While the transfer rumor mill seldom if ever takes a break, now that the calendar has officially flipped to January, the spate of rumors we've discussed over the past several weeks may finally start to bear fruit. Where some clubs will go big, dropping record-breaking fees to kick off the New Year without batting an eye, Roma seldom dines at that table, which makes predicting their winter market moves an exceedingly difficult proposition.
But we're going to do just that. However, before we sort out the names and price tags, we wanted to set some context: What does Roma have in stock? What areas need support? And why exactly is a defensive midfielder so important?
Stay tuned for part two tomorrow, but in the meantime, dive into part one and please give us your thoughts in the comment section.
Before we dive into the winter market, give us an evaluation of Tiago Pinto’s performance during his first full year on the job. What’s been his biggest challenge? His biggest success? How can he and the club improve their transfer fortunes going forward?
ssciavillo: I think when you look at the roster when Tiago Pinto arrived, his biggest challenge was to clear out many of the players that were brought in by other DSs (mainly Monchi). There were plenty of players on big wages who were no longer part of the club’s plans that were going to be hard to move. And the fact that he was able to clear out most of those players (Pastore, Nzonzi, Olsen, Lopez, Under, Kluivert, Pedro) all in one summer has to be his biggest success so far.
Those contracts were severely weighing down the club’s wage bill and handcuffing the team on the incoming side of the mercato. I also think he did a nice job of bringing in quality players this summer in what was termed by the club to be a reactionary market. Abraham looks like a stud. Vina has acclimated himself well. And Patricio has shored up the goalkeeper position.
The club can improve its transfer fortunes going forward by not overpaying players to come to the capital on long contracts. I understand guys need to get paid attractive wages, but we don’t want to end up in the same mess where players are being paid high wages years after their value to the club has passed (a la Fazio). Having a clear wage strategy is important. Look at what it’s done to help turn around AC Milan’s fortunes.
JonAS: Agreed with Steven. Apart from Fazio and Santon he basically removed all the dead weight from the roster. Some of them weren’t clear-cut sales (Pau Lopez, Olsen, Kluivert, etc) but at least the man worked overtime to trim down the team and give Mourinho a steady basis to build upon.
Abraham and Rui were solid purchases although they came with a price. Vina was a typical Sabatini move and it looks like Matias is a keeper. Don’t underestimate the job of Pinto, there’s still a pandemic raging on, Roma’s financial situation isn’t the same as City or PSG and overall Serie A is a tougher league than La Liga, Bundesliga, or Ligue 1.
He’s still young for a GM so he’ll need some more years to truly master the job but I’d say his first year has been decent enough to trust him with Roma’s future. There’s still a ton of work to be done so baby steps. Just give Mourinho his 2-3 preferred targets by this Summer and return to the CL as soon as possible.
Pinto’s main problem is: are the tifosi patient enough?
BSanti: Steven nailed it. Without a doubt, Pinto’s biggest challenge was clearing out the deadwood acquired by Monchi, and boy did Pinto rise to the challenge. I’m tempted to say getting rid of Pastore (my least favorite Roma player ever) was his biggest success, but I’ll go with the acquisition of Tammy Abraham. We all knew Dzeko’s time with Roma was winding down, but to secure Tammy’s services so quickly after Dzeko’s departure? You have to tip your hat to him.
Bren: For the sake of changing things up, I’ll say his biggest challenge was simply making a name for himself. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in greeting his appointment with a hearty “Who?” And in addition to dealing with his lack of name recognition, almost immediately after accepting the position, his credentials came under question, with people wondering whether he or Rui Costa actually made Benfica’s deals. Through his first year or so on the job, Pinto is proving he not only has what it takes to be a GM but to be Roma’s GM, which is no easy feat as we know all too well.
I’m going to give the Abraham transfer a shout as well. In terms of age, style of play, persona, and desire to prove himself, Tammy was almost a perfect signing and Pinto bartered an expensive but potentially lucrative deal for Roma; it’s a win-win-win. Roma potentially gets a start striker, and if the worst comes to worst, the club stands to make a healthy profit off a future sale.
