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Reviewing Monchi’s First Year in Rome: The Arrivals

Monchi busts some moves

AS Roma v Benevento Calcio - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

(In the second of a three-part series in which we take a look at Monchi’s first year on the job, we take a look at the work he did to outfit Roma’s squad this past season. Catch Part One here, while Part Three should be along shortly.)

After almost a year of hype, we finally got to see the master Monchi at work as he rolled out a series of transfers last summer. Renowned for his ability to identify and acquire talent under the noses of much bigger clubs, Monchi made a lot of exciting moves in his first year at Roma. A year later, we’ve had a chance to see how these guys did in Roma kits, so let’s take a moment to look back and think about who took off and who fell flat.

The Arrivals

As you can see, four of the incoming transfers were left over from last year due to Sabatini’s deal-with-it-later transfer philosophy. It makes me cringe to think we had to sell Salah to offset obligatory purchases of Peres, Rui, and Juan Jesus.

Monchi has a lot of very questionable transfer to account for here, too. Grégoire Defrel, Héctor Moreno, Maxime Gonalons, and Jeremy Silva (actually it’s Jonathan Silva, but be honest, did you even notice?) were all more or less flops this year. Although, maybe it is unfair to call Silva a flop—after all, he only played 109 minutes. Instead, his transfer was just...weird. Why go through the trouble of bringing in an injured player for a short-term loan? Anyways. Gonalons at least began to turn it around towards the end of the year, so we can hope that he will continue to improve and be a decent backup player for DDR next year.

Karsdorp and Schick didn’t have great seasons either, but the jury is still out for them. Injuries and generally a lack of playing time makes it hard to know how their transfers will be judged in the long run. Yet, Schick’s transfer feels as odd now as it did when it was first announced. Why pay a record fee to bring in a player who can only be a backup to Džeko? Monchi must have expected Schick would get more time on the right wing, but nothing about his frame or style suggest he would be a natural winger. More than that, even if Schick did make the right wing his home, he would be effectively doomed to the Florenzi limbo where he feels more like a squad player at a number of positions than an undisputed starter in one. Florenzi is our first choice of right backs at the moment, but every rumor of an incoming right back, Karsdorp included, is greeted with a shrug for Florenzi, with everyone just assuming he will find minutes elsewhere on the pitch. We should avoid that attitude towards Schick, and it seems odd to have a club record splurge on a player who’s best case scenario involves falling into the same trap. Regardless, Monchi must have seen some very good reasons he liked this move, and in my mind we need another year to really know if he was wrong about it.

Finally, there were a few runaway successes. Ünder, Pellegrini, and Kolarov all proved to be great business. From February to the end of the season, Ünder basically matched Salah’s goal production from the same period of the previous year. Although his buildup play and key passes don’t come close to replicating Salah’s numbers, it has still been a very impressive season for a player who is much younger and has much less experience. Hopefully he can keep up his current form next year and make the right wing his own. Pellegrini has done so well this year that he is now attracting interest from a number of top clubs...and also Juventus. Lastly, Kolarov was another big risk for Monchi because (a) he had a dismal last season at Manchester City despite playing more than 2500 minutes, and (b) he is a former Lazio player. But, he proved himself to be possibly the shrewdest transfer of all. He had 8 assists compared to 1 last year with Manchester City. His expected assists per game went from 0.04 last year to 0.27 this year. Most impressively, he was rated not only as the best Serie A left back of the season by whoscored but the best defender, period. Those are pretty phenomenal returns for a €5 million fee.

Nonetheless, the best arrival may have been the one that never happened: Szczesny. Don’t get me wrong—he’s a great keeper and a good guy. It would have been great to have him here, but the decision to let him move on seemed like a big mistake at the time. When he moved to Juventus for €16 million, it looked like we lost a top keeper that we could have had for a relatively low cost. Instead, it turned out that we “gained” one of the best keepers in the world by giving Alisson a chance to prove himself. This is a move that a lot of people would have gotten wrong, including myself, but ultimately it couldn’t have worked out better.

I’ve heard that around 30% of transfers don’t work out. I have no idea where that number came from or how legitimate it is, but just about any comparison will leave an onlooker feeling like we had a higher percentage of unsuccessful transfers last year than most. Certainly, we had more unsuccessful transfers than we should have. It may be a combination of Monchi being new to Roma and Serie A as well as being forced to find a lot of bargains quickly, but we must be more efficient in converting money into quality on the pitch if we want our Champions League success to repeat itself.