The more things change, the more they stay they the same. Sure, Roma just put in a record breaking season, one which would have won them the Scudetto were it not for Juventus' own record breaking season, and sure they finally have a proper kit manufacturer, international tours, and the latest Google gadgets at their disposal, but that hasn't stopped the incessant rumors of Roma's best and brightest leaving for more moneyed pastures.
While the Miralem Pjanic and Kevin Strootman rumors have subsided (for now), Roma must now deal with the very real threat of losing Mehdi Benatia to either side of Manchester or even the newly motivated and trophy less FC Barcelona.
Granted, we've been dealing with these fabrications for several months now, but as we're all aware, Benatia hasn't done himself any favors with the Roman faithful, to wit:
I am happy in Rome. There remain four years on my contract. I have spoken with the directors about an extension, which I am uncertain will go through, as we are not entirely in agreement. I feel good here with the Coach and with the players...Then, I am 27-years-old and I have reached an age where big offers from great clubs causes you to think...clubs like Barca, City, Bayern. These are clubs who any player on the planet would dream of
There are miles of space in between those ellipses, Benatia is happy in Rome...but it's every player's dream to don the kit of an oil baron, is it not? A professional athlete wanting to cash in on a successful season is nothing new, so this shouldn't really come as a shock, and, quite frankly, it says as much about Serie A's standing among Europe's leagues as it does about Roma's reputation among its continental rivals.
This isn't the 90s, Italy is no longer the choice du jour for the world's most famous footballers, both Roma and Juventus are dealing with the sticky fingers of PSG, City and United this summer. This is our 21st century reality, Roma must fight two fronts to keep its best players; not only must they keep up with the Old Lady, but they have to sell the merits of life on a big club in a not-as-big-as-it-once-was league.
With that in mind, let's make sense of the Mehdi Benatia mess: to sell or not to sell?
Why it Makes Sense
You've seen Wolf of Wallstreet, money talks. Even at the low end of the rumor spectrum, €30m, Roma stands to double their investment on Benatia, but this isn't quite the same scenario we saw last summer with Marquinhos. Ho's sale was as much about potential as it was production; he was coming off a phenomenal season for a player his age, and with visions Roberto Carlos dancing through their heads, PSG coughed up over €30m for Roma's prodigy.
Benatia is unquestionably one of the world's finest centerbacks, one coming off a remarkable season and entering the prime years of his career. There are no what ifs with Benatia, no wondering if he'll fill his potential, and no questioning his ability to cope with pressure. So, if a bidding war were to ensue, particularly among teams desperate for immediate defensive help, we might see the price tag approach €40, which brings us to our next point.
Imagine what Walter Sabatini could get himself with that kind of scratch. The latest rumor, if it retains any shred of truth, would see Roma cash in on Benatia and immediately spread out the dough on two top defenders, with names like Toby Alderweireld, Gabriel Paletta, Dejan Lovren and Jan Vertonghen being bandied about. Any one of those names would make a fantastic partner for Leandro Castan, plus Roma could split their profit from this sale to bring in one of those names while also recruiting a new fullback.
So, out of the ashes of a Benatia sale, Roma could secure a reasonable replacement while also substantially upgrading at fullback.
Why It Doesn't Make Sense
While Centerback isn't as barren a position as fullback, defenders like Benatia don't exactly grow on trees, so when you get one, it would behoove you to hang onto him, right? Furthermore, Benatia, in only one season, has become a leader of this team and a player around whom the rest of the squad gels; he's a glue guy, people like him--this cannot be discounted.
Then there is the simple matter of his contract, which runs through 2018, so if Sabatini remains firm, Roma can tow the hard line with Benatia for the next four seasons. Is this the best course of action? Probably not, as these matters tend to impact club chemistry, but Benatia, beyond the stirring of the rumor mill, has little to no leverage in this financial face off.
However, the real matter at hand is a psychological one. The continual purging of prized assets won't exactly help James Pallotta fulfill his mission statement of making Roma one of the top five sports brands in the world--that's simply not the way the heavy weights operate. Furthermore, it sends the wrong message to Roma's European foes, not to mention the fan base--sure, Roma can cultivate top talent, but their knees will buckle once you start throwing money at them. No one will take Roma's aspirations seriously if they're continually off-loading assets to the highest bidder.
Sooner or later, Roma must draw the line. Are you a selling club or a buying club?
Both arguments hold a lot of merit, if Roma can get north of €35m and parlay that into someone like Toby Alderweireld, Davide Astori or Gabriel Paletta and grab a new fullback, then they might actually be in a better position. However, if Roma truly wants to be a financial force to be reckoned with, then they should hang onto Benatia AND get further top of the mark reinforcements.
We've been saying it for nearly a year now, but this summer will speak volumes about Roma's true intentions.