Having lost Miralem Pjanic last summer to bitter rivals Juventus, Roma fans are all-too-aware of the painful realities of the transfer window. Despite being taken over by American owners six years ago, they’ve sold a big name almost every year since then. Moreover, if early indications are anything to go by, they may well spend the whole summer fretting about who leaves, rather than getting excited about potential arrivals.
The Bosnian’s sale is particularly indicative of the Lupi’s plight. With a new stadium (and its guaranteed income) barely more than a mirage, President James Pallotta wants the club to maintain itself, which may explain why Pjanic complained of being “sold in 15 minutes” when Juve called Roma early last June.
Though the transfer window has just opened, Mohamed Salah and Antonio Rudiger are already being linked to a departure, with Liverpool only being stopped by the former’s price, and the German hotly pursued by Inter.
As much as fans were rightly enthused at the arrival of Sevilla transfer wizard Monchi, the bitter reality is that the Spaniard’s hiring is a continuation of predecessor Walter Sabatini’s work, namely the recruiting of under-appreciated talents and their eventual sale for obscene profits. A good example is Marquinhos, who was bought for €7.2 million (including a loan) in 2012 and sold on to Paris Saint-Germain for €31.4m two years later.
Another is the signing of Alisson (a Brazilian international) and Lukasz Skorupski (a miraculous 10 clean sheets with relegated Empoli last season), who will be fine replacements for Wojciech Szczesny’s €3m yearly wages. Monchi moaned that “Roma are not a supermarket,” but the history suggests this is primarily a selling club and it’s the Spaniard’s MO too.
In this light, Monchi’s quick acquisition of respected Mexican international Hector Moreno (for a mere €5.7m) may be a blueprint for the Lupa’s transfer campaign, not to mention the sign that one between Rudiger and central defender Kostas Manolas (another Premier League favourite) could be on the way out.
Losing either would surely be a big hit: Manolas quickly morphed into one of the best stoppers around after joining from Olympiacos in 2014, while even an ACL tear wasn’t enough to stop Rudiger from performing (albeit with some hiccups) as a full-back, not to mention putting in a strong shift in the middle.
While Roma have established a reputation for turning cheap buys into strong defenders, there is the nagging feeling that this club cyclically sells its crown jewels, preventing it from truly establishing continuity and challenging Juventus for the Serie A crown.
Even if Monchi digs out a gem in the market, it will be difficult to replace the scorer of 29 Serie A goals in two seasons, or at least to do so quickly enough for Eusebio Di Francesco’s men to keep pace with Juventus.
For all his successes in the excel sheet, the Spaniard’s Sevilla sides never competed for league titles, which is exactly what Giallorossi fans are expecting after a string of second-place disappointments.
There is good news for Roma, however, in the fact that they’ve signed Kevin Strootman to a new deal, and are making progress on the Radja Nainggolan front - despite interest from Chelsea and Manchester United. After having to make do without Pjanic, it would be nice to see Roma avoid the usual chopping and changing in the middle of the park, and preserve two of Calcio’s most dynamic presences.
If anything, the arrival of Di Francesco is likely to enrich the midfield with the addition of fellow Sassuolo man (and former Romanista) Lorenzo Pellegrini, one of the most exciting Italian prospects in his position. Even then, this may leave Leandro Paredes - who played brilliantly for Empoli two seasons ago - out of the set-up again, and force another departure.
Still, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Roma may be falling behind this summer, especially if they don’t make several impactful signings. There’s no hint of Napoli losing anyone major (barring Faouzi Ghoulam), a year removed from adding a young spine to the squad in Amadou Diawara, Piotr Zielinski, Arkadiusz Milik and Marko Rog.
Six years into his chairmanship, Pallotta still finds himself balancing the club’s needs with the fans’ dreams of glory. It won’t be easy.