Any discussion about Roma's transfer ambitions, new manager or otherwise, must reckon with two factors: the club's enormous nine-figure debts, which reportedly run as high as €260 million, and their now three-year run without Champions League football. The lack of Champions League revenue in and of itself doesn't explain the club's debts, but missing that piece of the puzzle certainly exacerbates the club's financial woes.
As much as the Friedkins wish they could speak the Stadio della Roma into existence, they can't, nor can they magically boost the club's TV and advertising revenue. Really, the only factors in Dan Friedkin's immediate control are wages and transfer expenditures; two budget items that have contributed to Roma's debt, insofar as these investments haven't always led Roma back to the Champions League. The irony in this accounting is that better players beget Champions League participation, which, in turn, begets more revenue, but better players cost more money—which Roma may not necessarily have at their disposal.
The skeptics among us will claim this is precisely why Roma has so often favored the bargain route when searching for a new manager. Luis Enrique, Eusebio Di Francesco, and Paulo Fonseca weren't without their merits as tacticians, but as young and up and coming managers, they couldn't really command the same exorbitant transfer budgets as more proven commodities like Antonio Conte, Max Allegri, Carlo Ancellotti, or, say, José Mourinho.
Hey, look at that! Roma hired one of those guys—the most special one, in fact.
Roma's recent appointment of José Mourinho as the 69th manager in club history has brought a deluge of attention and intrigue to the capital club. Sure, this move wasn't without its detractors, but even Mourinho's critics are curious how he'll shape and mold Roma in his image.
And therein lies the problem. Any time Roma was connected to the likes of Conte or Ancelotti, critics were quick to point out that these managers often require significant investments on the transfer market in order to enact their brand of football. They may be hailed as geniuses, but that inspiration doesn't come free. If you want a top manager, you better be prepared to give him top players.
José Mourinho's star has dimmed a bit in recent seasons, but he's not exactly Walter Matthau in Bad News Bears—you can't just pick up some miscreants off the street and expect miracles.
Throughout his managerial career, Mourinho has enjoyed some of the deepest pockets in the game, at one point turning over as many as 11 players during his first stint at Chelsea in 2004, spending €166 million of Roman Abramovich's hard-earned money in one summer. Mourinho repeated those feats with Inter Milan (€70 million) and Real Madrid (€93 million) during his first summers with those clubs but he really broke the bank with Manchester United, dropping €185 million on just four players during the summer of 2016, including a then-world record €105 million on Paul Pogba.
Roma can't quite match that level of spending, but rumor has it Mourinho will be given an €80 million transfer budget this summer. That may pale in comparison to his previous shopping sprees, but that's still a tidy sum, which begs one simple question: how will he spend it?
As exciting as it would be, I'm not sure Mourinho will blow his entire budget on one player (*cough* Dusan Vlahovic *cough*), so let's throw on our black t-shirt and drape that carrot lanyard over our necks as we drift aimlessly through the aisles starting at our phones playing the role of a personal shopper for The Special One—InstaCalcioCart, if you will.
Eighty million Euros can do a lot to improve Roma's oddly shaped roster, so let's take a look at a few bundles that might entice Mourinho.
Option #1: Accept & Accessorize
In this scenario, Tiago Pinto and José Mourinho will stretch their €80 million by retaining the majority of Roma's roster while focusing on a few key positions on the transfer market. Players like Bruno Peres, Juan Jesus, Antonio Mirante, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan would be allowed to leave once their contracts expire on June 30th, leaving Roma's Portuguese leadership to spread €80 million over two to three key positions.
Players on the fringes or those with one year remaining on their deal will remain with the club, so Federico Fazio, Davide Santon, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and Edin Dzeko will stick around Trigoria. And in order to save money upfront, Pinto will stand pat on Borja Mayoral, exercising the second year of his two-year loan and putting the decision to purchase him on ice until June 2022.
