When Roma first signed Monchi as their new Director of Sport, the expectation was that he would be working behind the scenes for the Giallorossi in the long-term. After all, Monchi had been a one-club man prior to his sojourn to Rome, having worked for only Sevilla during both his playing and management careers. Obviously, Monchi’s time in Rome was quite the opposite of long-term, but the impact of many of his transfers (both good and bad) will have lasting ramifications for Roma into the 2020s.
It’s easy enough for us to look back and identify Monchi’s poor transfers (Javier Pastore and Steven Nzonzi immediately spring to mind), but I thought it might make some sense to look at the more positive transfers Monchi made during his time with Roma, both in and out.
It’s easy to label everything the Spaniard did for Roma as a mess, particularly considering the acrimonious way Monchi left Rome and returned to his beloved Sevilla. That doesn’t mean that everything actually was a poor move. I’ll divide Monchi’s “good moves” into two separate categories: Tough But Necessary and Forward Thinking. Arguments can be made that other transfers I won’t mention were smart moves as well, but sticking to these two groupings makes things a bit easier to analyze.
Tough But Necessary: The Strootman and Nainggolan Sales
Looking back at the mid-2010s incarnation of Roma, I can now say with confidence that Kevin Strootman was my favorite non-Roman in the squad. Sure, Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi will always inspire deeper emotion, but there’s a reason why Aldair’s #6 was un-retired for Strootman. In his (injury-maligned) prime, Strootman was the perfect compliment to Daniele De Rossi, combining excellent vision with an aggressive defensive style and allowing for more naturally-attacking midfielders and forwards the breathing room to make Roma one of the most goal-happy sides in Serie A. There was a reason why Rudi Garcia dubbed Strootman er lavatrice, and it’s the same reason most people would want a washing machine in their home. Sure, you can get by without one, but everything becomes so much easier with a Strootman in your ranks.
Similarly, Radja Nainggolan was a beloved figure among Romanisti, and for good reason. If you thought Strootman used his physicality to make plays happen, Nainggolan provided that in spades. Every hook tackle, every far-out shot on goal, and every run at the opponent made it clear that Radja took no prisoners.
The Roma that featured Strootman and Nainggolan did find more success than many other Giallorossi squads, but because of Juventus’ continued dominance in Serie A and some really boneheaded mistakes in Europe, that Roma midfield core never did much beyond that lovely semi-finals run last season. With injury-prone Strootman at 29 and problematic Radja at 30, Monchi made an incredibly difficult choice, one that wouldn’t make him beloved among Romanisti: he took the money and ran with it.
Strootman went off to play with Rudi Garcia at Olympique Marseille for a cool €25 million, while Nainggolan stayed in Serie A, reuniting with Luciano Spalletti for a valuation of €38 million (including Nicolo Zaniolo and Davide Santon). Sure, those valuations are peanuts compared to some of the transfer fees that get bandied about nowadays, but particularly with the Nainggolan sale, Monchi bit the bullet and made an unpopular decision that, in the long term, will prove valuable to Roma. It’d be fair to say that even with the explosion of Nicolo Zaniolo, Roma’s midfield has suffered this season without Strootman and Nainggolan. I certainly miss er lavatrice. Yet by selling those two players now, while they still had a little more gas in the tank, Monchi attempted to push Roma into a new era with higher potential for title-based glory.
Now that Monchi’s gone, it remains to be seen if many of those purchases Monchi made will help Roma add to her trophy cabinet. Yet the sales of Strootman and Nainggolan were the right moves, albeit tough pills to swallow.
Foward Thinking: Nicolo Zaniolo and Justin Kluivert
Now, looking at some of the purchases Monchi made during his time with the Giallorossi, there are for sure some head-scratchers. William Bianda for €11 million? He’s still got time to grow, but you couldn’t negotiate that price down a little bit? Nevertheless, it’s important to note the quality of youth player Monchi brought to Trigoria, particularly in the summer of 2018.
Nicolo Zaniolo has gotten plenty of praise here and on nearly every other football-adjacent site on the Internet, so we don’t need to go too deep into why this was a smart move. Justin Kluivert, however, has received far less praise, and deservedly so: he hasn’t turned around games like Zaniolo, he came with a much higher transfer fee, and he came with a name that implied that excellence should start on Day One.
And yet... Kluivert is still only 19, and he’s shown quite a bit of promise for a young player adjusting to a much more difficult league than the Eredivisie. Being one of the myriad of talented forwards plying your wares at Ajax is easier than having to fight your way into the starting eleven at Roma, particularly if there’s a fire sale at Roma due to missing the Champions League, I would not be surprised to see Kluivert quickly become an integral part of the forward rotation.
Criticism can certainly be levied towards Monchi when it comes to the established players he brought in, but barring Bianda’s signing, each youngster he’s brought in made sense and has performed when called upon. The only other potential “bust” is Ante Coric, but considering that nobody expected Zaniolo to become Azzurri material so quickly, I bet even Coric understands why Pellegrini and Zaniolo have been eating away at his potential minutes.
There’s no such thing as a perfectly good Director of Football, and there’s no such thing as a completely terrible one, either. I’ll be writing more on some of the more bone-headed mistakes Monchi made during his time at Roma in the next week, but for now, let’s just be grateful for the good things Monchi brought to the club. Anyways, looking at the results on the field won’t bring you much joy right now.