With the closing of the Italian summer mercato, Roma’s potential moves into the club have been put to a halt until January. The Giallorossi’s General Manager took some time to talk with the press following the end of the mercato, answering questions on everything from Lorenzo Pellegrini’s contract negotiations, the false-start transfer of Granit Xhaka, and the difficulty inherent to trimming the fat off of the Roma senior squad after the excesses of Monchi.
Read the interview below, along with some comments from yours truly on what Pinto had to say.
“First and foremost, I want to thank the ownership for all the work they have put in over these last few months. And not just in terms of the investments made, but also for the assistance, for their presence around the club every day, for the vision that they have. When I got here, they talked a lot about teamwork. But not just in theory, in practice too. We have worked hard together, with the coaches too. We have shared the decision-making process and that is something I am really pleased about, because it is something that you need to do and it is something that will only end up being for the better for Roma.
“To conduct more than 40 transfer negotiations in less than two months is not just the work of Tiago Pinto, but it’s the work of the legal team, the finance department, Morgan [De Sanctis] and Maurizio [Lombardo], who all helped. For you [journalists] a lot of the time what matters is the name of players. But in modern football it’s complex and difficult to bring negotiations to a positive conclusion, especially if you don’t have such a committed and expert team with the willingness to work hard to do it.
“I am very demanding with myself: I am the first to be angry when things go wrong. But I can say that this was possibly the most challenging and difficult transfer window in the recent history of football. And yet, in the end, we were able to conduct a good transfer window. I am not one to shout to you guys about the great business we’ve done, that’s not the way I operate, but in such difficult circumstances we have been able to hire the best coach in the world, we have built a stronger squad and we have found solutions for more than 30 players. Of course you will all want to talk about the business we didn’t manage to do, but I think we’ve done great work.”
You’ve improved the coach, the defence and the attack – perhaps you still lack something in midfield though. Was that because you had spent the budget?
“When I got here, everyone told me that Roma was a tough place to work. Over these last eight months I have learned what it means to live in this city. Today I laughed to myself a bit, because the transfer window closed yesterday – although there are still four or five markets open where we might find solutions [for players] – but all the questions were about the midfielder. But I think that’s a little bit what Rome is like.
“The issue is not the budget: we need to be aware that what we have invested in this transfer window is more than Dan and Ryan [Friedkin] had initially imagined. The market is dynamic and, in crucial moments, we had the desire to do something to accelerate the rebuilding process here. All of you know about the interest we had in [Granit] Xhaka, which in the end we didn’t manage to do because other things happened. We wanted to address the most urgent needs the squad had.
“I don’t ever want to try and justify my work, but we shouldn’t forget the situation we inherited. When the season started, we had more than 60 players under contract. That is not easy to manage. It’s understandable that you and the fans will look at what’s missing, but we need to keep some perspective. We did what we thought was right in order to become stronger.”
Miotto’s Musings: I find it interesting that Pinto is open when he says he spent more this summer than the Friedkins originally allocated. It goes to show just how much the signing of José Mourinho changed The Friedkin Group’s schedule for the Giallorossi.
For Lorenzo Pellegrini’s contract extension, are you expecting any issues?
“No, Lorenzo wants to renew his contract with Roma and Roma wants Lorenzo to renew. There’s no issue.”
Miotto’s Musings: Good.
Are you pleased with some of the unwanted players you were able to move on? And, for those who didn’t find moves, could they be reintegrated into the first-team squad?
“I could ask you instead how many sporting directors have managed to sell players this summer. I think that finding a solution for more than 30 players, even if not all of them were sold outright, is a good outcome. And, especially, doing that with players who earn a lot of money.
“Perhaps elsewhere there are better sporting directors than me, and I am here to learn all the time, but I think this question would be more valid in a different window, in a different year. This year I think it’s enough to look at the various transfers elsewhere to judge things. Of course, it would have been better to find solutions for every player. We weren’t able to do that only for the ones that didn’t want to leave.
“We still have 10 transfer windows open. We will continue to work in order to find solutions. Mourinho has already spoken about this topic: we worked hard and we brought to the table offers for every single one of our players. Good offers, offers that meant none of them would have lost out on even one euro. But I cannot go inside the heads of the players. Let’s see what happens. We still have a few transfer windows open [in other countries], we will work with their agents and our staff. After all the markets are closed, we’ll see.”
Given all the spending on signings, Roma can now fight for the title. And would it be a failure if the club did not qualify for the Champions League?
“My target is not the title, but to work hard every day in order to cut the distance between Roma and success. We have talked a lot about time, but time is not an excuse to not win. It’s clear that we want to win, starting with next week’s game against Sassuolo.
“We have the best coach in the world, we have a better squad than last season and we have also made a lot of changes to the structure around the players. And all of that will hopefully bring us closer to success.
