Friday March 1 2019
Monchi magic or mediocrity?

As Monchi looks prepared to leave Roma for Arsenal, Jay Cassano asks whether the sporting director’s time in the Eternal City has been successful.

Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, Roma's sporting director, the man better known as Monchi, looks all but certain to trade capitals this summer, leaving Roma for the likes of Arsenal. Few sporting directors receive as much attention or scrutiny as Monchi, so it bears asking: Has his brief stint in Rome been successful?

Some context is required. Monchi moved to Roma at the height of Juventus’ domestic supremacy, facing a behemoth even more dominant than the Barcelona team that regularly topped La Liga during his time at Sevilla. Every year, Juventus are odds-on favourites to lift the Scudetto, with Roma, no matter what, underdogs at best. UK betting sites had Roma behind not only Juve but also Inter at the start of the current campaign.

Success in this situation shouldn’t be measured by Roma’s chances of winning the title, so, when other factors are taken into account, does Monchi’s tenure fall on the positive or negative side of the ledger?

The short answer is: It's too soon to tell. Monchi's approach is based on prioritising youth and bargain veterans. In doing so, the Spaniard tries to build a competitive squad filled primarily with undervalued players, most of which he can turn a significant profit down the line. If he were a real estate developer, Monchi would be the master of flipping properties.

But that process takes time. Monchi had 16 unbroken years at Sevilla to show what he can do, signing the likes of Sergio Ramos, Adriano and Ivan Rakitic. The fans at Roma, who are ready to eat him alive and will never forgive him for some of the tough sales he was forced to make, may not give him that much time.

His youth signings at Roma have been extraordinary. Critics will latch onto Patrik Schick’s lack of sharpness in front of goal, since forwards always receive outsized attention. But leaving aside that Schick still has time to make good on his promise, Monchi also signed three of Italy’s most promising young midfielders in back-to-back seasons. After signing Lorenzo Pellegrini in the summer of 2017, he went ahead and acquired Bryan Cristante from Atalanta the next year.

More to the point, the Cristante deal was a splendid piece of business, with only €5m on Roma’s books for the first year loan, another €15m for the obligatory purchase, and up to €10m in bonuses. By spreading the costs out over several years, Monchi ensured that Roma will be able to keep purchasing new players while paying off the deal. Sure, Pellegrini has had injury issues and Cristante has struggled for form, but both are young with plenty of time to grow. And Cristante finally hit his stride in December, notching three goals and two assists in eight matches.

Monchi also pulled off the coup of the summer when he swapped a fading Radja Nainggolan for the starlet Nicolò Zaniolo — and got Inter to pay €30m for the privilege! The deal that brought Zaniolo to Rome will probably be discussed for the next decade as the biggest mistake Inter have made, adding to an already lengthy list.

At the other end of the spectrum of Monchi signings are your Aleksander Kolarovs and your Steven Nzonzis. Far from Pep Guardiola's ideal full-back, Kolarov was offloaded in Manchester City's infamous summer of revolution. But Monchi saw an opportunity to fill a gap in Roma's squad at a bargain price. Signing Kolarov for €5m looked like a stroke of genius, as he provided experience and goals on the left flank. Despite the Roma ultras issues with Kolarov, he remains a core player for the club, even if his pace is slowing.

Nzonzi, for his part, will be able to hold the middle of the park for a few more years as Daniele De Rossi requires more time between matches and will soon inevitably retire.

Some of Monchi’s sales have been contentious, to say the least. Being the man responsible for selling both Mohamed Salah and Alisson Becker to Liverpool was never going to ingratiate him with fans. As Salah’s profile has skyrocketed since his time in Rome, the €42m that Liverpool paid for him seems like an unmitigated steal.

Monchi has defended the sale, saying that Roma had “no choice” but to sell the Egyptian because of Financial Fair Play restrictions. If you look at the balance sheet, he’s right. Roma posted a transfer profit of €25m. Without Salah’s sale, the Giallorossi would have again been in the red, which could have seen them excluded from the Champions League.

But Monchi’s most acrimonious sale has been Kevin Strootman, a player arguably loved more by Roma fans than Salah — who was never truly appreciated in the capital. But just like in Salah’s case the year prior, Strootman’s sale was necessary to balance the books. If you take away his €25m sale, you wipe out Roma’s €23m summer profit.

But Strootman’s sale highlights the one key issue with Monchi’s time in Rome. At times it has felt more like his club than Eusebio Di Francesco’s, That led to the bizarre situation in the Fall when Di Francesco’s job was threatened as Roma sat in the middle of the table, only to be apparently saved by Monchi threatening to resign if the Coach were sacked.

The consequences are that some of Monchi’s sales have unbalanced the squad. Kolarov looked like such a genius signing the year prior because he could be covered defensively by Nainggolan and Strootman in the middle of the park, as the club played a 4-3-3.  This year, as a combination of transfers and injuries have forced Di Francesco to switch to his less favored 4-2-3-1, Kolarov has been more exposed on the left flank, particularly for pace. Nowhere was this more evident than when Federico Chiesa burned by him in the Fiorentina’s 7-1 Coppa rout.

If Monchi does indeed leave for the Gunners this summer, the most significant immediate loss for Roma will likely be Cengiz Under following the man who signed him to North London. But the longer term effect will be on Roma’s financial health and scouting network going forward.

