. The leader of the Pau Patrol continues to divide opinion, even from his spot on the Roma bench!

But there are no lies told by Petrachi on the perception of Lopez, here. When we were tallying our Sinners & Saints 2019/20 total, this summer, we actually had Pau Lopez out in the lead as one of the most regular mentioned Saints up until around January 2020. He was on course to be one of the season. Now, just this past September, we’re ready to move on from him.

The top of the football echelon is unforgiving and ruthless. One wrist injury and a moment of infamy against Lazio has you going from Premier League clubs ready to give Roma double to triple returns on their Pau Lopez investment... to nothing at all. The life of a high-profile sporting director, eh?

Petrachi on Paulo Fonseca

RR: I’ll give you two names. The first is Paulo Fonseca, and I want to ask you what you think of Roma’s current coach. The second name I’ll give you is Antonio Conte. Did you try to bring Conte to the project you signed up to when you first came to Roma?

AS Roma v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Claudio Villa - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

GP: Look, a lot has been said on Antonio Conte already. The truth is only for him, me and one another person to know. That will stay between us. It’s not ok with me to say things that don’t make sense to reveal today. But the truth is something we know, and another person. That’s it. Maybe in a few years it’ll come out, because we all know in football that eventually everyone knows everything (laughs).

Fonseca, in my opinion, had innovative ideas. I chose him because of his attitude geared towards a pro-active, attacking style of football. A football played on the ground, needing speed of thought, structured and memorised. But certainly then the Italian league will present you with problems, the kind of problems that you’re not used to facing. And he’s made the most of [those lessons]. I hope that he continues to make the most of that in the future.

The issue is that the sooner you understand how you have to learn, the sooner you’ll become strong, really strong. But if you want to stay anchored to certain movement, or even maybe, quote unquote “not listen” to the advice of who can help you in this competition, then it becomes a matter of opinion.

Fonseca definitely has qualities. In my opinion, if he improves in certain areas, he can definitely continue to have the brilliant career that he’s having. But in my view, he still has to perfect a few things to really reach the top.

CdT Verdict: All good stuff said here. Again, as someone who appreciates constructive criticism myself, it’s easy to see Petrachi has a lot of belief in Paulo Fonseca and takes the time to dish a well-measured view. If he didn’t, he would have just showered him in polite praise and called it a day.

Petrachi Has Another Rant

Nicolo Zaniolo of AS Roma eyes the ball during the Serie A... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

RR: I’d like to send you a hello message from [Nicolo Zaniolo’s agent] Claudio Vigorelli, who wrote to me speaking very well of you. He said he had the feeling when he spoke with Pallotta, that they hadn’t exactly told Pallotta what was really going on. Pallotta knew that by the end, but it was too late as Roma was already sold. But I’d like to ask you if Roma called you up, would you come back today?

And there’s another person within the club, who’s a true work-horse like you, who said that you were doing everything right. But that you were too impulsive. This is a true Romanista who said this, a true Roma fan, who told me that if you’d done things more calmly, with a little more finesse, you would have had your way. What do you think about those two remarks?

GP: The thing on Pallotta pleases me, maybe because he’d had time to reflect on it. Because time makes gentlemen out of us all, maybe he realised that they told him, in my opinion, so many inaccurate things, so many things that weren’t true. And I’m sorry about that because it’s the first person to pay the price was actually him. Because he never managed to make himself loved [by the fans] over so many years, because he’s never been completely represented for who he really was.

As far as the true Roma fan inside Trigoria goes: Yes, it’s true. Maybe I could have send around a few more flowers, and I could have waited a moment to see how the winds would change. But my impulsivity, my desire to change things, my desire to bring the people something positive, to gamble on something that could win... even things that have been said on my players themselves. That there was bad feeling between us, someone went around saying that I wasn’t loved by my own players.

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

There’s no doubt that the only people they need to love are their wives, or their girlfriends. They don’t have to love me. But my players certainly showed me great respect. And they knew what I was doing for them, how many things we were building together. I’m not about to sit here and tell you or list you all the the texts that I received [from them] when I was sent away. I can guarantee you that even those [players] that someone tried to make out I had problems with, were the very same players who were maybe the most sincere ones, the realest characters. And I appreciated that a lot.

So I always looked to protect that group, those lads and the project. Because the project was important. Even if I had to talk with Zaniolo, there we go, let me give you an example. Every now and then, in the best sense of the act, I had to grab Zaniolo by the ear. There were so many times I had to go that together with Vigorelli, because sometimes he would do kid things. But I was always there to help him. The carrot and the stick, like we say. But Zaniolo always respected me and always showed great respect towards me.

