In all my years here, I've never attempted what you're about to read. Sure, I've made transfer suggestions, reported on rumors and compiled lists of players whose Roma careers might soon end, but to take the extra step of predicting an entire roster a year in advance was always too bold for my blood. But that's precisely what I'm going to do. In the face of a pandemic that has halted the sport, no less.
While Italy has flattened the viral curve over the past few months, we still have no earthly idea if the 2019-2020 Serie A campaign will conclude. The chances that the virus rebounds and wreaks havoc on the peninsula all over again is simply too great. So, despite their good intentions and best-laid plans, rumors of a late May resumption of play remain just that—rumors.
Furthermore, even if we assume the league hashes out a plan to complete the season, the financial impact of the past few months could render the transfer market completely and utterly moot. With some estimates hinting that player values could dip by as much as 28%, we're entering uncharted waters: will selling clubs be willing to part with their prized assets at such depreciated values or would they rather wait a year and hope those figures rebound?
Taking things a step further, we might be facing a complete collapse of the transfer market in total. According to Christian Seifert, the CEO of the German Football League (DFL), the summer transfer market we love so much may not even exist in 2020:
In the short term, I would say the transfer market this summer will not exist, it will collapse. Some agents will suddenly understand that they will have to work hard, or at least work; some leagues will understand that money is nothing that is coming automatically every month from heaven.
Source: New York Times
That's a pretty damning indictment from a well-informed source, so there may not be much transfer movement at all this summer (in terms of the traditional cash-for-player transactions), to say nothing of mega, Paul Pogba-sized transactions.
I certainly hope that's not the case because tracking the summer market is one of my favorite things to do, but the chances of a summer stasis increase with every passing week. What the footballing world looks after all this is anyone's guess—will prices remain deflated after the pandemic is over or will we automatically return to normal?
For Roma fans, there is no normal, not at this point at least. Not when we don't even know who will own the club come summer. Still, despite that unprecedented uncertainty, there is absolutely 0% chance Gianluca Petrachi brings back the entire roster next season.
So, come with me as we attempt to predict Roma's 2020-2021 roster. It's a more grounded plan than our €120 million fantasy rebuild but we had to take some liberties given all the financial uncertainty.
Okay, away we go!
Expiring Loans & Contracts
Before we fret about arrivals and departures, let's take a look at the black ink. For the first time in a few seasons, Roma have no immediately expiring contracts. What they do have, however, is a handful of players with one year remaining on their deal. Federico Fazio, Aleksandar Kolarov, Antonio Mirante, Diego Perotti, Juan Jesus, and Bruno Peres are all signed through June 30, 2021 and all could be buy-low candidates for smaller clubs or even return to their home leagues to play out the final stages of their careers.
Chris Smalling, Davide Zappacosta, Nikola Kalinic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will see their one-year loans come to an end on June 30th, or whenever the 2019-2020 season officially concludes, so their Roma futures remain similarly cloudy—more on that in a moment.
Roma also has a gaggle of players returning from loans after the season concludes, including...are you ready for this?
- Rick Karsdorp
- Robin Olsen
- Gregoire Defrel
- Maxime Gonalons
- Mirko Antonucci
- Moustapha Seck
- Patrik Schick
- Zan Celar
- Steven Nzonzi
- Lorenzo Valeau
- Ante Coric
- Silvio Anocic
- Alessando Florenzi
Many of those lesser names will likely find new homes (or remain with their current clubs) in Europe's lower leagues, but Petrachi has quite a pickle on his hands when it comes to the likes of Florenzi, Karsdorp, Nzoni, Gonalons and Olsen, each of whom remain under contract with Roma through 2021 and beyond.
In terms of things we can definitively say now, Roma will lose four first team players (Smalling, Kalinic, Mkhitaryan and Zappacosta) when they return to their parent clubs and could potentially have several first-team players coming back to the capital from every corner of Europe.
It's a mess he inherited from his predecessor, but heading into his second year in charge, Gianluca Petrachi will have to deal with many of the same headaches he did last summer. Clearly, something will have to give, so let's try and figure out what to do with Monchi's Misfits.
Finding New Loans for Redundant Players
For the sake of expediency (and my own sanity), we'll limit this section to the players who have actually seen significant first team minutes with Roma in the past.
