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The Great Roma Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Transfer Recap Edition

Roma's financial concerns certainly limited the club's transfer options, but Tiago Pinto landed a few intriguing pieces, including Romelu Lukaku. Join the CdT crew as we recap the clubs spending...err, loan spree!

AS Roma v AC Milan - Serie A Tim Photo by Domenico Cippitelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

While he didn't make his plans available to the public, General Manager Tiago Pinto's blueprint for 2023-2024 was clear: beef up the midfield, add extra juice to the attack, and, if possible, find a long-term replacement for striker Tammy Abraham, who was linked with a move away from the Eternal City before suffering a knee injury last May.

After adding free agents Evan N'Dicka and Houssem Aouar, Pinto's plan was coming together nicely. Aouar would serve as a complement and/or link between incumbents Lorenzo Pellegrini and Paulo Dybala, while N'Dicka, though not a midfielder, gave the Giallorossi another athletic body at the back.

But then things got a bit hairy. Pinto's original plan would have seen the Giallorossi bring Davide Frattesi and Gianluca Scamacca back to the city of the birth, solving two massive headaches in one fell swoop. Pairing Frattesi with Pellegrini, Aouar, and Cristante would have solved the club's midfield problems for at least the next five years, while Scamacca, as bold a Roman as you're likely to find, could have become a matinee idol for the Giallorossi.

Instead, Pinto's dreams were dashed by the club's financial limitations and Financial Fair Play guidelines, which made the Frattesi and Scamacca moves next to impossible. As a result, Pinto was forced to pivot late in the summer, landing Leandro Paredes and Renato Sanches from PSG before taking a flyer on Bayer Leverkusen forward Sardar Azmoun. Pinto saved the biggest move for last, signing star striker Romelu Lukaku on loan from Chelsea last week.

With the league ensconced in its early-season international break, we assembled the CdT crew to discuss Roma's transfer market: The hits, the misses, and the remaining question marks.

Enjoy, and be sure to give us your thoughts in the comments section!

Let's start with the obvious: What kind of impact will Romelu Lukaku have on Roma this season? Is he the missing piece? Is he enough to put them back in the top four if not?

Football Serie A Roma-Milan Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Bren: Well, seeing him essentially taking command of the entire team when he debuted against Milan was incredibly impressive. In that light, I expect him to become a leader in short order. His sheer strength will transform Roma's attack, giving Mourinho's long-ball tactics an anchor and providing a launch point for Dybala and El Shaarawy to run into the final third.

In that sense, he may be the missing piece in the attack, but the entire puzzle still lacks a few corner pieces, so I don't think Lukaku alone will vault them back into the top four. And let's be real, at this point, 6th place is probably the more reasonable target after their dreadful start.

But, if they have any chance of going on a run and erasing this start, he'll be front and center.

JonAS: Yeah, I, too, was surprised with his sub against Milan. He basically just went from the airport straight to the pitch without a real preseason. But he immediately wanted to show himself and gave instructions to Belotti, Cristante, etc. I felt the team looked more at ease with Romelu out there. Like a beacon, a safe haven. They know there's someone up front who can make things happen, someone who the opponent fears. That's something.

So yes, he is a missing piece, but without decent service from his wingbacks, he can't function 100%. I have faith in Paredes, Aouar, and Pellegrini to support him but Celik, Kristenson, Spinna, Zalewski? Not so much. They are not Dumfries, Dimarco, or Hakimi.

ssciavillo: I think he'll have an immediate impact on Roma's attack. We saw it on Friday after he had barely trained with the team. He was active and involved and looked to be in good shape after not having a preseason. When he's fit and on his game, he can be a game-breaking striker. And he's that big target man that Roma needs to play Mourinho's counter-attacking style. Of course, like Jonas said, he needs the service in order to truly thrive, so hopefully, the wing-backs get a lot of practice crossing the ball in training. That being said, I can't wait to see him and Dybala playing off each other.

In terms of the top 4, he's going to have to be great this season for it to happen, but he's not the only factor. There will also have to be improvements in all other areas of the pitch.

CL or no CL, should Roma attempt to purchase him outright at the end of the season?

Football Serie A Roma-Milan Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

JonAS: Tough question. He'll be 31 by then, and what's the fixed price, around € 43m? Maybe if Lukaku really explodes in Rome, we qualify for the CL. Every other situation: not a chance. I don't see the club paying that amount for a 30+ striker if they end sixth or worse. We are looking at a total changeover next Summer after Mourinho leaves.

