Every big team in Serie A seems to have a lower to mid-table club with whom they often do business, a place where they can loan up-and-coming talents to continue their development in a more nurturing environment or sell on some Primavera graduates that may no longer be in the club's plans.
Roma'sSince Sassuolo came to Serie A for the first time during the 2013-2014 season, the Neroverdi have been one of most amiable business partners, nurturing some of the Lupi's most prized pups. And a handful of those youngsters exploded onto the scene in Emilia-Romagna, including Davide Frattesi.
Frattesi's star has grown brighter over the last eighteen months, to the point where he looks poised to rejoin the wolfpack as rumors of a Roma homecoming are again picking up steam. The rumored deal includes prized youngsters Cristian Volpato and Edoardo Bove potentially following the Roma-Sassuolo pipeline in the other direction.
So, with a potential three-player exchange said to be in the works, we're going to look back at eight seasons' worth of deals between Roma and Sassuolo, examining how things worked out for the Giallorossi. While there have been a handful of moves at the Primavera level, we'll focus on the moves that have seen players move at the senior level.
Please note: The following transfers are in chronological order based on the initial transfer between the two clubs.
A History of Roma-Sassuolo Transfers
Luca Antei (Center-back)
July 1, 2013: Roma to Sassuolo (€1 million total)
After initially moving to Sassuolo on a loan deal in January 2013 while the Neroverdi were still in Serie B, Antei's deal was made permanent months later, totaling €1 million after a €500k initial fee as part of the now defunct co-ownership system.
The now 30-year-old center-back was a role player during Sassuolo's first handful of years in Italy's top flight, amassing 52 appearances before he was loaned to Benevento in 2017. That loan eventually became permanent, and he helped the Witches earn a promotion back to the top flight after the '19-'20 season. However, after a short loan spell to Pescara during the fall of 2020, the former Primavera Scudetto winner has been without a club since the end of his contract with Benevento in the summer of 2021.
Antonio Sanabria (Striker)
July 1, 2014: Sassuolo to Roma (€6.2 million)
This was an interesting deal that saw the Neroverdi almost act as a steward for Roma in January 2014. With Roma already at their non-EU player quota, the Paraguayan Sanabria moved to Emilia-Romagna from Barcelona's B side for €4.5 million plus another €7 million in bonuses. Sanabria stayed until the of the season. However, the actual cost of his move was more than the €6.2 million listed on Transfermarkt because Roma also handled the bonus owed to Barca.
In the end, Sanabria played just two matches in Italy's capital before moving to Sporting Gijon on loan and then permanently to Betis for €7.5 million. A net loss of around €7 million for a player that only made two appearances for Roma's first team. Sanabria is now a regular for Torino.
Lorenzo Pellegrini (Midfield)
July 1, 2015: Roma to Sassuolo (€1.25 million)
July 2, 2017: Sassuolo to Roma (€10 million)
Probably the most notable transfer between the two clubs saw current Roma captain Lorenzo Pellegrini head to the Neroverdi as a 19-year-old Primavera graduate. As part of the deal, Roma retained a buyback that was exercised two years later to bring Pellegrini back home.
This transfer worked out ideally for both clubs as Pellegrini helped Sassuolo to a 6th place finish and Europa League qualification in his first season. He became the youngest player to ever have a hand in 10 Serie A goals, with six goals and four assists in his second.
With that much success, Pellegrini returned to Rome two seasons later. In the process, Sassuolo netted almost a €9 million profit, while Roma got back a more complete player than had left two seasons earlier. And the rest is now Roma history.
This is precisely what both sides want to see when they enter into these kinds of transfer agreements.
Matteo Politano (Forward)
July 2, 2015: Roma to Sassuolo (€8.1 million)
Like Antei, Politano was a member of Roma's 2011 Primavera Scudetto winning side. However, he never made a senior side appearance before being loaned to Perugia and Pescara. He finally found his way to Sassuolo on a €100k loan a day after Pellegrini; his move was made permanent the following summer.
Politano spent three seasons at the Mapei Stadium, scoring 24 goals in 110 appearances in all competitions. That earned him a move to Inter Milan before eventually moving to Napoli. Since leaving Sassuolo, he's also become an Italian international.
Politano almost returned to the capital as part of the ill-fated Leonardo Spinazzola swap before Antonio Conte (then Inter's manager) killed the deal, reportedly leaving Politano distraught.