Whenever there was a fine to pay, he paid it. When it was the moment to come to my office to apologise for something that happened, he did it. I believe that’s the player relationship you should have. And you need coherence, and to say things to a player’s face. It’s always give and take. Not a relationship where you pat them on the back, telling them “you’re the best! You’re the greatest!” and then the next day, you go and criticise them. Something that I often see happen in our environment.

Nicolo Zaniolo (C) of AS Roma competes for the ball with... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

So I want to say they fueled some absurd rumours there. At first, I was looking to push away certain people who told these stories, to truly throw me under the bus, no? To discredit me. And so maybe I just sped up this process.

It’s likely that this friend, this super-fan inside Trigoria, who’s saying this, it’s very likely that it was a mistake on my part. That desire to immediately distance those little voices, the many parasites that were there [inside the training centre]. So honestly, I don’t deny that that was the plan.

(*CdT Note: I have to stop here with this answer because Petrachi is repetitive to exhaustion on this topic. We get the point. Really. We get it. It’s an important problem to confront, but you’ve made your point.

He rambles on about how he looked left and right, and felt alone and couldn’t even find his own shadow as backup. He says he was abandoned. He says that Walter Sabatini told him he should go running to Roma, and that he holds Sabatini in high esteem from their past together at Perugia, that Roma stays inside of you even if it was just for a year. But he’s really just building up to saying that it’s Roma who has to do things Petrachi’s way and show him they can support him, before he’d consider taking up the job at Roma again. He also mentions that even a great coach like Fabio Capello wouldn’t have won in Roma if he hadn’t had the support of Franco Sensi. Petrachi talks for so long that Ilario di Giovambattista has to interrupt him and move along to the next question).

Cdt Verdict: We’d be a lot of money that the ‘true Romanista’ giving their anonymous 2 cents was Bruno Conti. Just a guess.

Petrachi on the Friedkin Era

AS Roma v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

RR: Have you never spoken with the new owners? What is the situation right now? It seems a contentious one where Roma is doing business without a sporting director. I wanted to ask you what you think about Roma doing their mercato without a sporting director, it seemed that they’re managing it. They made Mkhitaryan permanent, they look like they winning Smalling’s signature, they signed Kumbulla and now Borja Mayoral. I wanted to ask you for a rating on that. And you have zero relationship with the Friedkins. Was there ever meant to be something?

GP: I got to know the Friedkins over a lunch at Trigoria. I can’t remember whether it was December or January, I don’t remember when they came to Rome. We had a very casual lunch. There was talk over of methods of landing players, our way of working, it was very cordial, and both father and son were very interested to hear what our opinion was on it all.

And then the next meeting was the near-sale at the beginning of February, where I was called to a sit-down to talk about what the long-term plans for Roma were. So they know what they have in mind for the long-term in Rome. It was none other than me that was asking: ‘What intentions do you have? Where do you want to go to? What do you want for Roma?’

Those were questions I asked. The father and son weren’t there, but it was their right-hand men, their lawyers who were doing the closing talks, who told me those things upon signing. So I got to know some things, but after that I never heard from them or were approached by them again. So I don’t know what their intentions will turn out. The only given is that I’m in a legal battle with Roma, they fired me for what they maintain is justifiable cause. Naturally, I’ll defend myself by legal means and look to make them understand that that justifiable cause isn’t so.

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

RR: Wouldn’t this be the right moment to establish a relationship with the Friedkins? To ask them for a meeting? No?

GP: Well, I’m not a sick patient looking for a doctor. Maybe it should be vice versa, it’s them who’s in need of a sporting director.

(*CdT Note: I skipped a lot of this answer because I’ve learnt, by now, how to see another Petrachi dancing-in-circles-around-the-point monologue coming. The bottom line here is he says repeatedly, in many ways, that the Friedkins have to call him, he doesn’t have to call them.)

Maybe if they court me for several months like you guys did to convince me to do this live interview, then they’ll be interested in hearing what Gianluca lived through. Or maybe they will only want to hear the story of people who were there at the club last year, and still there this year. We’ll see what they believe.

RR: So basically, I man-marked you [for this interview]?

GP: You were truly, truly, pretty tenacious (laughs). If I were a beautiful woman, I would have understood why, but you courted me in an incredible way (laughs).

