AS Roma: The reawakening of a sleeping giant
Nine signings already this summer, headed by one of the most famous directors of football, with a new stadium on the way. What exactly is going on at Roma?
Anyone with any interest in Italian football cannot help but take notice of Roma.
Last season put the Giallorossi firmly on the map as they dispatched Barcelona on their way to the Champions League final in one of the most memorable fixtures in recent years.
There was a fear that last season could prove to be a major challenge, having lost key players Mohamed Salah and Antonio Rudiger, as well as the highly rated Luciano Spalletti as manager. But Eusebio Di Francesco did wonderfully, guiding Roma to that Champions League run and guaranteeing them the chance to do it again next season by finishing third in the league.
Roma have now acquired the taste for success, and they clearly want more. They have already signed nine new players this summer, and have spent the most money in Serie A. In fact, they have only been outspent by Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool in the summer.
It is not just reckless spending, however. There is a plan in place, suggested by their new stadium plans and the arrival of Monchi, and fast-forwarded by the success of last season.
Champions League Breakthrough
It cannot be underestimated just how important Roma’s run to the Champions League semi-final was. It was certainly memorable and gave us one of the greatest commentary moments (“MANOLAS!! MAAAAAANOLAAAAS!!”) in television history.
But the club will care far more about the financial consequences of this run. They will have made an estimated £34 million from prize money alone for their Champions League season, but more important than that is the improved sponsorship deals.
Rather incredibly, Roma have not had a shirt sponsor since 2013, when their deal with Wind, an Italian telecom operator, ended. While from an aesthetic perspective it made for quite a beautiful jersey, it was also a huge opportunity lost for additional revenue and quite a lot of it.
Roma’s American owner James Pallotta admitted at the end of the 2016/2017 season that they “screwed up” in not securing a lucrative one.
It is no coincidence that Roma announced a new shirt sponsor in Qatar Airways just one day before their semi-final first leg against Liverpool. Roma described it as “the largest ever signed by the club and one of the biggest ever agreed by an Italian football club”.
This will be huge for Roma, who in the most recent Deloitte rich list did not make the top 20 richest clubs in the world. If they want to compete for Serie A titles and consistently make the latter stages of the Champions League they will need to take advantage of every possible revenue stream they can get.
New stadium on the way
In the short term, the new sponsors are vital for a team that has a new stadium on the way.
A project that began its planning in 2012, it has gone through multiple delays, and what was originally planned to be a 2017 opening has now been delayed to 2020.
It seems that the paperwork has finally been signed off on a 52,500-seater stadium (which can be expanded to 60,000 for the biggest matches), and the cash saving has to start here.
The stadium alone is estimated to cost €300 million, but the cost of the added infrastructure around the stadium is far more.
The extra revenue generated from improved sponsorship deals will help, but the club will have to be shrewd in the transfer market. This is exactly where Monchi comes in.
The magic of Monchi
Directors of football get a bad rep. They are often seen as hindering the work of the managers, are often not understood.
Arsene Wenger recently admitted to not knowing what the point of a director of football was and jokingly asked the press if it was “someone who stands on the road and directs the players left and right?” As anyone at Sevilla can testify, Monchi’s work was far more involved than that.
Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo had a solid playing career, spending all of his time as a goalkeeper with Sevilla. Monchi is far better known, however, for his time there as director of football.
Hired in 2000, as Sevilla found themselves relegated to the second tier of Spanish football, he played a massive role in rebuilding the team.
He helped discover youth prospects such as Jesus Navas and Sergio Ramos, and his vast scouting network discovered bargains in the likes of Dani Alves and Rakitic, among many others, who impressed at young ages at Sevilla before being sold on for massive profits.
Roma did brilliantly to take him on last season after his departure from Sevilla, and he suits the club perfectly. Somewhat like Sevilla, Roma cannot financially compete with the best (at least until the new stadium is built), and Monchi is known for getting value from his transfers.
Their policy this summer has been clear. Justin Kluivert, Ante Coric, William Bianda, Bryan Cristante and Nicolo Zaniolo are all new signings aged 23 or younger.
One of his signings has already had an immediate impact. Cengiz Under, the 20-year-old Turkish winger, had an impressive debut season, scoring seven goals in Serie A and playing a key role in Roma’s Champions League run.
Not all signings have been for the future, and with Roma having some money to play with have brought in Javier Pastore in the hope that he can go a long way in replacing the departed Radja Nainggolan.
But if they continue this transfer trend, they could have some serious stars on their hands. Sure, every young player is a risk, but with Monchi at the helm that risk is certainly reduced.
Juventus’ future challengers?
A number of Serie A clubs have tried to compete with Juventus over recent years, to mixed success. Napoli’s Sarri revolution has been successful, but even they failed to win any trophies or topple the mighty Bianconeri.
Sarri is now gone, and there is a fear it will all unravel as Europe’s top clubs prepare to swoop in for some of Napoli’s top talents, who have ridiculously cheap buyout clauses.
Both Milan clubs have failed to impress so far, despite heavy investment and great optimism. Inter Milan just squeezed into a Champions League space this season but considering the talent in their squad and the money they have spent they are still under-performing.
AC Milan’s project has completely unravelled. Burdened with under-performing, expensive signings, an owner who seemingly doesn’t have the money he used to buy the club and a ban from next season’s European competition and the next one they qualify for, Milan are the example of a poorly thought out and executed plan.
Roma’s success is not guaranteed, not much in football is. There are some concerns, one being the signing of Pastore, a relatively large sum for a player who has not played an awful lot of football in recent years.
Another is whether they can really hold on to their best players. They have already lost Nainggolan (although for a very good sum) and the mega-rich clubs are circling around Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson, who seems likely to depart.
But the future is bright, from the revenue that will be generated from the new stadium and sponsors, with Monchi at the helm, and a young, talented squad available to manager Eusebio Di Francesco.
This could be very exciting times to be a Roma fan.
Can Roma challenge Juventus for the title next season? Let us know in the comments below.