When the American billionaire of Italian origin, James Pallotta, purchased AS Roma in 2014, he tried to say the right thing: how he had been falling in love with the club he had part-owned and stressing his desire to do well. And yet, for all his visible ambition, he very skillfully avoided making any concrete promises about the vision of AS Roma. Perhaps he had seen other rich American businessmen be attracted by the European game only to be shunned when it turned out that their pockets weren’t as deep as the fans had hoped. Those experiences highlighted the need to rein in expectations so that he could better deliver his vision.
As a businessman, Pallotta knew that he was getting a club that, because of the serious financial issues it had been facing, was undervalued. Most probably he also had a clear idea of what was needed to establish them among Europe’s elite a permanent basis. After all, he could see what his close friends at FSG were doing at Liverpool and through them identify what might work for him. Indeed, in many instances it seems as if he is working off of FSG’s desktop. The future of AS Roma’s stadium, which is also potentially a huge source of revenue, was the priority issue that he tackled. Once a new stadium was announced, focus shifted to the playing side and the search for someone who could deliver on his vision.
That man arrived last summer in the form of Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, better known as Monchi. His ability to uncover talent had reached legendary proportions and it was this reputation that attracted Roma. And yet if Roma had simply proposed to Monchi to replicate in Italy what he had done in Sevilla FC, it is unlikely that they would have convinced him. Why would he leave Sevilla FC – a club that he had grown to love and where he was adored – simply to do the same thing elsewhere? What got him was AS Roma’s vision.
The fact that AS Roma is a bigger club than Sevilla FC or rather, it arguably has bigger long term ambitions was convincing enough. Sevilla FC looked to carve out space in a league dominated by two of the world’s biggest clubs whereas AS Roma want to be a global brand. That much is clear as stated by the ambition to be at least the second favoured club to thirty million fans as it is by the investment in a grand new stadium.
Also significant is the vision that AS Roma is a club that is willing to grow over time rather than do so overnight. For someone like Monchi, it is this point that make this his dream job. It allows him to build the club, slowly and patiently, attracting a higher calibre of players than he could in Sevilla FC and keeping them for longer. He knows that some of those players will have to be sold once their value grows but, perhaps unlike in Sevilla FC, he is aware that eventually the need to sell will decrease and at that point he will be able to build a really good footballing side on his own terms.
Monchi – and consequently Pallotta – have been aided by early successes that have helped convince people. When Mohammed Salah left last season, many felt that the team would struggle but instead the arrival of Patrick Schick and Cengiz Ünder helped to wash the bad taste from fans’ mouths through the way they played. Neither one is at Salah’s level but both have the potential to be very good. Similarly, in goal where the departure of Wojciech Szczęsny to Juventus provided the space that allowed Alisson to show how good he was.
The success of those buys coupled with a breath taking run to the semi-final of the Champions League helped Monchi gain goodwill and this summer he cashed some of it in. When offers considered to be big enough came in for Alisson Becker and Radja Nainggolan, who were fundamental to the side, Roma opted to sell. Where others saw the potential weakening of their team, Roma saw the potential to grow the squad even more and that is what they have done.
New players of proven ability have been brought in despite these signings being undervalued by the market. PSG needed to sell Javier Pastore to ease their financial fair play commitments, Bryan Cristante’s excellent form for Atalanta last season was overshadowed by earlier struggles in his career whilst Robin Olsen was still playing in Danish league, one that is largely ignored. To add steel to the squad, Roma then went out and bought a World Cup winner in Steven N’Nzonzi for €26.65 million (£23.7 million) who is considered by many as Roma’s best signing this season.
By themselves, these four players already mean an improvement for the club. Yet Roma’s strategy is based on two fronts and buying undervalued players of quantifiable ability is only one of them. The other is betting on youth and this again is an area where Roma have excelled. Justin Kluivert has already showcased his talent in Europe with Ajax whilst Ante Coric comes from Dinamo Zagreb with a heavy reputation. Both the players will need time to settle but the potential is huge.
All of this means that during the past three months Roma have sold two players and replaced them with at least six new signings who are as good or better than what they already had. The squad is stronger and better equipped to deal with the requirements of a long season than it was last year. Another step has been taken in AS Roma’s evolution. It is still a work-in-progress but the blueprint is there for all to see.