Back in January 2014, Rome’s radio stations were full of journalists commenting on Walter Sabatini’s transfer policy as he signed youngster after youngster. Some said ironically that he was “playing Football Manager” and praising him for his foresight in planning for Roma’s future, others were more cautionary as they warned the sporting director was forgetting the present as he invested in the future.
One of those players signed that transfer window was Antonio Sanabria, who Roma paid nearly €5m for from Barcelona with a potential €7m to follow in bonuses. The signing of Sanabria, a highly rated Paraguay international, was seen as something of a coup for the Giallorossi. Fast forward to the present and Sanabria is on the verge of a €10m move to Real Betis. “I can’t comment,” the player’s agent told laroma24.it on Wednesday, “all I can confirm is that the two clubs are negotiating. I can’t say anything about the details.”
Sanabria is the latest in a long line of young players Sabatini has brought to Roma. Some, like Sanabria, have made it plain that they don’t wish to remain in Rome, others (like Tin Jedvaj) have left in search of regular playing time, while there are a handful (like Salih Ucan) who have been more of a mystery.
On the face of it, Roma’s investments in young players for the future is creditable, and the club’s delicate financial position means that they cannot afford to continually sign well-established players.
However, as shown below, Roma’s investments are for the short-term rather than long-term. The club have a well-established trend of loaning out their new signings to gain experience elsewhere and, if successful, to sell them on for a profit (which can then be used to sign players ready for the first team). Of all the under 21 players Sabatini has signed, only 1 (Leandro Paredes) is currently anywhere close to the first team – and even he is heavily linked with leaving this summer (Milan, in particular, are reported to be very interested).
Below are all the players aged under 21 that Sabatini has signed for Roma and what has come of them. The age in brackets is the age at which they were signed.
Erik Lamela (19)
Roma’s most expensive summer signing, Lamela scored an excellent goal on his debut against Palermo and went on to score 21 times in 67 games for the club. He stayed at Roma for two years, playing well in under-achieving sides, before Tottenham broke their transfer record to sign him for €30m plus bonuses. Lamela struggled initially in the physical Premier League, but since Mauricio Pochettino took charge he has been reborn and is now a key part of the Spurs side.
Fabio Borini (20)
Took a bit of time to settle at Roma after his loan move from Parma but came to life in the second half of the season with one run of 9 goals in 12 games. Roma didn’t seem to truly believe in Borini though, purchasing 50% of his rights at blind auction, as they were instead going all out for Mattia Destro. Borini was sold to Liverpool for €13.3m – a profit of around €5m – but although he struggled at Anfield, his spells at Sunderland have been more of a success.
Jonathan Alexis Ferrante (16)
Young Argentine-born striker similar in many ways to Pablo Osvaldo in his style, both technically and mentally. Signed from Piacenza who performed well in the Primavera but has made little impact while out on loan after switching clubs numerous times, turning out for third tier clubs L’Aquila, Lumezzane, Lucchese, Savoia and most recently Serie D club Imolese.
Loic Nego (20)
Full back signed on a free transfer from Nantes who helped the Primavera side to their 4th Coppa Italia triumph in 2012, but after becoming too old for the Primavera he was ignored by Zdenek Zeman who didn’t even take him on the pre-season ritiro. He was eventually sold to Hungarian side Ujpest Dozsa, and after later making one appearance for Charlton Athletic he moved back to Hungary with Videoton.
Nico Lopez (17)
Clearly talented Uruguayan forward who scored 15 goals in 12 games for the Primavera. He found the net on his debut when he scored a last minute equaliser against Catania, but only managed 7 appearances all season (6 as a substitute). Sold to Udinese on co-ownership as part of the Mehdi Benatia transfer, and was sold outright in 2014. Spent the second half of last season back on loan in Uruguay with Nacional.
Emerged as Roma’s first choice left back due to Federico Balzaretti’s lengthy injury problems, but Ashley Cole’s arrival in 2014 meant he was once again reduced to second choice. A favourite with some sections of fans, he lacked an end product when attacking and was far from solid defensively. Left Roma for Inter in 2014, where he enjoyed a promising first season until a serious knee injury in March ruled him out for nine months. Ended last season on loan with Sampdoria.
Jonatan Lucca (18)
Signed as a good prospect from Internacional’s youth teams, but he didn’t make an impression at Roma. The Giallorossi didn’t take him on the pre-season ritiro a year after buying him and struggled to offload him until eventually loaning him to Atletico Paranaense. He is currently unattached after spells with Guaratingueta, FC Goa and Malaysian side Kelantan, who released him earlier this summer.
