“I dream of ending my career here with Napoli. And I dream of doing that as a 40-year-old. This is a club who I have been following since I was a child, when I was struck by Diego Armando Maradona.”
Those were the words of Morgan De Sanctis in December 2012, six months before his contract at the Stadio San Paolo was set to expire. After weeks of talks, part one of his desire looked like it would become reality when the now 36-year-old put pen to paper on a new deal at the start of March. By the end of August, he had kept his first clean sheet for new club Roma.
It was the signing of Santos goalkeeper Rafael that signalled the beginning of the end when it came to De Sanctis’ love affair with the Azzurri. After four years of unquestionably aiding Napoli’s rise from a bankrupted Italian giant lost in Serie C to a Champions League competitor, the 2009 signing from Sevilla, via Galatasaray, felt he would not be a key figure post Walter Mazzarri.
“I have a particular personality,” he admitted when asked about his decision to quit Naples. “I’m a proud and competitive man. If I train hard and well all week then I won’t accept being the second-choice. The club were preparing for my future as a support rider too soon. They may have adequately replaced me with Pepe Reina, but I’m convinced that the first choice will be Rafael by the end of the season.”
De Sanctis undoubtedly proved to be a good piece of business for the Azzurri. Signed for around €1.5m by previous transfer chief Pierpaolo Marino, he was arguably the best goalkeeper in Serie A – in terms of form – during the 2010-11 campaign. The net-minder admitted himself at the time that he was playing the greatest football of his career, while the legendary Dino Zoff felt he had reached the pinnacle of his maturity during the same period.
It was a different story last term though. There were signs that Morgan, although never considered a truly great ‘keeper, wasn’t as dependable as he had been in the past. His decision to retire from international football in March was, without wanting to be disparaging, a case of him walking before being pushed. The truth is that Cesare Prandelli kept the faith even when other more in-form goalkeepers were knocking on the door.
It is with that backdrop that you have to question Roma’s decision to make him their new first choice. Granted he only cost the club €0.5m, but he is undoubtedly another Giallorossi wager in one of the most fragile parts of any team.
The goalkeeper has been a problem area for the Stadio Olimpico outfit in recent years. At one stage, the club were paying €7.6m a season, after tax, on the wages of four custodians in the shape of Alexander Doni, Julio Sergio, Gianluca Curci and Bogdan Lobont. Maarten Stekelenburg’s subsequent two-year stint in the capital – where he was incredibly kept out of the side by the dubious Mauro Goicoechea for a period – didn’t deliver the desired results either.
At best, De Sanctis, who signed a two-year deal, is a short-term solution to a club who made enough money in player sales this summer to be a bit more inventive when searching for a new custodian. In Roma’s defence, they could argue that the up-and-coming goalkeepers Italian football has to offer are still a little bit too raw, but there were ‘keepers in their 30s who may have offered more security than a player who, in some ways, is being asked to rebuild his reputation after 2012-13. QPR’s Julio Cesar and even Palermo’s Stefano Sorrentino are just two examples.
But it is not just Roma, a club who have also taken a punt on reviving the fortunes of Douglas Maicon and Gervinho this summer, who have taken a gamble. At his age, it would have been easy for De Sanctis to go and play his football for a smaller club in a less pressurised environment. Instead, he’s opted for a stint with an outfit which is intensively scrutinised by not just the national media, but an intricate network of local radio stations where opinions are a chemical composition of air. That takes guts and confidence.
“Perhaps this will be the last great challenge of my career,” De Sanctis, winner of six Italy caps, commented. “The objective is to take these colours back into Europe, a place where they deserve to be. My future is right now for me. When you understand that your career is coming to an end, you look to take advantage of the opportunities for success. This is an important club with an ambitious project that will allow me to end my playing days as I had always wanted – at the highest level.”