But if we get the CL jackpot and Lukaku is a bull's eye, why not go for it? Dzeko also had a nice Indian Summer in Rome, so for that price, Roma could get another 3-4 good years out of Romelu.

ssciavillo: If there's no CL, there's no way they're paying €40+m for a 31-year-old. The money won't be there for it. If they do qualify and he has a great season, then I think they would pursue it, especially if Mourinho ends up coming back. I'm sure there'd probably be some negotiating to whittle down the price a bit, but if Roma is back in the UCL, then Roma will need a proven striker to compete. And if Lukaku proves to be up to the task this season, then I can see Roma bringing him back.

Bren: This is a difficult question to answer because there are so many variables: Will the team return to the Champions League? Who will the manager be? Will Dybala still be here?

If they make the CL and Mourinho returns, then sure, bring him back, even if it means giving him a multi-year deal in which he's a depreciating asset after the first 18 to 24 months. But no CL, no chance–that'd be the worst move they could make.

I think we all knew the entire project was hanging by a Champions League lifeline this season. And, thanks to this horrible start, I fear that's already a bridge too far. And if that is the case, I think they'd be wise to let Lukaku, Mourinho and maybe even Dybala walk away and start fresh with a more invigorating manager and younger, healthier players.

Apart from Lukaku, which signing stands to have the biggest impact this season and why?

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Bren: Well, if the first few matches are any indication, the player they will need to have the biggest impact is Renato Sanches. No other midfielder on the roster offers the same blend of pace, power and poise. If he can even play in 65% of the matches, Roma will be much better off with his contributions in defense, attack, and transition. I'm skeptical he'll be able to do that, but outside of Lukaku, I think he's the most important new acquisition and maybe one of the most important players outside of Dybala and Lukaku, full stop.

JonAS: Aouar had a nice preseason but is already injured. Same for Sanches. Not impressed by Kristenson at the moment. I'm a Paredes fan, but right now, I'm looking at Ndicka to save Roma's season. Smalling and Llorente are not 100%, I don't know what's wrong with them.

Mancini can't do it all by himself, so I predict Ndicka to win his place on the first team soon and be a rock like Smalling in the previous seasons. He'll improve the others as well, and once the defense is set and Lukaku is unleashed, Roma might return to its former glory and aim for the top spots.

ssciavillo: I think Sanches and Ndicka are great shouts, but I'm going to go with Aouar here. He's looked impressive in the first few weeks of the season. I know he's already injured, but hopefully, he can recover quickly over the international break. I think he provides a different dimension to the midfield that was lacking last season after the departure of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He'll help move the ball around the midfield more quickly and effectively while making great runs to help create goals for himself and others.

Roma's defense has looked a step slow so far, but we haven't seen Evan N'Dicka yet. How do you explain his early season absence, and can he fill the void left by Roger Ibanez as the club's most agile CB?

AS Roma v AC Milan - Serie A Tim Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

JonAS: There's something Mourinho knows that we don't. He has been here the entire preseason, so I figured he would at least be a starter by now, especially because he's familiar with a three-man defense like at Eintracht Frankfurt. I'm sure he'll make us forget Ibanez, but perhaps the plan was to slowly integrate him into the XI, no rush. Especially after Roma's 'easy' start in Serie A. Boy, things surely went downhill fast.

Anyway, if he's still on the bench after the break, then clearly something is wrong at Trigoria.

ssciavillo: I'm a bit surprised we haven't seen him yet, considering he's coming from a top league and has played in the three-man backline at Frankfurt. I'm guessing Mourinho wants to get him fully up to speed with his tactics before he throws him into the fire. But, I agree with Jonas, With the way Roma's defense has looked on the left, I'd be concerned if he's not slotted into the XI post-break. And in the end, I do believe he'll make us forget about Ibañez.

Bren: I mean, he has to, right? Otherwise, what was the point? Roma's defense suddenly looks like a crutch. Smalling clearly needs to be rotated more frequently than in years past, and since there is no other option, it has to be N'Dicka. But it is quite puzzling that he hasn't even seen the pitch yet.

I sincerely hope we don't have another Matias Vina or Ola Solbakken situation on our hands.

Going along with that, should Tiago Pinto have focused more intently on the defense this summer? Can Roma survive with such lackluster play from the wing-backs?

AS Roma v US Salernitana - Serie A TIM Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

JonAS: Maybe another young, agile CB would have been handy. I think Pinto will wait until January to make that move because Ndicka is probably going to the AFCON. And Kumbulla will not simply jump into the starting XI after being out for such a long time. I think at CB, we're good until New Year.