Junior Tallo (19)
Bought for the Primavera from Chievo, he made an impact at youth level (17 goals in 16 games) where his big physique gave him a natural advantage but he hasn’t really made the step up to senior level. He made three appearances under Luis Enrique but loan spells of varying success with Bari, Ajaccio and Bastia didn’t persuade Roma to give him further opportunities in the first team and he was sold to Lille for €1m in 2015.
One of Sabatini’s biggest successes, if success is measured in plusvalenza. Spotted at Corinthians and signed for just €4.5m, he played excellently in a notoriously chaotic Zeman defence. His performances didn’t go unnoticed and Roma cashed in on him the next summer, selling him to PSG for €31.4m where he has won 3 consecutive league titles. In the last year he has featured less for PSG though, with David Luiz and Thiago Silva ahead of him, and he could move on this summer to the cash-rich Premier League.
Tomas Svedkauskas (18)
A Lithuanian goalkeeper who has represented his country at all youth levels from Under-16 to Under-21, Roma signed Svedkauskas from Suduva after Fiorentina chose not to sign him following a loan spell. He has been out on loan for the last 3 years – most recently at Ascoli – without excelling. Now back at Roma and likely to be sent out on loan again, he is coming into the last year of his 5-year contract.
Alberto Tibolla (17)
Part of Sabatini’s January spending splurge on Primavera players, Tibolla was signed on loan from Chievo as part of the Leandro Paredes deal. A capable midfielder who played in the World Cup and European Championships with Italy Under-17s, Tibolla didn’t impress Roma and they chose not to take up their option to sign him permanently. He failed to win a contract at Lega Pro side Lumezzane last summer, and eventually spent last season in Serie D with Gubbio.
Petar Golubovic (19)
Signed for €1m from OFK Beograd, the Serbian Under-21 defender has been getting good experience in the lower leagues with Pistoiese and Pisa to build on his 20 appearances in Serbia’s top flight. He scored his first goal for Pisa with a fine effort against Maceratese and had an excellent second half to last season. The Nerazzurri are now attempting to retain him for next year following their promotion to Serie B under Gennaro Gattuso.
Tin Jedvaj (17)
Highly rated defender who Roma went to great efforts to sign from Dinamo Zagreb, Jedvaj spent most of the season on the bench (29 out of 38 league games, playing just twice). Roma granted Jedvaj’s wish to play more football by loaning him to Bayer Leverkusen. Jedvaj openly stated he didn’t want to go back to Roma after getting his desired game time, and was signed permanently by Leverkusen just six months into the two-year loan deal.
Tomas Vestenicky (17)
Initially brought in to be a back up for Berisha, Vestenicky emerged as by far the better of the two players and after impressing in the Primavera side he earned his first of three call ups to the senior team in January 2015. He never broke through to make his debut for the first team though, and after a disappointing loan spell at Modena that was terminated early he was sold this summer for €500,000 to KS Cracovia.
Valmir Berisha (17)
Signed as the ‘next Zlatan Ibrahimovic’ after excelling with Halmstad and the Swedish youth teams, finishing as top scorer at the Under-17 World Cup in 2013, it immediately became apparent Berisha was anything but. With poor temperament and a level of ability far inferior to his reputation, he was loaned out to Panathinaikos before being sold to little fanfare to Cambuur in 2015, who then terminated his contract earlier this year. He is currently without a club.
Vlad Marin (18)
Roma had faith in Marin but the full back rejected them at the start of the year, being a Lazio supporter, before reluctantly joining on loan a few months later after falling out with his coach at Juventus. The Romanian has struggled to find the right club for himself, having already played for the youth teams of Lazio, Juventus, Manchester City and Roma, and is on the move again this summer.
Alan Arario (19)
Roma brought in Arario, who as a 14 year old had trials with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, as the ‘next Erik Lamela’. Signed from the famed River Plate youth system on a free transfer it seemed something of a coup, but Arario failed to make any impression at all and within a year he had moved back to Argentina to join Velez Sarsfield. Last month, his contract was terminated by mutual consent and he is currently without a club.
Antonio Sanabria (18)
Highly rated striker who Roma signed ahead for around €5m plus €7m in bonuses from Barcelona in partnership with Sassuolo. Featured frequently for the Primavera but sparingly for the first team due to the competition ahead of him. Exploded onto the scene for Sporting Gijon last year, and is now set to join Real Betis in a €8m deal (plus 50% of a future fee).