“But I cannot be thinking about May, because we are in September: we have to make sure we are focused on winning every game. Then, if at the end of the season we are in the hunt for the title, then we will be there.
“As for the second part of your question, it’s clear that qualifying for the Champions League is the main target. I won’t hide from that. That’s why we are here.”
Miotto’s Musings: Pinto’s certainly saying all the right things here, and it’s certainly good that he’s managing expectations after a very successful early season. He’d be lying if he said the title wouldn’t be nice, but correctly looking at Champions League qualification as the priority for this season is wise.
What regrets do you have at the end of this window?
“As I’ve said already, the transfer window is always in flux. When we weren’t able to sign Xhaka… he wanted to leave Arsenal but in that moment they did not want to sell him. That was a regret. But the real regret is this situation with these unwanted players, because we really worked hard alongside Morgan and others in this room in order to bring decent, respectable offers to the players involved.”
Miotto’s Musings: Well, this just goes to show what a mess of a club Arsenal is right now. They make Pallotta-era Roma look coordinated and thoughtful. Given the miss on the Xhaka signing, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a move for a Xhaka-type in the winter mercato, either.
What is your relationship like with Jose Mourinho? Is it an added weight to be working with him or does it give you an additional boost?
“I am very pleased that we were able, all together, to bring Jose Mourinho here. It’s an honour. I am Portuguese, I am 36 years old and since I was a child Mourinho was an icon – even if he coached Porto and I was a Benfica fan. Mourinho is an incredible figure for any Portuguese person.
“Today I am a working colleague and there are lots of occasions in which we might not agree on things – but I learn something every day from him. Because he has worked for the best clubs in the world, he’s won everything there is to win, he’s won five league titles. But I don’t feel the pressure – we are able to work together every day, since even before the season started, and we went through the squad together and we worked out what we needed to do, what we could do and what we couldn’t do. I am pleased, proud and motivated to be working every day with Mourinho.”
In terms of the overall strategy, how can signing Xhaka go from being the priority to not signing anyone in central midfield? And have you already decided you will be back in the market in January?
“On Xhaka I think I have already answered: the market is always in flux and situations happen where you need to give an answer and, in the end, there is also always this link between an incoming and outgoings of players. We have six central midfielders and, with how the market panned out, we decided not to purchase another.
“But I think it’s important to say that Roma’s midfield contains a European champion in Bryan Cristante, the midfielder who has scored more goals than anyone so far this season and is in the France squad [Jordan Veretout], it has Gonzalo Villar who started every one of Spain Under-21s recent games, it has Amadou Diawara and Ebrima Diawara and Edoardo Bove … we can’t talk as if there isn’t already a midfield there.
“Now we need to balance things out. As far as January goes, I think you all believe that most success in this sport is down to transfer business and that’s why, when the transfer window closed yesterday, you are already asking me about January. But I believe there is always work to be done every day with a football team that ultimately helps you to win, not just the transfer market.
“The transfer market is important, of course, and in January we will be there to analyse and understand if players have progressed or not, if any have got injured, if the coach is satisfied, how the league table looks… we will look at everything, but right now we can’t jump from September to January.”
“I am here also in order to help the players grow, to assist the coach with what he needs in order to move forward. If it was only the transfer market that decided success, then Lille would not have won the title in France last season.”
Miotto’s Musings: Once again, Pinto is saying all the right things, both about Mourinho and potential future transfers. Nevertheless, I think we can expect to see further movement from Pinto in January; multiple sources have suggested The Friedkin Group has already assured Mourinho that this will happen.
There was the injury to Leonardo Spinazzola and then the sale of Edin Dzeko. If everything had gone according to the initial plan, would the club have spent as much as it ended up doing?
“I don’t know. As I’ve said, the transfer market is always moving. When something happens, I might see an opportunity. That’s how I am. When Spinazzola got injured, I was disappointed – but I bought Matias Vina and we dealt with the problem. And, when Leo has recovered, we will have three really good full-backs.
“As for Dzeko, I think a lot of people saw that situation as a problem but I saw it as an opportunity to accelerate the project we have in place here, and so we signed Tammy Abraham.
“The market is dynamic. When people say that we have been ‘reactive’ in the transfer market, I would say that so is everyone else. A lot of the time we sell those that we don’t really want to sell and we are not able to sell those we would like to sell. That’s how the transfer window often is. We need to know and react every day to whatever happens on the market.”
How much harder is it to do your job in the transfer market when the season has already started?
“I don’t like it. I come from a place – in Portugal we buy and sell a lot of players – where, within the club, we always believed that there were two very distinct seasons; when the window is open, and then when it is closed.