Luca Mazzitelli (Midfield)
February 1, 2016: Roma to Sassuolo (€3.5 million)
The 2015-2016 season was a busy one for Roma Primavera products moving to Sassuolo. Mazzitelli became the third of the season when he moved during the winter mercato. Mazzitelli was officially part of Sassuolo until the summer of 2021, when he was sold to Monza (still in Serie B) for just €300k. However, in that time, he was loaned out numerous times—mostly to Serie B sides—and made just 38 appearances with Sassuolo.
Federico Ricci (Forward/Winger)
August 31, 2016: Roma to Sassuolo (€500K loan made permanent for €3 million)
Ricci was loaned to Sassuolo for the 2016-2017 season, where he made 24 appearances and scored two goals. That was enough for the Neroverdi brass to exercise its purchase option for the following season on the same day Pellegrini headed back to Roma. Unfortunately for Ricci, that was the most success he had with Sassuolo. He'd go on to make just one more appearance and play out numerous loan spells before his contract expired in the summer of 2021 when he moved to Serie B side Reggina on a free transfer.
Gregoire Defrel (F), Davide Frattesi, (MF) & Riccardo Marchizza (LB)
Even though these were registered as separate transfers, I'll group all three players together. In the grand scheme of things, the two youngsters were used as makeweights to lighten Defrel's financial burden.
At this point, Romanisti won't want to relive the horrific memories of Defrel's time with Roma. Brought in at the request of new manager Eusebio Di Francesco—his manager at Sassuolo—Defrel was an absolute disaster in Roma colors. He made just 15 appearances and scored only one goal. He was loaned to Samp the following season before moving back to Sassuolo. All told, Roma paid €20 million for Defrel.
When considering the counterweights of Frattesi and Marchizza (total cost of €7.5 million), Roma took a health chunk out of Defrel's cost. Nevertheless, the current valuation of the man of the hour, Frattesi, means that in the end, Roma will end up behind tens of millions of Euros if a deal is made for his services.
Plenty has been written of Frattesi's successes over the last 18 months, so I won't go into much detail here. Meanwhile, Marchizza has made numerous loan spells away from the Mapei. He tore his ACL last season while at Empoli and finally made his first Sassuolo appearances this season.
Riccardo Ciervo (Forward/Winger)
January 28, 2021: Roma to Sassuolo (€2 million)
Aside from the numerous Defrel transfers, there were no other moves between the two senior sides between 2018 and 2021. However, business was renewed with the loan transfer (with an obligation to purchase) of young winger Riccardo Ciervo in January 2022. Ciervo has yet to play for Sassuolo and is currently on loan in Serie B with Frosinone.
How Have the Giallorossi Made Out?
When you consider the number of transfers made between the two clubs, very few had much consequence either way. Outside of Defrel and Sanabria, all of these moves consisted of youngsters and/or recent Roma primavera graduates. And as we're all well aware of by now, dealing with prospects—no matter how bright— is always a crapshoot.
The greatest success, of course, has been Pellegrini. Including the buyback clause was superb business from the Giallorossi, as two years under EDF helped Lolo become the player he's grown into today.
On the flip side, the biggest failure is undoubtedly Defrel. Luckily for Roma, the Giallorossi cut ties fairly painlessly with the Frenchman without losing big money. In terms of financial losses, Sanabria ended up being the bigger hit. Probably not what you would have expected.
Besides those two, Roma hasn't spent any money to acquire players from the Neroverdi. The deals between the two clubs have mainly featured unproven youngsters heading to Sassuolo to cut their teeth before hopefully returning to Roma. The problem is that, except for Pellegrini, none have. However, that could change with Frattesi, though it would require a significant investment from the Giallorossi for his services.
Meanwhile, the only other player that reached their potential away from Rome was Politano. Other than him, the rest have struggled to carve out top-flight careers and have mostly toiled in Serie B. So, all in all, when considering the development of players like Pellegrini, Politano, and Frattesi—and coupling that with a relatively low net expenditure with Sassuolo—Roma has fared decently in dealings with the Neroverdi.
However, to make a fair judgment, we'd have to revisit the topic once we see how the players involved (Frattesi, Volpato, and Bove) fare with their new teams. Similarly, the nature of the Bove and Volpato transfers, which may or may not have buyback clauses, will influence how we rate this deal.
How would you rate Roma's business with Sassuolo? Is the proposed Frattesi for Volpato/Bove + cash deal a good idea? Let us know in the comment section!