In order to make our lives less hectic, Roma will welcome Justin Kluivert and Alessandro Florenzi back to the fold but Cengiz Ünder, Steven Nzonzi, and Robin Olsen will all find new temporary homes.
Okay, so what are we left with?
With roughly 75 to 80% of the roster returning, Pinto and Mourinho are free to spend that €80 million on the remaining areas of need: a forward to eventually replace Dzeko in 2022, a hybrid midfield/forward to replace Mkhitaryan, and a jack of all trades midfielder to complement Pellegrini, Cristante and Veretout, among others.
Possible Transfer Targets
Renato Sanches: Lille (M)
We covered the 23-year-old midfielder earlier this month, but Sanches has put the wounds of his high-profile flop at Bayern Munich behind him, resurrecting his young career with Lille over the past two seasons. Sanches won't exactly wear out the goal netting at Trigoria, but his passing, vision, defensive contributions, and work rate make him a dream Mourinho midfielder.
Drawing comparisons to Clarence Seedorf, Sanches could conceivably play every midfield role imaginable for Mourinho and could make players like Villar, Diawara, and perhaps even Veretout, expendable in the future.
Market Value: €28 Million
Allan Saint-Maximin: Newcastle (F/M)
Saint-Maximin, who has already been linked with a move to Mourinho's Roma, is a 24-year-old hybrid attacker capable of playing in midfield, out wide, or up top as a striker. While his CV is a little light on goals so far, the man is a dribbling machine. Averaging 3.5 dribbles per match, Saint-Maximin is second to only Adama Traore for the Premiership League lead.
In addition to his fancy footwork, Saint-Maximin has chipped in three goals and four assists in league play. He may not be quite as silky as Mkhitaryan, but his ability on the ball, playmaking, and sheer athleticism makes him an ever-present threat.
Market Value: €28 Million
Moussa Dembele: Lyon (F)
Currently on loan with Atletico Madrid from Lyon, Dembele has failed to impress in La Liga, garnering only five appearances at the Wanda since arriving on loan this past January. If Atletico passes on their option for the 24-year-old French forward, Lyon may still be motivated to sell Dembele, especially if they can't edge out Monaco for a spot in next season's Champions League qualifiers.
Despite his struggles with Atletico, Dembele pumped in 45 goals and 11 assists in all competitions for Lyon between 2018 and 2020. Dembele isn't your classic total football-type striker, but he can pick out a final pass in the attacking third and converted approximately 25% of his league shots into goals during his two full seasons with Lyon (2018-2019 and 2019-2020).
Market Value: €25 Million
Finances & Fit
We fudged things a bit here by going one million over the budget, but the bulk of that (€56 million) nets Roma two incredibly versatile and dynamic talents in Sanches and Saint-Maximin; two players that can conceivably cover eight spots on the pitch. Sanches is talented enough to potentially push Jordan Veretout or Bryan Cristante for playing time in midfield and young enough to remove Gonzalo Villar and/or Amadou Diawara from the picture completely, which would give Pinto increased roster flexibility down the road.
Meanwhile, Saint-Maximin would give Roma an ostensible replacement for Mkhitaryan's hybrid midfield/forward role and would present a marked upgrade over the likes of Carles Perez, Cengiz Ünder, Justin Kluivert, and even Pedro, who will be 34-years-old next season and struggled for consistency this season.
For his part, Dembele may not be the most complete forward in the game, but if Mourinho can uncover the Lyon version of Dembele, the guy who scored 45 goals across two seasons, then Roma would add another potent finisher to the mix. Dembele and Mayoral may be a bit redundant but adding the Frenchman gives Roma insurance in case they opt not to retain Mayoral beyond next season.
Option number one doesn't address Roma's issues in goal or improve their depth at the back, but it gives Mourinho practically limitless options in attack and midfield. Between Mayoral, Dzeko, Dembele, Pellegrini, Pedro, Kluivert, El Shaarawy, Cristante, Sanches, Saint-Maximin, and even Florenzi, Mourinho can tinker to his heart's content.