Roma's record signing is now officially just that—a record signing. With Roma unable to find a permanent home for him this winter, they had no choice but to pay the remaining €20 million balance to Sampdoria in February. So, assuming all those ambiguous bonuses have been met, Schick is now officially a €42 million man. And whether they loan him back or sell him outright to Leipzig, Roma will struggle to recoup their investment.
With seven goals and three assists in 19 appearances with Red Bull Leipzig, Schick seems to have found a home in the Bundesliga, so Roma would do well to at least shed his €2.5 million salary. Even if they take a loss on the sale, knocking down that bloated €125 million wage bill should be one of Petrachi's top priorities.
Florenzi's mid-season loan to Valencia was controversial but it afforded him a chance for more consistent minutes, something that won't be guaranteed as long as Paulo Fonseca remains Roma's manager. So, whether he remains in Spain or finds another home in Serie A, it seems like Florenzi's days in Rome are done.
Any way you chalk it up, this is one of the worst transfers in club history. After making 30 appearances for Roma last season, Nzonzi was sent out on two different loans this year. After a disastrous stretch with Galatasary, Nzonzi returned to France with Rennes. While his loan technically expires at the end of the season, if Rennes finish in the top three in Ligue 1, the loan will automatically be extended.
Another decent player who was horribly slotted into Roma's lineup, Defrel's 2019-2020 loan with Sassuolo will be made permanent if certain objectives are met—fingers crossed.
Schick is the most expensive player in club history and Florenzi's mid-season loan brought a hailstorm of controversy, and those are the easy loans to sort out for next season. Petrachi faces a far more difficult task with Olsen, Karsdorp or Gonalons; it will take all his skill and cunning to find suitable homes for those players next season and beyond, as Karsdorp and Olsen remain under contract through 2022 and 2023, respectively.
It was somewhat of a miracle, but Petrachi managed to find temporary homes for all those players in his first summer on the job, so let's hope that luck repeats itself a second time around.
Okay, now that we've dealt with Roma's current contractual obligations, let's narrow the focus to their trio of English Premier League cast-offs.
The Premiership Trio
Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have been a revelation for Roma this year, with each rejuvenating their careers thanks to stellar performances under Fonseca's watchful eye, but bringing them back for another go around will take more than a simple phone call.
Roma and Manchester United have been trying for months to reach an agreement on a full transfer for Smalling, but haven't come close to closing a negotiation gap that has, at times, been as large as eight to ten million euros. Similarly, Arsenal's asking price for Mkhitaryan, believed to be in the €18 to €20 million range, is more than Roma are reportedly willing to pay for the 31-year-old midfielder.
With money tight at Trigoria and no agreement in sight for either player, we have to make the difficult decision to let them return to England. However, unlike their Premier League rivals, Chelsea seem quite content to let Davide Zappacosta stay with Roma for another year, and given that his season was cut incredibly short, it's worth a gamble.
Now, before we hit the open market, let's cut some dead weight.
If we take UEFA’s relaxation of the Financial Fair Play regulations for 2020-2021 due to the economic impact from the pandemic to mean that Roma can avert a big sale this summer, then we’ll be spared the site of Cengiz Ünder, Lorenzo Pellegrini or Nicolo Zaniolo in another shirt. If, however, Roma are still compelled to make a sale this summer, Ünder is the most likely candidate, but we're operating under the assumption that FFP will be toothless for a year.
Despite the uncertain financial future facing European football at the moment, there are probably some minor parts Roma can spin off for some quick cash and to free up some room on the roster, but they won’t be easy sales.
After an unproductive spell with Spurs, Fazio found the perfect landing spot with Roma in 2016 and has gone on to make over 150 appearances with the Giallorossi, scoring 12 goals to boot. It’s not that Fazio has regressed rapidly, it’s just that he’s no longer a lock to make the starting XI, so it’s hard to justify his €2.5 million salary on a club looking to cut costs.
However, we’ll throw an asterisk on this transfer. If Fazio wants to find a larger role with a different club, we’ll grease the wheels and help him out, if not, you could do a lot worse for a reserve defender.
But if he stays, and the rest of these moves come to fruition, this next guy has to go.
I’ll always maintain that, on the balance of things, Juan Jesus’ Roma career was a net positive. He’s been as advertised: a reserve piece capable of playing in multiple formations who you can count on for 1,200 minutes or so each season. But at 28-years-old and with one-year remaining on his deal, I’m going to try and find him a new club—somewhere he’ll actually play. He won’t fetch much, but we gotta foist that €2.2 million salary on someone else.
