On first impression, it’s been a torrid summer for Roma. After the Giallorossi were unable to afford Lucas Digne, new arrival Mario Rui tore his anterior cruciate ligament almost as soon as he’d signed his contract, confirming Roma’s reputation as a Bermuda Triangle for defenders. Antonio Rudiger himself also tore his ACL this spring, Leandro Castan nearly died two years ago, whilst both Douglas Maicon and Dodo were jabbed with a scalpel far more than they were ever kicked by opponents in their time at the Olimpico.
The other item was Miralem Pjanic’s €32 million sale to hated rivals Juventus, which sent the Roma faithful round the bend, especially when no big buys have come through the door to make up for it.
Amidst all the chaos, however, Pjanic immediately defended himself from the furious Capitoline backlash, claiming that “Roma sold me in fifteen minutes... they called Juve, they need money”.
Come to think of it, the Giallorossi have had to part with someone talented at least every summer, whether it was Mehdi Benatia in 2014 (€28m), Marquinhos and Lamela in 2013 (a combined €61m) or even Gervinho last season (€18m). Despite that, they posted losses of at least €30m every season from 2009-10 to 2013-14, and had to shell out €23m more this summer to buy out the contracts of Antonio Rudiger, Edin Dzeko, Stephan El Shaarawy… and Norbert Gyomber.
Even selling Andrea Bertolacci and Alessio Romagnoli last season for a total of €45 million still saw Roma post losses of €41m for the 2014-2015 season.
But what does this tell us about this year? Would it be logical to expect the so-called “same old Roma” for this season?
Well, yes and no. One of the reasons behind the hiring of Luciano Spalletti could well have been that he had previously taken the Giallorossi to two second places on a shoestring budget, in which he was able to make Max Tonetto and Marco Cassetti look passable. Allowed to buy in January, his picks of El Shaarawy and Diego Perotti have panned out so far. Since the Tuscan returned, Roma have averaged an astounding 2.42 points per game in Serie A play.
It says a lot that after landing a marquee signing nearly every summer, Roma have been quiet this time round. Financial considerations aside, they haven’t really been linked to any big buys. It could be that they’re happy with what they have.
The hope, then, is that the Lupa can make Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus work (just about), buy another full-back and make do until Rudiger gets better.
The problem? Juventus averaged 2.73 points in that period, and that was before they went on the rampage this summer, signing Gonzalo Higuain, Medhi Benatia, Marko Pjaca… and Pjanic himself. The thing is, at this moment in time, competing with that juggernaut of a squad doesn’t look like a particularly feasible mission - though with a maverick like Spalletti, one never knows.
Even if the Giallorossi were to fall short of their Scudetto aspirations, however, there is a silver lining: Napoli and Fiorentina are weakened, leaving a Top 3 finish rather likely, unless the team implodes.
Moreover, Roma are fighting on multiple fronts, including the Champions League. Arguably their best stint among Europe’s elite came in 2006-2007, even with their 8-1 elimination at the hands of Manchester United. If the Giallorossi could frighten Real Madrid at the Bernabeu last year, they could really go somewhere this year, even a quarter-final berth sending a message that Roma are back.
Just after selling Pjanic, owner James Pallotta himself discussed his club’s financial quagmire by lamenting the stadium situation, revealing that Juventus “have more revenue than us, they can spend more money than us…” recently. If the Giallorossi can finally set things in motion, they will look back at the last few years as a step in the right direction.
One major question mark remains: though director of sport Walter Sabatini has rightly come under fire for some of his buys (Juan Iturbe, anyone?), he’s made virtue out of necessity so far in his tenure. But has he gone too far? Was it really necessary to get rid of promising players like Tonny Sanabria (couldn’t they loan him again, or sell the scorer of eleven Liga goals for more?), even with Juan Iturbe’s return?
Remember when the Giallorossi looked exhausted under Rudi Garcia last season, or when they racked up a league-fourth 140 absences through injury in 2015-2016? Having done even worse the previous season, wouldn’t it be best for them to keep a big group so they can fight on multiple fronts?