Jose Machin (18)
Elegant midfielder who showed great promise in Malaga’s youth sides, he has already been capped 4 times for Equatorial Guinea. He has been a vital part of the Primavera for Roma and although he is yet to make his first team debut, there is considerable optimism over his future. While Machin aims to break into the Roma first team, the club are now preparing to loan him out for next year. Nearly all of Serie B is said to be showing an interest, while Sassuolo have also been linked.
Kevin Mendez (18)
Signed off the back of promising showings in the South American Under-17 championship and Under-17 World Cup, Mendez was initially loaned to Perugia for 18 months but recalled 6 months in due to a lack of game time. He was on the verge of a move to Sporting Gijon before spending the second half of last season on loan at Lausanne in the Swiss second division, where he made an immediate impact with a goal on his debut.
Leandro Paredes (20)
Paredes was signed from Boca Juniors in partnership with Chievo. Primarily appeared as a substitute in his first season, scoring a fine goal against Cagliari before excelling with Empoli last year. Heavily linked with a move away, he has indicated his intention to stay and has an opportunity to establish himself in the first team with Miralem Pjanic and Seydou Keita gone but – judging from Roma’s past form – should Milan come in with a bid of around €15m then he could well be off.
Nemanja Radonjic (18)
Signed at huge cost from the Gheorghe Hagi Academy (over €4m, due to the requirement to pay €3.1m to his agent, who is also the agent of Adem Ljajic), Radonjic’s talent is offset by problems in his attitude. He trained apart from the rest of the team at both Empoli on his initial loan deal and Roma on his return, and a proposed loan move to Ancona collapsed in 2015. A six-month loan spell with FK Cukaricki earlier this year was more successful.
Salih Ucan (20)
Brought in on a two-year loan from Fenerbahce for €4m, Ucan struggled to settle in at first due to the language barrier. Often seen on the bench, he rarely made an appearance and only then for a few minutes towards the end of games, but showed glimpses of real ability in his 10 appearances (7 as a substitute). Regardless, neither Garcia nor Spalletti saw enough in him to give him an extended run and Roma chose not to take up their €11m option on him this summer.
Silvio Anocic (16)
Young left back brought in to provide competition in the Primavera, Anocic was signed amid interest from the likes of Juventus and Manchester United. He has been impressive in the Primavera, named in the UEFA Youth League team of the tournament last year, and is likely to feature for the first team sooner or later.
Coly Sidi Keba (17)
Keba, a Senegalese striker, was brought in from Spoltore in January after he instantly impressed Alberto De Rossi by scoring 6 goals in 3 games for the Primavera during a winter friendly tournament in the USA. However his transfer was seemingly never fully ratified as he was never picked for the Primavera afterwards, and Roma will have to ensure the bureaucratic problems are resolved so that he is eligible to play next season.
Conor Borg (18)
Sabatini had his eye on the Maltese midfielder for some time, officially signing him for Roma from Floriana when he turned 18. He was loaned straight back to the Maltese side to continue to get experience. He has already played in Italy after spending a couple of years with Chievo’s youth teams, and made his debut for the Malta Under-21s last September in a 4-1 defeat against the Czech Republic.
Ezequiel Ponce (18)
Promising striker picked up from Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina who has really impressed in the Primavera despite suffering a cruciate ligament injury that ruled him out of much of last season. He returned in time for the knockout stages of the Primavera championship and was one of the players of the tournament as Roma won the title. He is likely now to follow in Sanabria’s steps with a loan move to Sporting Gijon.
Ismail H’Maidat (20)
H’Maidat, a long-time target of Sabatini, is a central midfielder who is equally comfortable in the regista role. He has already moved clubs numerous times in his career, turning out for several Dutch clubs as well as Crystal Palace and Anderlecht before settling at Brescia. Sabatini threw Emanuele Ndoj and Michele Somma plus cash at Brescia to sign him, before loaning him out to Ascoli for the remainder of the season.
Maoudo Diallo (16)
Defender signed from Barcelona after he made an excellent impression on Alberto De Rossi after six months training with the Primavera. He, like Keba, took part in the winter tournament in the USA and even took part in some training sessions with the first team. Barcelona will receive 20% of Diallo’s eventual transfer fee when Roma sell him.