None of these moves will garner many headlines but the added depth and flexibility could be an ideal platform on which to remake Roma in Mourinho's image.
Option #2: Sell, Spend, Replace & Improve
Our second shopping option would give Roma some added funds to spend on top of the reported €80 million budget. Parting with a few first-team regulars could enable Roma to spend beyond that €80 million mark, pulling in more new players to round out and improve the squad at Mourinho's disposal.
We have to make some difficult decisions, but under this plan, we're saying goodbye to several Roma regulars. In addition to letting the contract year players walk (Peres, Mirante, Juan Jesus, and Mkhitaryan), we're bidding farewell to the following players: Amadou Diawara, Gonzalo Villar, Carles Perez, Pau Lopez, Edin Dzeko, and Javier Pastore (god willing).
The late-season emergence of Ebrima Darboe makes Diawara and Villar expendable (we'll add a midfielder in a moment), Perez and Lopez just aren't good enough, while we'll let Dzeko finish his career elsewhere and hope that we find a taker for Pastore, or at the very least come to an agreement on a contract buyout.
Dzeko, Pastore, and Pérez likely won't fetch much on the open market, but when you add Villar, Lopez, and Diawara to the mix, it’s not inconceivable to think Roma could land €35 to €40 million. And playing it conservatively, let's then say that Roma adds €25 million to the budget, giving Pinto and Mourinho approximately €105 million to spend.
Possible Transfer Targets
Renato Sanches: Lille (M)
Yup, we're sticking with Sanches in this scenario, too. With Diawara and Villar out the door, adding Sanches to the midfield mix with Pellegrini, Cristante, Veretout, and Darboe should give Mourinho enough cover behind the forwards, especially if Nicolo Zaniolo is ready to go this fall.
Market Value: €28 Million
Juan Musso: Udinese (GK)
At this point, several weeks before Mourinho will officially assume his post as Roma's manager, we're seeing quite a spread of goalkeepers connected with the club. From veterans like Gianluigi Buffon and Rui Patricio to younger keepers like Alessio Cragno, Roma has no shortage of transfer options between the sticks.
At 27-years-old, Musso is just entering his physical peak and has been one of Serie A's best keepers over the past two seasons, ranking among the league leaders in a host of categories including save %, crosses stopped, PSxG, total saves, and goals-against per 90 minutes.
Market Value: €20 Million
Arkadiusz Milik: Marseille (F)
Yes, the man who was almost a Roma player last season finally gets his chance to replace Edin Dzeko in this fictional mercato. Once plagued by injuries, Milik has put his Napoli knee woes behind him, making 97 appearances in all competitions since the start of the 2018-2019 season, a span in which Milik has found the back of the net 43 times while chipping in six assists.
Six assists aren't terribly impressive, but what Milik lacks in playmaking he more than makes up for with goal-scoring efficiency. Over his past two domestic seasons (with Napoli and Marseille), Milik has put 56% of his shots on target while maintaining a 22% conversion rate, both of which bests Edin Dzeko's marks over the same span.
Market Value: €22 Million
Isco: Real Madrid (M)
Isco missed out on the Mourinho experience at Real Madrid by one season but it's never too late to play matchmaker. On the surface, Madrid may not seem to have much motivation to sell Isco, but the 29-year-old Spanish midfielder has seen his playing time dwindle in each of the past six seasons, reaching its nadir this year with only 14 league appearances totaling all of 865 minutes. Throw in the fact that his contract expires in 2022, and suddenly Isco looks expendable.
Despite falling to the periphery in Madrid, Isco remains a remarkably skilled player, one capable of mimicking Henrikh Mkhitaryan's role with Roma. Isco could slot in anywhere from defensive midfield to trequartista to wide forward without missing a beat.