Alright, now comes the difficult part: finding a taker for a frequently injured 30-year-old forward making €4.5 million for the next three seasons. Seriously, what the hell was Monchi thinking? Pastore seemed like the type of player who’d age well, given that his game is predicated on touch and intellect rather than raw athleticism, but he’s mustered only 442 league minutes this season; it’s hard to justify such a large salary for such minimal returns.
Pastore played it coy when asked about his future, saying that he’s not thinking about a return to Argentina now and that he’ll honor his Roma contract “if possible.” El Flaco was a top player in his day, but we can’t count on him now, so I’m working my contacts in La Liga and Argentina (or maybe even calling up Becks in Miami) to find a taker for him, be it a loan or sale.
None of these sales will be easy, but they would clear an enormous amount of salary while also enabling those players to find clubs that value their skills more.
Okay, now that we've created some space on the squad, let's sign some new players.
I'm hitting you with an asterisk again because, as German Football executive Christian Seifert mentioned in that New York Times piece, there may be no transfer market this summer, at least not as we've always known it. With transfer values deflated, clubs will likely be hesitant to sell their assets at depreciated values, which may lead to a more North American-style trading system, at least for 2020.
And if you've kept up on the news lately, you've likely read about several potential swaps involving Roma and their Serie A colleagues, so let's run through a few of those.
Trade #1: Diego Perotti for Andrea Pinamonti
Diego Perotti has one-year remaining on his deal, which carries a €3 million salary through June 30, 2021. As we discussed earlier this week, parting with Perotti isn't a trifling matter; he's a talented veteran and one of the club's most senior members. Despite his good standing with the club, Perotti has seen his minutes decrease in each of the past three seasons. And with no whiff of a contract renewal in the air, spending what could be his final season in Europe with Genoa, where his Serie A career kicked-off and where he'll presumably play more, might be an enticing proposal for the 31-year-old.
In Pinamonti, Roma would not only receive a massive salary relief (€1.2 million vs €3 million), they'd get a young forward with something to prove. Once seen as one of the brightest prospects in Italy, Pinamonti's transition to Serie A hasn't been as smooth as many predicted a few years ago, as he's managed only two goals in 20 appearances this season with Genoa. Still only 20-years-old, Pinamonti has plenty of time to fulfill his enormous potential and would give Roma another option for their post-Dzeko future.
Trade #2: Alessandro Florenzi and Leonardo Spinazzola for Cristiano Biraghi and German Pezzella
This one comes from the Gazzetta dello Sport and has some moving pieces—Inter would have to pass on their option to make Biraghi's move permanent—but this double swap would address multiple issues for the Giallorossi. Adding Biraghi (a left-back) and Pezzella (a center-back) would give Roma two defenders in the prime of their careers and would provide depth and/or competition for Aleksandar Kolarov at left-back and provide cover for the club at center-back should they not be able to purchase Chris Smalling outright.
The other side of the equation would enable Petrachi to ship off two talented players that, for differing reasons, just don't fit with Roma at the moment. You could argue that Spinazzola should start over Kolarov at left-back next season, but after Spinazzola's near move to Inter in January, it's clear Roma don't value him.
For Florenzi lovers it would be a sad end, but he deserves to find a permanent home; he's done too much for Roma to suffer the indignity of a never-ending series of loans.
Trade #3: Bryan Cristante for Manuel Locatelli
I think for his own sake, Cristante needs to get the heck out of Dodge. At 24-years-old, Cristante should be hitting the upswing in his career, but instead of fulfilling the enormous promise he showed with Atalanta, he's become an awkwardly cast defensive midfielder under Paulo Fonseca. He's a talented player, but in order to cultivate those skills he needs a better tactical fit than Roma can offer at the moment.
Now, for much of the pandemic we've been reading about a Cristante for Rolando Mandgragora swap, but I'm taking a different tact for multiple reasons. For one, I'm not helping Juventus in any way, shape, or form. Secondly, Locatelli is simply the superior player.
The 22-year-old Italian ranks in the top ten in total tackles and tackles in the middle third, and bests Mandragora in successful tackle percentage and successful pressure percentage—the percentage of time his squad wins possession within five seconds of applying pressure. He's also got Mandragora pipped in several attacking categories, including shot creation actions, key passes, dribbles, long-balls and accurate crosses.
