It’s natural that a club enters a very tumultuous period when it sacks the manager and the Director of Sport within the span of 72 hours. It’s even more natural that such a turnover could cause some ruffled feathers, as evidenced by Jim Pallotta and Monchi’s recent war of words over the Spaniard’s tenure with the Giallorossi. Add in the fact that Roma looks to be missing out on the Champions League next year, meaning that a fire sale will most definitely occur this summer, and there’s certainly a lot to frown about regarding Roma’s current state of affairs.
Given that, I think it’s important for Romanisti to remember that it wasn’t all sunshine and roses before the arrival of the man many considered to be the best DS in the game today. Although it’s certainly true that Walter Sabatini’s tenure at Roma was “the bedrock upon which current sporting director Monchi was able to launch an assault and sign so much young Giallorossi talent today”, there were quite a few obvious flaws to be found during Sabatini’s reign, and quite a few positives to be appreciated from Monchi’s.
A More Italian Roma
The most obvious positive change that happened once Sabatini left Roma was that Roma became a more Italian club. Sure, Sabatini’s reign saw Roma retain Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Florenzi, and Francesco Totti (among others), but the Roma of Walter Sabatini was very much an international one. While Juventus spent much of the past decade snapping up every relatively-promising Italian prospect they could find, Sabatini’s Roma set its sights on South America time and time again.
Sometimes this resulted in runaway successes, like the signing of Marquinhos (though of course the question of how much Sabatini did on this one is up for debate). Yet for every Marquinhos, there seemed to be ten Ezequiel Ponces, Gersons, and many more that have been lost to the sands of time and old Football Manager saves. Even the exciting prospects that Sabatini did find, including Marquinhos and Erik Lamela, moved away pretty quickly to greener pastures. Sure, Financial Fair Play had a pretty big role in those moves (and many of the moves in both the Sabatini and Monchi eras), but bringing in a boatload of international talent means that they’re less likely to be as attached to Roma as an institution.
In contrast to Sabatini’s international signings, one of the first things Romanisti noticed with Monchi was that he promoted a shift towards signing high-quality Italian talent. We can quibble about the price paid for Bryan Cristante, or whether or not Monchi truly believed that Zaniolo could become something, but Monchi’s Roma was definitively more Italian than Sabatini’s. It remains to be seen if Roma can hold on to these players, particularly with the prospect of missing out on Champions League football looking more and more like a certainty. Given that, it would still be wrong to ignore Monchi’s reinvestment in potential Azzurri players.
Academy Players Getting Their Shot
It’s often difficult to split the burden of responsibility between Directors of Sport and managers when it comes to, well, just about anything transfer-related, but particularly with regards to youth team player development. Alberto De Rossi has been behind the continued growth of one of the best youth systems in Italy and Europe for the past several years. A 2016 study by the CIES Football Observatory showed Roma’s academy to be the best youth system in Italy and the seventh-best in Europe. Why, then, for much of Walter Sabatini’s reign, were there so few Roma academy players being brought into the first team?
Some of the issue here can come down to managerial style. Luciano Spalletti is simply not known for playing youth - this very attribute probably made it much easier for Monchi to pry Nicolo Zaniolo away from Inter in the first place. Add in the fact that Rudi Garcia also didn’t seem to love using the young players, and perhaps Sabatini shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame when it comes to this particular problem.
Yet the question persists: if you have such an excellent youth system, why are you spending millions and millions of euros on players the same age from halfway across the world? For a club like Roma, maintaining solid financials is crucial to both short- and long-term success. Dropping as much as Roma did on Gerson, for example, not only took away funds that could have been used for actual first-team players, but it also took away opportunities from academy players who had the same chances of exploding as any of Sabatini’s South American imports did. Why would Spalletti have brought up a promising academy player to the first team if Gerson was still struggling for minutes? It may have seemed like the flashy move at the time to sign the next great Brazilian talent, but it certainly wasn’t the most prudent move.
When it comes to Monchi’s reign, younger players certainly got more of a chance to shine. Sure, Marco Tumminello was sent away with a buy-back option, but I’d argue that was the best move for him at this particular moment, and I won’t be surprised to see him play for Roma again. Luca Pellegrini, Nicolo Zaniolo, and more all were able to get chances with the first team under Monchi’s reign, and this emphasis on Italian youth and academy projects will hopefully continue under whoever is Roma’s next full-time DS.
It would take a fool to say that Monchi’s reign at Roma was perfect. CdT has already written a lot on the flaws in Monchi’s system, the gaping hole he left in Roma’s defense, and more. I’m sure we’ll write more about it in the future. Just remember as the Sabatini Return rumors begin to pile up: Sabatini’s time at Roma wasn’t exactly perfect, either.