You get to erase and replace any one of Tiago Pinto’s transfers so far: Who are you choosing? Why? And who would take their place?
ssciavillo: You might be able to guess my choice based on the fact that I excluded him from my previous answer. I’d have to go with Eldor Shomurodov. It’s not that I don’t like the player, but spending almost 20 million Euros on a player already in his mid-20s with his track record seems steep. I haven’t written him off yet, but I haven’t seen enough from him to this point to justify his price tag.
If I had to replace him, I’d have made a run at a player like Giacomo Raspadori of Sassuolo. It’s well known that I love his teammate Gianluca Scamacca, but Tammy Abraham already presents a similar profile. Therefore, I think Raspadori would be an ideal change up to Tammy or a nice complementary piece, and at just 21-years-old, he’s still got more room to grow than Eldor.
JonAS: Well, not THAT many to choose from really. Rui and Abraham look the part while Vina needs more time but will turn into a serviceable backup once Spinazzola is back. And Reynolds was already part of the team in February and obviously a gamble for the future. So I too have to go with Shomurodov and his hefty price tag. While I kinda understand the move (I compared Eldor to Vucinic not so long ago), I expected more from him. He’s a strange mix of a striker, second-striker and winger.
I still have a soft spot for Quags and since we already have a fairly young team, perhaps an older guy/mentor would have been ideal to complement Abraham, SES and Zaniolo? Joao Pedro was also a possibility and a cheaper one than Eldor.
Or an even better alternative: what if they simply didn’t buy another striker and went all-in for that DM (Zakaria, Anguissa) the past summer? I think Roma would be in a better spot right now.
BSanti: Shomurodov, easy. When his transfer was announced I was less than enthused *insert sleeping Squidward meme here*, and although I’ve warmed up to him a bit, for the purposes of this question he’s still the one to go for me. He just hasn’t done enough to justify the price tag. In his stead, I would’ve LOVED Luka Jovic, a player I’ve loved since he burst onto the scene. Unfortunately for Roma, he’s seemingly played his way back into Real Madrid’s rotation, so that one will have to remain a pipe dream.
Bren: Yeah, I suppose this question is a bit difficult to answer since Roma didn’t do much business over the past year, but I would have left Shomurodov at Genoa and made a real play for Filip Kostic, who would have made more of an immediate impact in a variety of roles. I just love hybrid attacking players because they give you so many options, and while one can make an argument Shomurodov fits that mold, he's nowhere near Kostic's level. The rumor may have been flimsy, but I was excited at the prospect of landing him.
Okay, on to the present. Before we discuss names, let’s set expectations: Should we expect a busy transfer market or would Roma be better served standing pat and letting things unfold?
ssciavillo: I don’t think Roma will be too active on the transfer market with incoming players. It’ll most likely be two players max: a midfielder with a defensive profile and a player capable of spelling Rick Karsdorp at right back. I could see Pinto being more active on the outgoing side by moving on from a few players that haven’t played much under Mourinho and a couple loans for younger players. To me that would be the prudent path. I think bigger moves will come in the summer.
JonAS: Yeah sounds about right. Maitland-Niles fits the bill perfectly: capable of playing fullback/wingback and central midfield. They’ll aim for that low-cost profile and if there’s a sale (Villar, Diawara, Perez) then maybe a DM as well. A quality one like Zakaria or Kamara. Maybe rescind the contracts of Santon and Fazio.
BSanti: Agreed. Clubs are notoriously quiet during the winter market, and as a club operating on a smaller budget than the big boys of European football, I’d be surprised if the club were overly active. I think we’ll secure the necessary reinforcements, ship out some more deadwood if possible, but that’s about it.
Bren: Winter definitely isn’t about volume so Pinto will have to find ideal fits for the club’s current roster, which could be something as simple as Maitland-Niles and, if he’s able to swing it, maybe Kamara. I suppose there’s always the chance they take a flier on another Ibañez-type player; a young guy with upside but no path to playing time at his current club; the type of signing that may not bear fruit for another year.