He may not have Mkhitaryan's knack for goal, but Isco gets the better of his Armenian counterpart in several key passing categories, including passes into the final third, key passes, and shot-creating actions.
Isco may actually be more comparable to Lorenzo Pellegrini, but his versatility, experience, and passing ability would be welcomed additions to Roma's midfield.
Market Value: €20 Million
Dusan Tadic: Ajax (F/M/W)
I know, I know. This isn't the Dusan you were expecting, but this Dusan has made the Eredivisie his personal playground over the past three seasons, racking up an astounding 64 goals and 57 assists in all competitions. At 32-years-old, Tadic is ancient by Eredivisie standards, and with five Ajax trophies to his name and practically a guaranteed Champions League spot every year, it's fair to question why he'd want to leave Amsterdam, but this could be his last shot to play for a “bigger” club like Roma, who now happens to boast one of the best managers of the modern era.
With his ability to play literally anywhere in attack, Tadic would essentially replace Mkhitaryan and the spirit of Javier Pastore in one fell swoop, while also giving Mourinho further options on the front line alongside El Shaarawy, Zaniolo, and, in this fictional scenario, Milik.
Market Value: €20 Million
Finances & Fit
At a total cost of €108 million, we went over our new, more flexible budget by three million but by doing so we've given Mourinho an incredible amount of depth in attack, a bustling box-to-box midfielder, and one of the league's best keepers.
Starting at the back, Juan Musso brings ideal size and Serie A experience to Roma, to go along with his intelligence, aggression, and shot-stopping ability. Besides this, Roma is just more fun with more Argentinians on the roster.
Milik isn't exactly in the Mbappe/Haaland tier, but the efficiency he brings to the Giallorossi has been sorely lacking for years, and when combined with Borja Mayoral gives Mourinho two nimble goal scorers.
Those are fine moves, but the real beauty of this plan rests in the trio of Isco, Sanches, and Tadic, who would give Mourinho numerous combinations in midfield and attack. We've already spoken at length about Sanches’ versatility, but adding Isco and Tadic to the mix makes those permutations practically limitless, especially if he takes a shine to Ebrima Darboe this summer, which would open up even more tactical options.
Between Sanches, Isco, Pellegrini, Darboe, Veretout, and Cristante, Mourinho can mix and match Roma's midfield looks, presenting opponents with all-out attacking schemes just as easily as he can suck the joy out of a match. And when you add Pedro and Tadic to the mix...oof, Mourinho could have a lot of fun with this crew.
Just imagine Isco or Pellegrini controlling play in the midfield with Tadic, El Shaarawy, Kluivert, Zaniolo, and even Florenzi running down the flanks, making diagonal runs into the box to keep opponents off-kilter or crashing into the box to link up with Milik. When you consider that nearly all of these players can swap roles or functions, this fictional scenario should make Mourinho drool.
Option #3: The 40/40 Plan
No, we're not talking about bringing Jay-Z's sports bar chain to Rome. Instead, we're talking about spending the entirety of Roma's €80 million war chest on just two players. The temptation to drop the entire eighty large on one player is there, but players in that class usually stick to the ultra-elite clubs: City, Real Madrid, Barcelona, etc.
So, rather than convincing Joao Felix or Bruno Fernandes to relocate to Roma, we're going to maximize our spending by nabbing two above-average players; not world-beaters but players you can plug into your lineup and expect consistent production.
In this scenario, we're letting those same free agents to be (Jesus, Mirante, Bruno Peres, and Mkhitaryan) walk and we're jettisoning Edin Dzeko and Javier Pastore to free up room on the roster.
Possible Transfer Targets
Andrea Belotti: Torino (F)
No, he's not the 26-goal-per-year-100-million-man but Belotti has been quietly consistent since his breakthrough 2016-2017 campaign. In the four seasons since then, Belotti has scored 59 goals and provided 17 assists in 146 appearances in all competitions. This season alone, Belotti has bagged 13 goals and six assists in 33 appearances.