“I don’t like it because we, fortunately enough, have won the first four games and we are doing really well. But it’s not easy to manage a squad of players and everything else when the window is still open. I don’t like it, but those are the rules. We work with that.”
Is taking a tough line with players who are surplus to requirements a new strategy for Roma?
“Before being a sporting director I am a football fan. I used to go to the stadium to see the players and the coach, not the sporting director. Part of my job is respecting players and their decisions but I have to be honest: it’s not easy for me as the sporting director to find four, five, six offers that I consider to be good and which don’t harm the player financially or do him a dishonour and to see them not accepted.
“I said before the Salernitana match last Sunday that it was a difficult decision to start the season with 60 players under contract knowing that it’s impossible for Mourinho or any other coach to manage all of those players in training. Last week [Ronald] Koeman said: ‘I’ve done coaching courses but no one has ever taught me to work with 34-35 players.’
“We took the decision to have a smaller group so that we can create this atmosphere that I think everyone can see, with a compact, close-knit squad that is willing to fight until the final second for Roma. This attitude, this dressing room, this atmosphere won’t change. After that, it’s up to me and the other people around me.
“I’m here to take responsibility. I want to thank all the footballers who found themselves in this position and I’m grateful to their agents too, because 95% of them made a real effort to find a solution. I don’t want to talk about specific cases but two or three of them made a really huge effort. At the end of the day, we’re all free to take our decisions and live by the consequences.”
Miotto’s Musings: Interesting that once again the club isn’t afraid to completely trash the idea of players not wanting to really play. It’s blunt talk, and talk we’ve seen from José Mourinho as well. It also suggests that there’s no chance any of the castoffs from the senior squad still in Rome will get a chance under this ownership.
Which agents are you talking about?
“I don’t want to name names but I spoke to some important players who made a really big effort to say, ‘I understand the situation. I can see you’re making a huge effort and I’m willing to give something up in order to play.’ That’s the sort of player I’ll remember.”
Miotto’s Musings: My guess is that this is Robin Olsen.
What about Gonzalo Villar?
“He’s a Roma player and a good midfielder who played 42 or 43 games last year. He has to make the most of this opportunity to work with Mourinho, improve his game and become an even better player.”
Miotto’s Musings: Well, that’s the gauntlet thrown down to Villar: improve, and you can get a shot under Mourinho. I imagine they want more defensive integrity from Villar; it remains to be seen if he’ll develop that in the next few months.
Did you sense Mourinho’s influence when going about your transfer business?
“Definitely. People might not like to admit it but it’s something to be proud of and it helps us. When you do a job like mine, having Mourinho as a coach is different. I think we used that to our advantage well.”
Miotto’s Musings: This makes me think that Abraham and Shomurodov in particular would have been less likely to come to Rome without Mourinho in charge.
When do you think Chris Smalling and Leonardo Spinazzola will be available again?
“I can’t tell you about Spinazzola because his situation is more complicated. He’s absolutely desperate to start playing again and we have to do what’s right in the longer term for everyone. Smalling could be available for the Sassuolo game. He had a good pre-season then got this injury but I don’t think it’s anything serious.”
Do you think there’s an element of risk in letting players like Edin Dzeko, Alessandro Florenzi and Pedro join rival teams?
“In this job every decision you take involves a risk. When [Barcelona president Joan] Laporta decides to let Messi leave, he’s taking a huge risk. The three players you mentioned were all different situations. But when a player doesn’t want to play for Roma and wants to join another team, that has a strong bearing. We’re building something new and different here where players must be ready to die for Roma. We managed to reach an agreement with all of them.
“If we look at what happened with all the big names moving on this summer, Roma didn’t do anything different to the other teams. Perhaps the communication wasn’t as good. I’m probably at fault because I always want to tell the truth but at the end of the day those players were on big wages and a club that’s trying to be sustainable has to make certain decisions. So yes, the decisions we’ve taken did involve an element of risk.
“But I don’t watch Inter’s games hoping Dzeko doesn’t play. I’m happy. Dzeko was an important player for Roma and it was a pleasure working with him. Last season we had him and [Borja] Mayoral; now we have [Tammy] Abraham, [Eldor] Shomurodov and Mayoral, so I don’t think we’re worse off.”
Miotto’s Musings: Again, Pinto is saying all the right things, and I hope Roma acts this way in the transfer market going forward. We need players who want to be in Rome, not ones who are fine being here and looking for a transfer out at the first opportunity.
What mark would you give Roma’s summer transfer business out of 10?
“If we consider that lots of people thought I wouldn’t be able to do any transfers, perhaps we deserve an 8/10. But there’s always room for improvement, so maybe I should say 7.5/10.”
Miotto’s Musings: Man, remind me not to take any classes graded by Tiago Pinto.