Ultimately, I think we're looking at a small window with maybe two signings and a few outgoing loans. Nothing exciting, but all part of the plan.
Set aside defensive midfielder for a moment, what is Roma’s other biggest area of need as we head into 2022, who should the club target for that position or role and how are they an upgrade?
ssciavillo: In terms of starting XI, I like what Roma has outside of a true DM. Therefore, I rate the next biggest position of need as a depth right-back. Roma just needs a player that is at replacement level to earn Mourinho’s trust and spell Rick Karsdorp, who’s being run into the ground. Pretty much anyone that’s ready for top European level football is an upgrade over the inexperienced Bryan Reynolds at this point, so it doesn’t have to be a big name. I think the versatile Ainsley Maitland-Nigel will be the profile based on reports.
JonAS: Right back obviously. Praise the Lord Karsdorp stayed fit for most of the time but with important Serie A, Coppa, and Conference coming up, we desperately need more firepower next to Slick Rick. Santon and Reynolds are not the solutions. AMN is ok, but perhaps I’d prefer a guy who knows Serie A better. Bereszynski from Samp? He strikes me as a Cassetti/Tonetto type of deal. Inter’s Darmian? But I reckon he’ll cost more.
BSanti: Agreed on right-back, but for the sake of being different I’ll go with center-back. As we’ve discussed throughout the first half of the season, Smalling just can’t stay healthy enough to be confident in his availability. Having said that, if we continue to play with three in the back, securing an extra center-back is of the utmost importance.
Bren: I think we have a consensus on right-back depth, but I’d also add a younger version of Mkhitaryan to the list. A hybrid wing/attacker/forward in a pinch type of player, just someone who can ease the transition to life without Mkhitaryan, who, despite his intermittent struggles recently, has been fantastic since arriving in Rome.
Okay, let’s slide into the DM discussion. What is Roma currently lacking in that position and what traits must this new player absolutely have in order to improve the midfield?
ssciavillo: I mean the D in the DM says it all. Roma lacks a player that can truly DEFEND in the midfield. Bryan Cristante and Jordan Veretout try their hardest, but that’s not their game. Roma needs a player in the De Rossi mold who is comfortable sitting deep and breaking up opponents’ play, while also being able to cycle possession and spring counter-attacks. The player doesn’t have to be at De Rossi’s world-class levels, but someone above average or with the potential to grow into a stud would be ideal for what Mourinho wants to do. That won’t come easy or cheap in the January mercato, so Pinto will have to shop smartly or hold off until the summer.
JonAS: Basically we need a new Emerson or De Rossi (as Steven pointed out) but I guess that’s a distant dream. Zakaria, Kamara are those DM types. And Mourinho can make them world stars. They don’t have to be tall like The Rock, just look at Kante. A calm presence. A tireless octopus in the midfield. I wanna bet that Veretout and Cristante will improve as well alongside someone like Zakaria and score more often.
BSanti: Any chance we can coax De Rossi out of retirement? Find the next N’golo Kante? Bueller? Again, Steven and JonAS nailed it. Cristante or Veretout next to a CDM that gives them peace of mind to make their trademark runs forward could be an absolute game-changer for Roma.
Bren: The signs all point to this new player being more destroyer than patient passer, so I think we need someone with the heart and desire to cover large swaths of ground in the midfield, someone that’s not afraid to mix it up, and someone who wants to be the unsung hero. And if we want that person to drop right in and make an impact from day one, gimme Florian Grillitsch. At 26, he’s the perfect age to drop right into Mourinho’s lineup without worrying about experience or adaptation. He may not be the best choice out there, but he may be the easiest to assimilate in the middle of the season.
That's it for part one. Be sure to check back tomorrow for the second part of our discussion where we tackle more new signings and decide what to do about players like Gonzalo Villar and Max Kumbulla.