During Jim Pallotta’s days as owner, we saw a wide variety of sporting directors try and build a roster good enough to make Roma a perennial top 4 contender or better. We went from the grizzled, chain-smoking Walter Sabatini to Spanish (supposed) transfer guru Monchi to the boisterous Gianluca Petrachi with interim spells of Ricky Massara sandwiched in between. And let’s not forget Pallotta's unofficial transfer consigliere, Franco Baldini.
And while all of those men had their hits and misses on the transfer market during their time in the front office, they all left the capital with very different reputations. They either earned a cult following (Sabatini), are thought of as the devil incarnate (Monchi), or just didn’t last long for fans to be anything other than ambivalent toward (Petrachi).
Those sporting directors also came to Roma with their own reputations, and for better or worse, we thought we knew which direction Roma would be heading given their past bodies of work. However, that all changed when The Friedkin Group officially took control of the club and hired Tiago Pinto, a little-known 36-year-old from Benfica, on January 1, 2021.
Pinto has now been in charge of Roma’s personnel moves for 18 months and has drawn both praise and criticism from Roma fans. And with the mercato again open, Pinto is under the microscope more than ever as he tries to improve José Mourinho's squad, who recently won their first trophy in 14 years.
But, before we speculate and critique Pinto for moves currently churning through the rumor mill, let’s look at his work from his first year and a half at the helm.
Cost: Loan with a €6.75 million obligation to buy.
At this point, Pinto’s first signing as Roma's General Manager has been nothing short of a flop. The then 19-year-old Reynolds arrived from MLS club FC Dallas as a relative unknown, even among US Soccer fans. A raw talent, who wasn’t expected to contribute immediately, Reynolds got a few looks under Paulo Fonseca last spring but saw only two minutes of action under José Mourinho this fall before he was unceremoniously loaned out to Belgian side Kortrijk, making only 9 appearances. Reynolds will remain in Belgium next season on loan with KVS Westerlo. There’s still a small hope that Reynolds, who turns 21 in a few days, can come good, but it’s looking less and less likely that he’ll have a future in Rome.
Grade (Thus far): F
I hate to write off a youngster so quickly but this move was a gamble and it looks like the house (Dallas) is winning this bet. This grade could change if Reynolds ever comes good, but at this point the move is a failure, especially considering that he cost Roma close to €7 million.
Stephan El Shaarawy
Desperate to get out of China and back in the spotlight of Serie A, El Shaarawy returned to Roma on the last day of the 2021 winter mercato. Unfortunately, Il Faraone hasn’t repeated his goalscoring record from his previous Roma stint. However, the goals he did score this season were typically big for the Giallorossi in the standings—his late winner against Sassuolo, the one that provoked a euphoric response from Mourinho, stands out.
He’s been a great team guy under Mourinho, working hard in his unnatural wing-back position. His future for next season remains up in the air but considering this was a free transfer. if he’s sold it’ll result in a profit.
Grade (Thus far): C
I’ve always liked SES and was excited when he returned, but the results have been underwhelming. Since this was a free transfer and he’s proven to be a spark plug off the bench, I’m pretty neutral on this deal. Hence the C.
Cost: €11.80 million transfer
Patricio was everything that Roma hoped for when it signed the veteran Portuguese international. After three seasons of Robin Olsen and Pau Lopez, Mourinho and Pinto quickly identified the steadying presence needed between the sticks. Patricio was great and rarely made a big mistake that cost his side— something that was all too common with Olsen and Lopez. Patricio played all but one match this season and was instrumental in Roma’s ECL Final victory.
Grade (Thus far): A-
I only rate this an A- and not an A because of Patricio’s age. He’s not going to be the long-term solution in goal, but for the time being, he’s just what the doctor ordered.
Cost: €13.60 million
Viña was a forced signing after the injury suffered by Leo Spinazzola ruled him out long-term. There was always going to be a transition period for a player coming from South America, but the former Palmeiras man was thrown into the deep end. Consequently, at times, Viña looked like he could cut it in Serie A, while at others he looked in over his head. His playing time decreased as the season went on due to the emergence of Nicola Zalewski at left wing-back.
Grade (Thus far): C
Viña definitely had an up and down first season in the capital but doesn’t look like a total loss. He’s still just 24-years-old with room to grow and an Uruguay international to boot. The cost of the transfer was reasonable given the current market values, too. Viña should be more comfortable in his second season and will be the primary backup to Spinazzola, so I’m not writing him off just yet.