CdT Verdict: At the time of the interview, the only two Roma people who were both “here last season and here now” are CEO Guido Fienga and board-member Benedetta Navarra. Navarra is a banker, so unless Petrachi has some beef over some checking accounts we don’t know about, then we’re going to induce that Petrachi and Guido Fienga don’t see eye-to-eye.

Petrachi on Getting Back to Work and Scouting

ACF Fiorentina v UC Sampdoria - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

RR: What kind of a transfer market is this one [in your view]? Do you think Chiesa will go to Juventus? Yes or no?

GP: Chiesa is a player Juve like a lot. But if he was going, then he could have already gone to Juve last year. I think it was the coach that kept him [at Fiorentina], and the club owner who has so much enthusiasm. To convince the kid, because he’s still a kid, that it’s only right for him to stay and that the president wanted to build a strong Fiorentina team. But I don’t know the dynamics this year. What I know is Juventus have always been interested in Chiesa, and they still are. I don’t think that’s news at all.

RR: Have there been clubs approaching you? And how much do you miss living through a transfer window first-hand, even if it obviously hasn’t been that long?

GP: I can tell you that I haven’t stopped working for sixteen years now. My daughter is sixteen years old, and I’ve seen her very little. So right now I’m enjoying my time with a little lady who only ever got to see me every fifteen to twenty days or so before, because unfortunately my family always stayed behind. My wife took care of the family problems that come with moving around, and they need to be put in first place. The fact that I’ve stopped working for three months now has honestly given me the chance [to make up for lost time].

Because they’ve been sixteen full years. Starting with Pisa, where we did strong, important things. Serie C was the first title we’d won in fourteen years, and then we only lost out on promotion to Serie A through the playoffs. I took Torino, who were in Serie B in 2010, and we got back to Serie A after a year and a half. In Serie A, I brought them to the Europa League. And nine years working with Cairo... I can guarantee you that’s like working eighteen years with any other president. It’s at least double. It’s not the way I would want it, but it’s the truth. He’s very demanding.

Gleison Bremer of Torino FC in action during the Serie A... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

That was a really important place to work, where I wanted to bring them back to past glories. So the fact I’ve stopped working for a bit, I’m even enjoying it. Would I enjoy not working for a long time? No. Because you miss football. The thing I’m missing the most is not being able to see the games live, because when you’re a sporting director that’s the most beautiful part [of the job]. Being able to personally visit the players, the players you like and you want to sign, being able to see them live. Because that’s another world entirely.

Sometimes when you work, you do a hit-and-run. Today I could easily go for a tour around Europe, or South America. For example, I went to Brazil when I signed Bremer to Torino, and I’d love to be able to do that again. Unfortunately, all the stadiums being closed right now doesn’t let me work like I would like to.

RR: But has any club rang you, even if they can’t come knock on your door right now? Has any club phoned up Petrachi?

GP: Yes, I have to say there [has been an offer]. There’s a very important team, but we have to wait for this transfer window to end. Then something could happen, but an offer has definitely arrived and it’s vindicated me.

CdT Verdict: Against Petrachi’s insight on players is something I could listen to all day. I’m glad he brought up the example of Bremer, who (in my view) was Torino’s most impressive player when Roma last played them. I’m not comparing myself to Petrachi’s knowledge or experience on judging players in any way, but I could watch players like Bremer week after week.

Petrachi on Criticising Roma Players in His Last Days

Edin Dzeko of AS Roma scores the goal of 2-1 for his side... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/LightRocket via Getty Images

RR: Can I ask you one last question on the fly? Before you said you often made sure the fines were paid, because it’s often been said that [Roma] would issue player fines and then take them back. But I want to ask you about your interview post-Covid, that angered so many people. Then Roma lost three games in a row. Maybe you jumped the gun?

GP: It could have even been four losses, if Dzeko hadn’t created that goal out of nothing against Samp. A game where the difference-maker was the bomber. It didn’t come down to the match itself. Yes [I did that interview] because we started off so well. We found each other in good shape after the lockdown, and we were so prepared. All the lads in top shape, who wanted to get in the team and play. No one wanted to go home. We managed it in a way where everyone stayed in Rome, and the first 20 days were ones where, in my view, we would have beaten any time we faced.

After which, there was a period where... I believe players have to always be kept on their toes. Because it’s true that you don’t always have to bark at them, but you still have to be able to see some things coming. The more days were going by, the more I saw the team take it easy. The more the team was getting itself down. The more I saw a lack of motivation in the team. Something that was... you can ask anyone, in those first twenty days, we were going 3,000 miles per hour. So me raising the alarm was the beginning of me reaching out to them, I spoke about it at the time, how I didn’t like how they were training.