As much as Roma fans may not want to hear it, Monchi’s business decisions are beyond reproach. He’s made quick profits where he was able, like offloading Leandro Paredes to Zenit Saint-Petersburg for four times the €6m that Roma paid for him, and signed youth that will either turn a significant profit for Roma down the line or become core to the squad.

Some signings, like Javier Pastore, have admittedly been a mistake, as the Argentinian seems to not have the motivation or intelligence to play up to his abilities. Nonetheless, he can probably still be offloaded at a profit to a mid-table English club willing to take a chance on him.

It may be hard to think of a club that finished second in the table two years ago as rebuilding, but that is precisely the phase Roma are in right now.

The Totti and De Rossi era is coming to an end. Roma needs to build for its future. Monchi tried to prepare the club for that. The fans forced him out for it.

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Have your say...
I think its unfair to say his time has been a failure. At best though it has been bitter sweet. If Roma could have kept one of Naingolan or Salah i think he would have been seen as a success but then again in 2 years time will Cristante and Zanioli be superstars.
on the 5th March, 2019 at 11:21pm
I think the main issue with this team isn't the new signings but the lack of central defenders.
If Monchi is a visionary, then he would have seen this and found someone better than Marcano!!!

Overall, the team is unbalanced, not real presence in defense and lack character.

I hope he stays as there is still a job to do for Roma.
on the 4th March, 2019 at 6:30am
To be fair I think I forgot Kluivert and Under. Super moves.

So he was great, yet underwhelming given other things. And he's underwhelming, because he's brought in a coach with real potential, stacked it against him on both sides, with a team young and for the future opposite side a group of guys who are there to push NOW, and without the middle ground to keep the coach on solid footing.

And now he's leaving? Yes, underwhelming. Hopefully it works out.
on the 2nd March, 2019 at 3:46am
His success is Alisson (who, as a Brazilian, I doubted a bit), Kolarov, maybe Karsdorp will turn out to be (not sure at all about that haha), and now especially Pellegrini and Cristante, topped off with Zaniolo.

The last is such a move. They undervalued Nainggolan in the market, but maybe they gave a little to get a little and it worked out.

But then you buy Nzonzi for almost the same amount as Nainggolan was sold. Olsen is decent, but come on. Sell Dzeko for $ and push Schick.

on the 2nd March, 2019 at 3:42am
@Bobby Dylan: "Strootmans performance for Marseille this season is average at best so i cant say i miss him". This is the typical illogical argument that I heard so many times from those who like Monchi ball. The bottom line: Strootman is playing in a different league, and arrive Marseille without any pre-season training with that team. Judging him or Monchi's crazy sale based on his performance at Marseille is just stupid! He was a good player at Roma and the sale wasn't necessary, period!
on the 1st March, 2019 at 11:40pm
Funny how you fail to mention Karsdorp, Marcano, Kluivert being awful signings and also ignoring that Nzonzi has been a massive waste of nearly £30m. Fans don't hate him for no reason, he's not a genius unappreciated in his time, he changed Roma's transfer policy, greatly downgraded the squad and spent the profits on hipster Twitter expert favourites. Good riddance.
on the 1st March, 2019 at 9:18pm
I agree that a lot of business that Monchi did, made sense financially. But that's where it ends. Barring the amazing swoop of Nicolo Zainiolo, did we really try to build on the squad which reached the CL semi-finals? No.

Agreed we have a host of young talents, but how do they develop without seniors to mentor them. Do you think Justin Kluivert will stay in the capital 2 years later? Do you think We will be able to hold off Cengiz (with our without Monchi leaving)? I don't think so.
on the 1st March, 2019 at 7:55pm
To be honest Monchi was lucky to have led our Roma to CL semis and with Salah in the team we might have had the chance to win the competition.
Only good buys - Zaniolo, Kluivert and Under. And maybe Kolarov. The rest have been serious failures.
He wont be missed although i didnt want him to leave.
on the 1st March, 2019 at 7:40pm
@ lvckv: if you consider that Ausilio Picked up MVilla, Medel, Dodo and Osvaldo in an entire summer mercato i'd take Pastore, Karsdorp, Schick, Nzonzi over those 4 anyday !
on the 1st March, 2019 at 7:38pm
Well i personally think that me and my fellow Roma fans are overestimating Rome some times. We have to face the facts that there probably was no way to keep a player like Salah or Alisson if he wanted to leave (which i think was the case). Strootmans performance for Marseille this season is average at best so i cant say i miss him. Same goes for Naingolan. The buys havent been the best thats true and i indeed blame Monchi for not strengthening the defense. But i still believe its the right track
on the 1st March, 2019 at 7:20pm
Pastore, Karsdorp, Schick, Nzonzi... All awful wastes of money. Olsen is a midtable keeper, Kolarov is useful going forward but not much else.

Really the only unmitigated success has been Zaniolo. Not a great return from a DS with that reputation. Thrilled that he's leaving. Maybe the supermarket will be closed now.
on the 1st March, 2019 at 6:13pm
"You wipe out Roma's 23m profit" , "Without Salah’s sale, the Giallorossi would have again been in the red".

This is a bizarrely illogical way of looking at things. If Roma had simply kept Salah and not signed Schick or the appalling Defrel they would have been able to balance the books as well.

The same applies to the pointless Strootman sale which was negated by the signing of a far worse 30-year old player in N'zonzi... The rumour is Monchi simply wanted to get rid of ALL Sabatini signings
on the 1st March, 2019 at 1:55pm

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