Belotti has the size, technique, strength, and temperament to be a rousing success under Mourinho, and while The Special One's clubs aren't typically offensive juggernauts, surrounded by a superior supporting cast, it's not crazy to imagine Belotti threatening 20 goals in a Roma shirt.
Market Value: €40 Million
Pedro Neto: Wolverhampton (M/F)
Neto, a 21-year-old Portuguese attacking talent, has settled into Premiership life quite well over the past year. From nine starts, three goals, and three assists during his first season with Wolves to 30 starts, five goals, and six assists, Neto has been a mainstay for the West Midlands club this season.
Capable of playing in any advanced role, be it midfield, winger, or forward, Neto would bring an incredibly diverse bag of skills to Roma, particularly with the ball at his feet. Through 31 Premiership appearances, Neto is averaging two shots per game, two dribbles per game, and two key passes per game—that's some incredible balance.
Market Value: €35 Million
Finances & Fit
Hey, look at that, I saved us €5 million! At a whopping €75 million, Belotti and Neto would be expensive but valuable additions to Mourinho's Roma. At 27-years-old, Belotti is smack in the middle of his prime years and could conceivably lead Roma's line for another six or seven seasons, while Neto, at only 21, could contribute immediately and still assert himself as a building block for Mourinho's Roma.
Belotti isn't as diverse as Neto, of course, but he could be the ideal forward for Mourinho's machinations, and since he plays a bit like Edin Dzeko, Roma wouldn't miss a beat. Neto, meanwhile, will fill the void left by Mkhitaryan and could blossom alongside Pellegrini and Zaniolo as the pillars of Roma's offense going forward.
Since we don't know exactly how much money Roma will give Mourinho to play with this summer, we latched onto that €80 million figure, the prevailing rumored amount as we head into transfer season. And as you've just seen, there is no shortage of ways to spend that money. From the instant upgrade of the 40/40 plan to the more measured approaches of the remaining options, €80 million will go a long way (whichever way they choose) to making Roma a genuine Champions League club again—and hopefully more.
Nothing about constructing a football team is as easy as we've just made it seem but Roma's cupboards aren't exactly bare, and with a few key additions/upgrades, the Giallorossi could be right back in the Serie A race next season.
It's difficult to single out any one position in need of an upgrade, but you may have noticed one common theme in these three plans: versatility. The tactical options players like Pedro and Henrikh Mkhitaryan offer (in theory) make the manager's job far easier—both in terms of actual Xs and Os and player rotation—but neither man has age or fitness on their side, so Roma would be wise to keep an eye on those positions.
Roma can abide by Pau Lopez in goal and the Edin Dzeko/Borja Mayoral tandem up top for another year, but adding talent and versatility in midfield and out wide should be priorities for Tiago Pinto this summer.
Eighty million euros may not seem like much when compared to the figures we see other clubs bandying about each summer, but for Roma, it represents a substantial investment. One that, when combined with their shock hire of José Mourinho, could present a dramatic signal of intent from the Friedkins.
People like to speak of AS Roma as a potential powderkeg waiting to explode on the European football scene. But, as the sport has shown us so many times over the years, it takes more than money to buy legitimacy. You need an intelligent and flexible manager, a dedicated front office, and talent enough to weather the storms of injuries, illnesses, and simple fatigue.
By virtue of their presence alone, the Friedkins have proven their dedication, and by hiring José Mourinho, they've proven their not afraid to take a gamble. However, in order for that gamble to pay off, they need to make an equal investment on the transfer market.
But it's not enough to spend, they need to spend wisely. Any one of these plans will improve the club now and in the future.
Now that you're heard our say, how would you spend €80 million to improve Roma?
How should Roma spend their rumored €80 million budget?
This poll is closed
Go big on one or two star players
Spread it out between 2-3 key players
Sell, replace and upgrade 4-5 players