But it was a way of being attentive. A way of saying: ‘lads, if we keep training like this, we’re going to get flattened in the next four matches.’

RR: Right...

GP: And so, I’m someone who sees everything in training. No one can lie to me or get one over me, like a player who tries to tell me ‘he told me that I was going to play.’ But have you seen yourself on the pitch? Have you seen yourself, and the training session you just put in? How can you expect to play? I’ll give you the example of Ibañez.

Hellas Verona FC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

When Ibañez first arrived, he looked like he was on holiday. I said: ‘Ibañez. I signed you on a gamble. But if you don’t change your attitude, and you don’t put in the bite needed, you’ll never start in this team. And then it’ll me my mistake to have signed you. Because then may I’ll have to sell you off to a small club. Here in Roma, if you don’t play with the knife between your teeth and the desire to want to become a great player, you’ll never play. So either you change the record, or even I’ll have to admit to myself that I made a mistake signing you. Because it’s my mistake.’ You can ask Ibañez about it, he’ll remember well. I was very hard with him, but very real and concrete. And I have to say the kid heard me.

RR: Yes, it would seem that way to me...

GP: He took off immediately and that gave him a jump start. Because before, he was a bit lazy. You know Brazilians can tend to be like that, no? Every now and then, they fall asleep. They have so much talent but, at times, they get distracted a little and they can self-satisfied with thinking they have great technique. And yet that’s the very moment where they lose it. And so I was on his back like maybe I used to do weekly, individually with some other players.

Juventus v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

More or less everyone had something to talk about with their sporting director (laughs). Always in a constructive manner, though. And always in a way to motivate them. Football is motivation.

CdT Verdict: We’re not sure if Petrachi is trying to claim he added a few tens of millions to Ibañez’s current value by simply having a word with him, but whatever works.

RR: We thank you so much, we wish you the most beautiful things. Give your daughter a hug, who’s time you’re enjoying spending with. But we want to see you back very soon with a football team, because football needs men like you.

GP: I thank you, and for the chance you’ve give me to talk very calmly and explain some concepts. Especially sometimes so many things don’t get explained to the fans. And then you don’t get to explain yourself how you want, so being able to do it like this, calmly, with the gift of time, when I don’t want for Roma anymore and there are no conflicts or interest or anything, that’s definitely let me be totally myself [today]. So I thank you for that.

At the end of the day, Petrachi is what he is. On the one hand, his insight into football and the playing style he’s built - at Pisa, Torino and Roma - is one I could watch all day long, week in and out. He signs the kind of players I like, and he looks for coaches that set up their teams to play in ways I enjoy. His brand of football is a mix of aggression and trickery that ages well over time. But then there’s the side of Petrachi that indulges in pathos.

It’s the side that makes you wonder whether the machismo is even worth it or if Petrachi, in actual fact, simply needs a friend and a hug to keep it all in perspective (in some segments he is outright asking for one - so credit to him for knowing his own limits). Whenever Petrachi talks about his relationship with journalists, or the media in general, he strays into feeling sorry for himself and struggling to really get what he wants to say off his chest.

At some points, it sounded like the pending legal fight against Roma was weighing heavily on his words, and those were the moments he began to dance around the conversation at headache-inducing length. But if you keep Petrachi talking about football and family, he gets to the point with remarkable clarity of thought and intent. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Roma continues to be the media epicentre of the country, and it just doesn’t look like the city and man were ever well-matched on a carnal level.

Though Petrachi may claim that the visceral nature of Roma’s fanbase is right up his alley, there’s also the local media’s vice grip on gossip and tall tales. If you get riled up easily by the mere mention of having to come to middle ground with the media, then Rome cannot be the place for you call home.

You can’t help but notice - in the middle of this interview - that Petrachi voice is stripped of any hostility, and completely at peace when it comes to reasoning with a football fan (through one of the show’s listeners Giuseppe and his provocation question on Pau Lopez) than Petrachi is when confronting a journalist’s own queries. It’s easy to understand why Petrachi has (and possibly will continue) to find success in more detached locales like Turin, or anywhere that values football far more than salacious gossip.

I personally enjoy both! But I like my football, my melodrama and my low-brow entertainment without pretense and veneer by which the Eternal City sometimes claims to be above it all. Good luck, Petrachi, wherever you go to next. I’ll very likely be tuning in to watch your teams play some more, even if I’ll probably be skipping the press conferences.