Cost: €18.00 million
This may be the biggest head-scratcher of Pinto’s tenure so far. Yes, Roma needed attacking help before it landed Abraham. But, Shomorudov didn’t fit into the category of a proven commodity or young promising talent at 26-years-old—-with a less than stellar track record. And to add to the skepticism around the move, Roma dropped almost €20 million.
Grade (Thus far): D +
This move just has not panned out so far. With just three goals and four assists in under 1,000 league minutes, Eldor hasn’t performed well enough to be the vice-Abraham. I’m not calling this an F yet, but he has to be much better in 2022-23. Given his age and track record, this move was always a bit confusing.
Cost: €40.00 million
The Abraham signing has been nothing short of a masterstroke. Forced into replacing Edin Dzeko, the Friedkins allowed Pinto to spend big on Abraham. And the €40 million is beginning to look like an absolute steal. Tammy was everything and more for Roma at striker: 26 goals and great all-around play mean that Roma more than replaced Dzeko, giving Mourinho the striker needed to lead his attack. Throw in the fact that Chelsea must pay €80 million to bring him back next year means that even if Tammy departs after two seasons, Roma makes a hefty plusvalenza.
Grade (Thus far): A
I mean what else has to be said. Absolutely perfect signing.
Cost: Loan with an option to buy.
At this point, it looks like Roma is moving on from Oliveira after his six-month loan spell expired and the club didn’t exercise his option. This was always a likely scenario considering the agreed fee was over €10 million. Sergio didn’t light the world on fire but was an important piece in Roma’s midfield rotation as the season wore on. He provided a steadying veteran presence and limited mistakes.
Grade (Thus far): B
Considering this was a loan move with no strings attached, this was good business from Pinto. Sergio was just what the Giallorossi needed at the moment, but can likely be upgraded this summer.
Cost: Dry Loan
Maitland-Niles arrived from Arsenal to add some much-needed depth to the full-back positions. However, the 24-year-old didn’t prove to be up to snuff to give Rick Karsdorp some much-needed rest. He was limited to a handful of substitute appearances and didn’t make any notable impact.
Grade (Thus far): D
I’m giving this a D rather than an F mostly because it’s unlikely Roma could’ve done better in January with no money to spend. Plus, this deal was a dry loan with no strings attached, so AMN returning to Arsenal paves the way for Pinto to hopefully sign Celik this summer and upgrade the position.
The Overall Body of Work & What's Next
When looking at Pinto’s signings so far, it’s nothing other than a mixed bag. However, this is the case for most sporting directors around the world. Roma just doesn’t have the means of some of the world's richest clubs, who can paper over bad signings and roster holes by simply spending more. This discrepancy becomes more obvious when the Giallorossi miss on a signing.
So, while it’s easy to criticize Pinto’s time in Rome based on his signings alone, there’s more to his job than just buying. He inherited a roster full of the bad contracts, mistakes of his predecessors, and players purchased for managers with styles very different from Mourinho. This meant that last summer was more about clearing the deadweight and filling immediate positions of need (striker and left-back) than actually filling out the roster with improved players at every position.
The number of unwanted players Pinto was able to clear out in a short time is nothing short of remarkable. That grueling work last summer has most of the club’s bad salaries off the books and Pinto primed to really start adding to the depth and talent of a roster that captured Roma’s first trophy in over a decade.
When Pinto’s entire body of work is considered—both buying and selling—his performance starts to look much better. That’s why I say that anyone criticizing Pinto for not building a roster worthy of Mourinho needs to give him at least until the end of this window before judging. He inherited a bloated roster and poor financial situation. That’s no longer the case and by the end of August, he’ll likely shed more unwanted players while making Roma’s roster quality even better.
Grade (Thus far): B
This summer, Pinto will have more financial flexibility than last thanks to the yeoman’s work of shedding all those bad contracts. However, he’ll still have to be creative to truly amplify the quality of Roma’s roster given the club’s lack of Champions League revenue. So far, we’ve seen Mile Svilar and Nemanja Matic arrive on free transfers, while Zeki Celik is close to joining on an affordable deal. Meanwhile, Pinto will likely be crafty in dealing with Sassuolo for Davide Frattesi—using Roma’s 30% sell-on clause and possibly prospects to lessen the cost.
Don’t get me wrong, Roma will likely bring in a big signing or two to give Mourinho the upgrades needed to truly compete for the top 4. That could mean a defensive midfielder like Douglas Luiz of West Ham or a winger like Goncalo Guedes of Valencia. There just haven’t been any reports of exactly what kind of budget Pinto is working with, but the early market returns show he’s working hard to give Mourinho what he needs.
So, hunker down, weather the maelstrom of rumors that are bound to blow through CdT, and we'll revisit these judgments on Pinto once the market closes later this summer.