Mandragora would be a fine addition no doubt, but Locatelli is just better at this point and his market value (€15.5 million) matches up a bit better to Cristante's (€20 million), which would theoretically make this swap easier. Plus, the entire notion of acquiring Mandragora requires Juventus to redeem their €26 million buy-back option this summer, which is no sure thing.
So, without even spending a dime on transfers, we've acquired four players, two of whom are at their physical peak, one who is just starting his ascent and a third prospect for the future. At the same time, we've offloaded €7.5 million in salary while only taking on €4.9 million.
It's conceivable that some of these moves could be done in the traditional transfer format, but there is a lot of smoke to the summer of swapping fire, so these trades enable Roma to improve without spending much actual cash.
You can't improve a squad on trades alone, so let's spend some money!
Roma don't take advantage of the Bosman market too often, but given everything we've discussed so far—the wage bill, the depressed financial markets—they may have no other choice this summer. They won't need many free agents, but one or two moves for depth could make a huge difference.
Vertonghen isn't quite the player he was several years ago, but rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. The 32-year-old Belgian defender managed 19 league appearances before play was halted due to the Coronavirus and still ranked in Tottenham's top four in tackles, interceptions and clearances per match. And much like Fazio and Smalling before him, Vertonghen might actually be better suited to the Italian style of play.
Slotting Vertonghen behind Gianluca Mancini and German Pezzella would give Roma a pretty decent center-back rotation.
Bonaventura has had some injury woes lately but he's only two-years removed from an eight goal and three assist campaign for Milan during the ‘17-’18 season. All the best Roma teams from the past decade have had a guy like Bonaventura; a player you can drop in at three or four positions and feel completely at ease.
Bonaventura could conceivably fill in for Jordan Veretout, Amadou Diawara, Lorenzo Pellegrini and even one of the wingers in a pinch.
Given his health issues, this is a bit of a gamble, but if I can sign a player as talented as Götze as a free-agent, it's a risk worth taking. Even if he can only manage 1,600 minutes or so, which he's done the past two season, he'll provide a layer of attacking versatility the club desperately needs. Götze can slot in at the wing, in the hole and even at forward in a pinch.
With Mkhitaryan's price creeping towards €20 million, we're getting practically the same skill-set without paying a transfer fee. If Götze is willing to accept a €3 million per year salary, I'm signing him without batting an eye.
Even with things in flux, it’s not likely Roma completely ignore the transfer market. I wouldn't expect any purchases greater than €20 to €25 million, however. With that being said, there's one player that has played in Rome and is desperate to return.
Stephan El Shaarawy: Forward, Shanghai Shenua (€16 Million)
Now that SES has stacked some of those fat Chinese Super League paychecks, he's reportedly ready to return to Roma and willing to take an enormous pay-cut to make it happen. With Perotti gone, this squad needs another left-winger, especially one capable of creating his own shot like El Shaarawy.
SES should have never left, so it's time to correct that error, and by giving Shenua enough to recoup their investment, this should be an easy deal.
Fabien Centonze: Right-Back, Metz (€5 Million)
I included the young Frenchman in my €120 million fantasy plan to rebuild Roma as a cheap throw-in (most of my money went towards Timo Werner), but Centonze could be a steal at this price. Centonze leads all Ligue 1 defenders in total tackles, he's second in tackles won, first in tackles in the final third, second in blocks, fifth in interceptions and just outside the top ten in interceptions.
Centonze is clearly an active and effective defender, but he's not too shabby on the ball either, as his three assists, two long balls, and 0.6 accurate crosses per match suggest. He's not a superstar in the making, but he'd provide tremendous value and defensive acumen at the right-back position.
Junio Moraes: Forward, Shakhtar Donetsk (€5 Million)
Moraes, who played for Paulo Fonseca with Shakhtar during the 2018-2019 season, was a winter target for Roma, but due to his Non-EU status, a move was impossible. However, now that we've parted ways with Juan Jesus, we've freed up a Non-EU roster spot.
Moraes scored 26 goals under Fonseca's tutelage in ‘18-’19, and at 33-years-old a move to Roma is probably his last chance to play for a large European club. Moraes could slot nicely between Edin Dzeko and the still raw Pinamonti on the depth chart.
