The €32m deal to sell Miralem Pjanic to Juventus may be one of Roma’s biggest ever sales, but it may also go down in posterity as the end of a chapter in the club’s history. There have already been many words written about Pjanic and his desire to join Juventus and, indeed, Roma’s own desire to make a quick sale to bring in necessary funds, and this isn’t the place to add to them. For all Pjanic’s faults, what’s done is done and, for better or worse, Roma will bring in a replacement.
Instead, what’s worth pointing out is that Pjanic’s sale closes a 5-year cycle in the history of Roma. Back in 2011, after Thomas DiBenedetto’s takeover of the club that April, the American owners set about restructuring the club with new management – Claudio Fenucci (CEO), Franco Baldini (general director), Walter Sabatini (sporting director) and Luis Enrique (coach). The management were given the task of revolutionising Roma to achieve DiBenedetto’s aim of making Roma “one of the biggest clubs in the world” as he said upon taking over.
To achieve those ends, that summer Sabatini signed Miralem Pjanic together with Maarten Stekelenburg, Gabriel Heinze, Jose Angel, Erik Lamela, Bojan Krkic, Pablo Osvaldo, Marco Borriello (an enforced signing due to an agreement with Milan), Simon Kjaer, Fernando Gago and Fabio Borini, for a total of around €70m including bonuses – more than any other club in Serie A. Luis Enrique talked about “always playing to win and attacking from the first minute” as the ‘Roma project’ was born, making Roma into a Barcelona-lite under American ownership. But Luis Enrique gave up after his first season, despite the management’s insistence that he still had their confidence, as it became clear the pressure of getting results and allowing young players to adapt not only to Serie A but the coach’s style of football were incompatible.
The Roma revolution hardly took off, more spluttering into life, and really only got going when Rudi Garcia arrived in 2013. Even by then, half of the players who had been brought in to much excitement and promise of a new dawn had gone (Heinze, Kjaer, Gago, Borini) and the others were sold over the course of that summer (Stekelenburg, Bojan, Osvaldo, Lamela). With Jose Angel and Marco Borriello unwanted and loaned out, only Pjanic remained part of the new Roma from the signings made in 2011.
Having fallen out with Zdenek Zeman, Pjanic was linked with moves away but remained with the Giallorossi after being won over by Garcia. “Ever since preseason training, everything is clear between the coach and me,” Pjanic said that October. “I want to pay back Garcia for the great faith he’s put in me.” While his performances were often enigmatic, Pjanic was also capable of great brilliance and, while others came and went – either because they failed to make an impression on Roma or because they made such an impression that richer clubs came calling – Pjanic remained a constant in the heart of midfield.
As I have said elsewhere, the issue with Pjanic leaving is not that he was sold but where he was sold to. Roma got it wrong with their approach in 2011, but since 2013 have finished second twice and then third last year after leaving it too late to rescue another runner up spot. Given the seasons that came before, this achievement is more than creditable. But the noises around the club, rightly, have been that they want to close the gap with Juventus, that they want to challenge for the title. Now, Roma will not only have to cope with selling one of their stars but also that they have given him to a title rival who was in great need of such a creative player.
The initial sense of promise and a new dawn that came with the Americans in 2011 has gone as the last of that summer’s reinforcements moves on elsewhere, and the feelings of hope and expectation that came with that summer are replaced by frustration, disappointment and disillusionment. Roma will have to start again this summer and replace Pjanic as they have so effectively replaced major players before (such as Marquinhos with Mehdi Benatia, then Benatia with Kostas Manolas). The answer may well lie in Leandro Paredes or Gerson, it may lie in a new signing. Only time will tell what Sabatini and Luciano Spalletti decide is the right path, but there is a lot for them to do to bring back a real feeling of hope and expectancy after Pjanic’s departure.