This is not how President James Pallotta would have expected his season to go, especially after the splendid 2017-18 campaign that saw Roma finish in third place with 77 points and progress to the Champions League semi-finals.
A combination of erroneous decisions in the summer transfer window initiated their decline and Pallotta put the blame squarely on his director of sport Monchi, who quit for a return to Sevilla in March.
Roma sold Brazilian wonder goalkeeper Alisson, Belgian Radja Nainggolan and Dutch central midfielder Kevin Strootman, amongst others. This was a risky decision, considering how vital the three players were to the side. However, they did earn approximately €120million for the three transfers – this gave fans and management hope that reinforcements would be arriving. What they didn’t think about, however, was what effect removing these three starters would have on the team.
The Giallorossi are accused by their fans of being stingy on the transfer market, yet the figures show a very different picture. Monchi spent a lot of money, he just didn’t do it wisely. Last summer alone, Roma bought French international Steven Nzonzi from Sevilla for €27m and Sweden international goalkeeper Robin Olsen from FC Copenhagen for €9m.
They also added the likes of Paris Saint-Germain trequartista Javier Pastore (€25m), Ajax winger Justin Kluivert (€17.5m), Sassuolo striker Gregoire Defrel (€15m), Davide Santon (€9.5m) and Nicolò Zaniolo (€4.5m) from Inter, Atalanta’s Bryan Cristante (€5m), swapped Lukasz Skorupski for Bologna’s Antonio Mirante along with €5m and brought in Ivan Marcano on a free.
What usually happens when a spending spree occurs? A wave of confusion. And this is exactly what hit Roma, with most of these deals impacting them adversely. Olsen and Nzonzi did not perform anywhere close to what they had shown for their respective nations at the World Cup, Pastore flopped, Defrel was sent away on loan, and Cristante dropped in form. This resulted in poor play and fans turning on management.
Ironically, the least costly negotiations in this whole window turned out to be the best transfers. Zaniolo, Mirante and Marcano were key when called upon, with the Italian youngster having a breakout season and the veteran ‘keeper taking over the starting role in goal by the end of the year. Furthermore, Kluivert was promising when given the chance to play.
Just as the dust was starting to settle, it was all thrown into the air again in March. Pallotta sacked Coach Eusebio Di Francesco, less than a year after he’d taken Roma to a Champions League semi-final, and Monchi walked out in protest. Claudio Ranieri was drafted in to steady the ship until the end of the season, eventually taking them to sixth place and the Europa League.
Now the Lupi face the prospect of starting all over again. Again. And again. This club is like a rollercoaster that never stops, until eventually the fans end up feeling a bit sick. To make matters worse, even the bastions of stability within the squad are being ushered out the door against their will.
Francesco Totti was to a degree understandable, he’d have been 41 when the next season started, but Daniele De Rossi proved repeatedly this term he’s still one of the best midfielders around and certainly a rock for his teammates. Kicking him out as he prepares to turn 36, when he’s never complained about sitting on the bench, is not just cruel, but counter-productive.
Now there are voids in the squad, the dressing room, the bench and the club hierarchy. Reports suggest Edin Dzeko, Aleksandar Kolarov, Kostas Manolas and Diego Perotti are also on their way out.
The only core figure remaining will be Alessandro Florenzi, a Roman and Romanista in the vein of Totti and De Rossi, but a very different kind of player. It’s no longer clear what he is, a winger turned midfielder turned full-back, player who fills in the gaps in moments of need, a Jack of all trades and master of none. How can you build a team around a player who doesn’t have a role?
Rome is filled with structures that were built thousands of years ago and still stand strong. Roma can’t even build a team that lasts more than a season.