Pau Lopez, Antonio Mirante, Daniel Fuzato
Gianluca Mancini, German Pezzella, Cristiano Biraghi, Davide Zappacosta, Jan Vertonghen, Federico Fazio, Roger Ibanez, Mert Cetin, Davide Santon, Bruno Peres, Fabien Centonze
Lorenzo Pellegrini, Amadou Diawara, Gonzalo Villar, Nicolo Zaniolo, Giacomo Bonaventura, Jordan Veretout, Mario Götze, Manuel Locatelli
Edin Dzeko, Cengiz Ünder, Justin Kluivert, Andrea Pinamonti, Carles Perez, Stephan El Shaarawy, Junior Moraes
Bold = New addition
Italics = Possible loan candidate
Possible Starting Eleven
With a few free agent signings, some semi-complicated swaps and a couple of cheap transfers, we have upgraded Roma's roster while also preserving some much needed tactical continuity. What's more, this side is far deeper than the ‘19-’20 version. Check out the names available off the bench for Fonseca: Ünder, Götze, Kluivert, Biraghi, Moraes, Locatelli, Pinamonti, Bonaventura.
And it's not just the names off this fictional bench that are so enticing, it's the number of ways in which Fonseca can use them. If he wants to play Zaniolo in the hole, he can slot Ünder or Götze in at right-wing, while pushing Pellegrini back into the midfield. If he wants to play with a false-nine, he can use Pellegrini, Zaniolo or Götze as his chief play-maker. His options at the wings are similarly vast; Zaniolo, Ünder, Götze, El Shaarawy, Perez, and even Bonaventura can play out-wide.
Speaking of Bonaventura, Nick from New Girl could conceivably slot in at five different positions, filling in at any midfield position and, as we just mentioned, out-wide if need be. Having such a versatile asset in midfield would enable Fonseca to manage Veretout and Diawara's minutes much more effectively. Similarly, Locatelli could rotate with Veretout and Diawara in the pivot, as could Roger Ibanez, who has the added benefit of playing defense as well.
While we can't paper over the loss of Chris Smalling, the defense is, at the very least, on par with the ‘19-’20 version. Pezzella and Mancini would give Roma two physical and active defenders, while Fazio and Vertonghen would provide experience in spades off the bench.
At the full-back spot we have a good mix of experience and youth as well. With Kolarov intent on playing until his dragged off the pitch kicking and screaming, we have experienced cover with Biraghi, while Centonze and Bruno Peres offer differing skill-sets, but each have something to provide until Zappacosta proves he's ready for full 90s every week. And if Centonze is as good as his defensive numbers suggest, he might steal the job full stop.
Furthermore, several of these new additions were made with an eye on the future, particularly Pinamonti, Locatelli and Centonze, each of whom are 24 or younger. Add this trio to Zaniolo, Ünder, Kluivert, Mancini, Diawara, Villar and Carles Peres, and you have the core of Roma in the 2020s.
Listen, I'd be stoked if Petrachi managed to pull off even 25% of these moves, but considering everything Roma are up against—the impending sale of the club, the massive debts, the lack of Champions League football, the potential loss of revenue due to the pandemic—this is a far more reasonable way to upgrade the squad than spending like there's no tomorrow.
Roma already have an incredibly impressive foundation to build upon, including highly sought after talents like Zaniolo, Pellegrini and Ünder, so this plan augments that core with a mix of solid players in their late twenties and early thirties (Bonaventura, Biraghi and Pezzella), some veterans looking for one last go in Europe (Vertonghen and Moraes), a couple of kids (Pinamonti and Locatelli) and some calculated gambles (Götze and Centonze).
In constructing this roster, the futures of Smalling and Mkhitaryan were the toughest to sort out. They both seem to enjoy life in Roma and they've both been critical to whatever success Roma managed this season, but with a combined cost of nearly €40 million, their respective returns are far from assured. Roma simply cannot spend that much at the moment, and we've already heard whispers of other clubs intrigued by their bounce back seasons so Roma could easily be outbid by any number of Premiership sides. I'd love them both back, but it's just not realistic.
Roma seldom take advantage of trades and free agency, but, at least for this summer, that might be their best path forward. By limiting upfront costs and enabling Petrachi to cut some loose strands from the roster, the club gets better and does right by some quality players Fonseca doesn't need anymore, all while saving (or at least deferring) costs for 2020.
I took some liberties in this exercise—it's not likely that Roma could sign three free agents and we don't know specifically what the relaxed FFP rules will entail—but this was a pragmatic attempt at improving Roma while operating under unprecedented logistical and financial restraints.
I'd be happy with this roster, how about you?