Being a Romanista the transfer window always makes me sweat, like looking to the sky and seeing the Death Star glaring down at me. Biannually, and for roughly the equivalent of a third of a year, I anticipate bad news because with very few exceptions, it seems any player could be sold if the price is right, no matter whom the buyer. That’s not to say every move Roma make in a transfer window is bad business, and during Sabatini’s tenure there were more than a few examples of buying young talent capable of winning, albeit, only to be sold after winning our hearts. More on that later. Yet, the modus operandi of commerce in the Pallotta era increasingly leans toward selling the foundation a successful team, and January 2017 appears to be no different, begging the question: is Roma a selling club?
Let’s start by answering this question: of all the players currently on the books at Roma, who could a team be built around? Totti and De Rossi would certainly be the most romantic answers, but 2002 was a long time ago now. Those two aside, no one loves Roma more than Alessandro Florenzi, and he is going to be a worthy captain one day, but he is more heart than game-changing, world-beating skill. Džeko? While this year’s leading scorer, he is already 30 years old and he scores “only” once per every 112 minutes; I think we are witnessing his last hurrah. Mohamed Salah, is young and dazzling enough, but his AFCON responsibilities coupled with his history of injuries makes him hard to trust. Speaking of disqualifying injuries: Kevin Strootman and Antonio Rüdiger. I love Radja, he has scored some big time goals this year and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather share a foxhole with, but he is already 28 years old; how long can he keep up his ferocious style of play? This leaves Kostas Manolas. Standing 6’2” it’s no surprise he wins an average of 2.8 aerial duels per game with a success rate of 59%. Add to this his 88% passing accuracy, blistering speed, and the fact that he is only 25 years old, he is far and away the best player on this team and one which future squads could be built upon. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the transfer rumor-mill started to gain momentum last week.
ESPN FC on Thursday reported that the star defender dismissed rumors he turned down a contract extension, even going so far as to post about it on his Instagram. (As an aside, I hate ESPN, but I’ll leave that for another day.) But this was not the first time even last week that Manolas’s future has been the subject of speculation. Both The Daily Mail and The Sun reported a day earlier that Roma rejected an offer of €40 million for the player this past summer.
If you are saying to yourself that this is all good news which would indicate a long tenure at Roma, consider that the one talking to these publications is Manolas’s agent, Ioannis Evangelopoulos. It is a common tactic for player’s agents to speak this way in the media, the purpose of which is to stoke interest in their clients in hopes of starting a bidding war amongst interested teams, thus driving up the transfer fee resulting in a bigger payday for both player and agent. Mino Raiola, the agent of both Ibrahimović and Paul Pogba, is famous for it. But the bad news didn’t only start in the second week of January.
On January 5th, again according to The Sun, a certain megalomaniacal manager residing on the red side of Manchester submitted a formal bid of £32.5 million for Manolas. If true, and remember we are talking about the British media here, not exactly the beacon of moral and/or ethical journalism, the Manolas rumors would all fit into place and the player’s days at Roma would be numbered.
I take no joy in writing this, but considering Roma’s history in the transfer market during Pallotta’s reign, if Manolas were to pack his bags it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Not all of Roma’s signings these past six years have been bad. Between 2011 and 2012 with the acquisitions of Marquinhos, Lamela, and Pjanić, there was optimism at the club for the first time in a long time. Roma showed a willingness to invest in young talent and build a team which could compete domestically and continentally for the foreseeable future. (Even Pallotta/Sabtini catastrophes like Iturbe, Ibarbo, and worst of them all, Doumbia, would at least indicate that the club was willing to take risks in hopes of winning.)
However, by the start of the 2013 season, with the exception of Pjanić – and we know what he would eventually do to us — both Marquinhos and Lamela were sold and, unbeknownst to us at the time, this was when the culture began to change. A combined €61.4 million was too good for Pallotta and Co. to pass on, especially considering the looming financial predicament the club was about to find itself in for violating UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations. That €61 million was quickly reinvested in quality like Benatia, Ljajić, and Strootman; seemingly fitting, yet cheaper, replacements.
Flash forward one year and Benatia, who proved to be problematic, is gone, and Roma are looking to jettison the underperforming Ljajić, something they were able to do first in a loan to Inter and then a permanent deal with Torino. Apply this pattern to Strootman and, had he remained healthy, he more than likely would have been sold to Manchester United. With the funds recouped from some of these sales Roma were able to buy Manolas, Salah, Radja, Rudiger, etc., however, just last year the club sold promising (and Roman) youngsters Alessio Romagnoli and Andrea Bertolacci, in addition to Antonio Sanabria.
The aforementioned examples are really just the beginning. It’s hard to ignore the revolving door mentality at the club and the sale of Manolas would only serve as another example. Furthermore, besides Totti and De Rossi, players seem to have a short tenure and rarely spend their peak years at Roma, Radja withstanding. Naturally, this raises a few questions, specifically (a) is Roma a selling club, and if they are, then (b) what is James Pallotta plan for our beloved team?
Perhaps Pallotta had every intention of fulfilling his promises of a championship caliber team playing in front of a packed house in a new stadium (which is a whole other headache). I will always be a Romanista, but the optimism and enthusiasm of five years ago is gone and in its place is increasing distrust.