After yesterday, maybe, he will be a little less tormented than usual, given that he’s now taken his decision and there’s no room for second thoughts. What had been unofficial for nearly 10 months was made official yesterday: Walter Sabatini is no longer Roma’s sporting director, and it is goodbye to the last director from the first ‘Roma americana’. “I want to thank Walter for what he did for AS Roma and for all his dedication to our venture,” said president James Pallotta. “I also want to thank him for all I’ve learned from him. Please stop smoking!”
It’s unlikely that Sabatini will welcome that last invitation, despite his health problems, as the now former Giallorossi sporting director’s time at the club wasn’t entirely plain sailing. The issues that Sabatini faced and failed to overcome were twofold: winning anything during these five (and a bit) seasons and the differences of opinion that he had with the American owners. With the path he took, those gaps became impossible to bridge. That Sabatini wanted to leave was well known, so much so that last February, soon after the winter transfer window closed, he wrote a letter asking to be released and which was reiterated in March. “I felt and I still feel a detachment between myself and Pallotta,” the sporting director said in June, during an interview with La Gazzetta, “He accepted my offer, then he changed his mind. For a while, I felt like a prisoner.”
Sabatini will clear everything up at 13.00 CET (after having said his goodbyes to his colleagues and the players – he spoke to Spalletti and Baldissoni yesterday). But the sense of internal discontent was partly in this: the fact that he, a person who has made freedom a cornerstone of his life, didn’t feel free. The freedom to make and not to make choices, even if it eventually led him to make mistakes. It was crucial to him, so much so that even when Franco Baldini, a good friend of his, left the club, he said, “Now I feel more free. If he hadn’t quit, then I would have.” Baldini never abandoned Pallotta though, in fact perhaps the opposite is closer to the truth, given that he was given the opportunity to sign a contract as a personal advisor to Pallotta. In the meantime, things changed at Trigoria. American colleagues of Pallotta appeared, starting with Alex Zecca. Pallotta’s son, Chris, also appeared with his famous software that inspired the film Moneyball. Philosophies that were completely at odds with Sabatini’s own. “They’re investors, my way of thinking about football is different to theirs,” the former sporting director said. “For me, a football is a magical sphere, I can see an entire universe within one. Others can just see a plastic ball.”
During these five and a bit years, Walter Sabatini has moved over 100 players in and out, giving Roma an incontestable asset: net worth. The club’s 2015/16 figures were released yesterday and gave a balance of €192.6m, up 43% from the previous year (€134.7m). Just to put this into context, when he arrived, in the summer of 2011, the figure was at €37.4m. A continual increase, even if during his tenure there were some mistakes like Doumbia (€14.5m + €1.5m bonus), Iturbe (€24.5m) and Juan Jesus (€10m), as well as other less costly ones like Ucan (€4.75m), Kjaer (€3.5m) and Destro (€16m). But there were also many transfers that were correctly judged: Marquinhos, Strootman, Pjanic, Benatia, Lamela, Manolas, Castan, Nainggolan and Salah, just to name the biggest ones. The future is now in the hands of Frederic Massara, and at Trigoria they feel he is ready already. He has been in the shadow of Sabatini for years, his heir apparent, and with him maybe a little of Sabatini will continue to live on at Trigoria.
Speaking of bank balances, yesterday Roma felt delighted with the closing of their 2015/16 accounts, as their debt fell from €41.16m to €13.98 (an improvement of 66%) despite the increase in the wage bill (from €136m to €155m). It is an improvement that falls within the parameters of financial fair play (they needed to be above -€30m) and this is possible thanks to the increase in income (€219.42m, the first time it has been over €200m) and the management of player signings, which gave a net profit of €64.2m. The reason for that? The €77.5m plusvalenze, and imagine who made that possible? Without a doubt, Roma will miss Sabatini a lot more than Sabatini will miss Roma.
This article is a translation – the original was written by Andrea Pugliese for La Gazzetta dello Sport.