At wingback, there are enough bodies but not really one definite starter. It's better to have 2-3 solid options than 5 mediocre ones. For me, Karsdorp is still the best option on the right, but his relationship with Mourinho is broken. Who knows, maybe Kristensen will surprise us all and show why Pinto brought him in after all. And pray Spinazzola magically turns into his 2021 version.

ssciavillo: I think Pinto's work on defense will look a lot better once Ndicka is up to speed and starting. He was one of the highest-rated free agents in Europe for a reason. I do agree with Jonas that they could look for another CB come January due to AFCON, though. In terms of wingbacks, Roma can survive, but I don't think they can thrive if these guys keep playing at this level. If we're looking to provide offense on the right, then Karsdorp may need to be the guy, but I don't want to completely write off Kristensen yet. In the end, if Spina gets back to his near best, then the best option could be playing him on the left and Zalewski on the right against Roma's toughest opponents.

Bren: I'll do it. He was nothing special with Leeds last season and is, at best, a lateral move from Karsdorp or Celik. While he got roasted by Milan last week, I think this could be Celik's job to lose. He was a pretty highly regarded player at Lille, so maybe this is his chance to stake his claim on the full-back position.

But to circle back to the question: I'm not sure what else Pinto could have done. Maybe if he sold Spinazzola earlier in the summer and found a new left-back, we'd be better off–he's just not the same player he was before getting hurt, and Zalewski doesn't really offer much at the position either. So, yes, he could have and should have done more to address the defense, but like everything else, his hands were tied.

With Lukaku on the team now and Belotti playing with a new spring in his step, where do you see Sardar Azmoun fitting in this season?

AS Roma Unveil New Signing Sardar Azmoun Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

JonAS: Warm body on the bench and apprentice for the big boys. He'll suffice for the EL group games if you look at the draw. I can even see Azmoun score 5-6 goals by New Year's. Dybala, Belotti, and Lukaku can manhandle the Serie A defenses every weekend and have much-needed rest during the week. If José is willing to rotate, that is. In the end, he got his two attackers by Pinto, better freaking use them in a smart way.

ssciavillo: I think he'll be a rotational piece and an option for the bench. However, I also think we could see him play the second striker role a bit, playing off of Lukaku or Belotti. As Nima described him in my recent pod, he's more of a fox-in-the-box striker rather than a target man who likes to hold the ball up. I could see him filling in for Dybala and running off of Lukaku or Belotti.

Bren: I guess if he can double as a winger, he'd be more viable, but I think this was a desperation move. And frankly, I'm not sure why Azmoun would even sign off on it. He struggled at Bayer, and being the third choice at Roma isn't going to resurrect his career. A very strange move all around. But maybe he'll surprise us–he seems like a hard runner, so maybe he'll back his way into a half dozen goals as Jonas suggested.

Of all the names Roma was linked to this summer and missed out on, which one do you think could have helped the most?

Cagliari Calcio v FC Internazionale - Serie A TIM Photo by Mattia Pistoia - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

JonAS: Scamacca already scored two goals last weekend. If he did that for Roma instead, we would be a lot happier right now.

ssciavillo: Considering we brought Lukaku in in the end, I won't take Scamacca. Instead, I'll go with Frattesi. With Renato Sanches already injured, Frattesi's box-to-box play would be preferable to watching Leandro Paredes.

Bren: Yeah, those are the obvious answers. For the record, I'd rather have Scamacca than Lukaku simply because he's younger. But, seeing as Sanches is already hurt and probably not likely to remain healthy for the depth and breadth of the season, I'll go with my guy Marcel Sabitzer. He would have brought a lot to the table for Mourinho.

Finally, what areas, if any, do you see the club addressing this winter?

AS Roma v SC Braga - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

JonAS: A CB because Ndicka will be gone for a month. Probably a cheap six-month loan like Llorente or Oliveira last year. And if anything happens with Sanches and/or Aouar, the same strategy for midfield.

Or a new trainer. Let's be honest, Who sees Mourinho staying until June if the results and overall quality stay the same? Would Ranieri be tempted for one last dance?

ssciavillo: As much as they need a keeper, I think that waits until June. There are enough bodies in midfield and attack at the moment, so defense is the most logical play. Like Jonas said, most likely a loan for CB depth. Maybe they take a shot at another wingback if they can loan out Çelik or Karsdorp.

Bren: Yeah, I'm nearing my limits with Mourinho, but I don't think the Friedkins will cut bait in the middle of the year. So unless he re-signs, we'll have to stomach a few more months of this, but I'm sure he'll right the ship before too long. The question, as always, is will he break tradition and stay beyond the third year?

But back to the matter at hand: I think a Llorente-type signing is the most likely, but a super-utility player that could cover the midfield injuries and offer something at wing-back would be ideal.